I have a few fears. I think we have previously established that vomiting is the bane of my existence. The feeling of my organs twisting around my esophagus and squeezing without release, basically strangling myself from the inside out is not my favorite thing. So I’m a bit OCD about hand washing and Lysoling because, please God, not vomiting. That’s probably all you want to know about that.
I have a fear of falling. When the bottom falls out from beneath me, it feels like death tapping me on the shoulder and waving hello, inviting me to come along with him. I’m not ready!
The first time I ever rode a roller coaster, I was sixteen and my entire family went to an amusement park for the day. Someone talked Daddy into getting on this thing, and next thing I know, I’m locked into a seat directly behind him. I had never cussed in front of him before that moment, though I had gotten pretty proficient at it with my friends. Anyway, the only thing I could think of as we sat there waiting for the ride to begin is that Daddy is terrified of heights. He has been known to nearly jump out of his seat while watching a helicopter scene on a 36 inch television and saying some quite interesting words of his own. I was afraid for myself, and I was afraid for him. He was nearly 50. He was a big guy. What if this stupid contraption killed him? Was it possible to die of fear? I didn’t know that there was no uphill climb on this particular ride. It was better that way, I guess. Less time to dwell on the inevitable. Unexpectedly, the wall in front of the coaster split open and we immediately dropped. I had no idea how long the drop would go on or how horrible it would be. I was only able to think that Daddy’s life was at stake here and all I could do to help him was to scream “SHHHIIIIITTTTTT!!!” at the top of my lungs. There, that should save him. I don’t remember the rest of the ride. That word came out of me involuntarily and I spent the next seventy-three seconds pondering how much of a beating I was going to get once the ride ended. The ride finally came to it’s end, we all got off the train, Daddy included. We were pale, but all of us were still breathing. And we continued our way quietly through the park. No one ever said a word about the word that I had said. I don’t know to this day if it’s because they were screaming too loudly themselves to be able to hear me or if the ride was louder than my voice or if they just forgave me because they understood that my intention was to save a life. To this day, I HATE, no, DESPISE roller coasters and drops or falls of any kind.
Then there’s my fear of snakes. My Daddy is a big man, as I said. 6’3″ and has never weighed less than 225 since I’ve known him. His hands are as big as tree trunks. He’s strong. He can carry the world on his shoulders and beat any villain. I’ve never seen anything that scares him, besides heights, and snakes. Which I do understand. I mean, Satan appeared as a snake in the Garden of Eden where God cursed him with man’s heel smashing the heads of his descendants throughout the generations. Therefore, all snakes are the angry progeny of Satan. And who in their right mind isn’t afraid of Satan’s children, a.k.a. demons. If a = b and b = c then all snakes are demons. I know that some of you have snakes as pets and you love them and you are getting ready to send me an e-mail to explain to me how much fun snakes are, how sweet your snakes are, how important snakes are to our ecosystem and et cetera. But it’s my phobia and like any normal, run of the mill phobia, is not grounded in fact, but rather is based on skewed perception. Logically, I understand this, and yet still I think, logically, if a man with the size and power of my Daddy is afraid of snakes then there is DEFINITELY something to be afraid of. Ere go, my fear. Although there are supposed ways of overcoming phobias, it’s not really something I have an interest in curing, so it’s doubtful that it will ever change. I mean, playing with the devil’s children? Nah. I’ve met enough of them who walk upright. I’ll pass on the slithery, legless, sneaky ones.
So we’ve established my fear of snakes. Now let’s establish my love of camping. What’s not to love? Chilly mornings near a fire pit with a cup of coffee. Everything you wear or touch smells of campfire. Snuggling down into warm blankets as the cool sets in at bedtime. Reading with no sounds to drown out your imagination, just crickets, running water and the occasional call of a bird or woodland animal as a background soundtrack. Hot dogs and s’mores and happiness a plenty. Smiles shared with children who’s faces are not lit by a technological screen, but by the warm oranges and yellows of flames. Time together with your family, giggles and songs and games and general basking in the love and joy of each other’s company. Yeah, getting back to nature is an amazing thing.
But here’s the thing about nature. It contains snakes. This had not been a problem that I had dealt with in the handful or two of camping adventures that we had been able to enjoy since the boys had been born. We had stayed at beautiful, well kept campgrounds. In all the times we had camped, I had never once seen a sign of a snake.
A few years ago we bought a pop up camper on Craigslist. It was awesome! It had water hook-up, electric hook-up, air conditioning, heat, a place to cook inside if it rained. It had it all! So we packed it to the brim and headed out to Land Between the Lakes. I truly do not believe that I have ever had such a peaceful vacation in my life. It was nearly perfect! We saw beavers doing the backstroke in the lake behind our camp spot. We saw spotted deer who just watched us as we passed by them. We saw buffalo roaming the fields like they did when the Native Americans used the area as a hunting ground. You could just feel the history surrounding you and it was a breathtaking thing. Add to that the ability to sleep with the a/c on, on a mattress, with no rocks poking you in the back all night long, and it was a spectacular trip!
It was a spectacular trip until the third night of our five night stay. The wind had picked up quite a bit. The park ranger drove around to each of the camp spaces to let the campers know that the weather was getting bad and we should batten down the hatches and prepare for anything, including a possible tornado. We ran around like chickens with our heads cut off collecting anything that could possibly blow away and shoving it into the back of our van. Folding chairs, food bins, even securing the camper to the van in hopes that it would anchor us down that much more securely. We had to take the three dogs for one last nightly pit stop before we could call it a night. Dean was still picking up odds and ends and I was getting really antsy as the lightening began. I told the boys to put the leashes on the dogs and walk with me to the bathrooms. We would give the dogs a potty break and the take one ourselves and we’d be ready to settle in for the night. We all finished our business and as we started back down the walkway toward our camper, something caught my eye. It was about the size of an earthworm and the color of one of the many twigs lying around. It should have been perfectly camouflaged. Except, it wasn’t. Not to me. The warning bells began to clang in my head, my heart began to pound and for the second time in my life there were expletives falling uncontrollably from my lips, loud enough to be heard by the entire campground above the sounds of the rolling thunder. I fairly flew back to the camper, nearly dragging my precious Patches the entire way, and screaming like a banshee…except I don’t believe banshees use “those” words. When I got back and Dean was STILL picking up this and that, I yelled at him to let the bleep bleeping crap go, we needed to get inside the camper and stay put until morning. IF we weren’t swept away to Oz in the meantime.
I don’t know who was more shocked by my antics, our neighboring campers or Dean. He asked me what in the world I was screeching about, so I screeched to him that there was a bleep bleeping snake up by the bathrooms and bleep bleep it why in the hell do we go camping anyway. Storms and snakes and nature are just STUPID! Hurry up and get in the DAMN camper!
Always my hero, ever unafraid, Dean asked me for specifics on the snake and headed up the hill toward the bathrooms while the boys, dogs and I got settled into our beds with a good book and prepared to ride out the night. Twenty minutes later when Dean still wasn’t back, I was muttering something under my breath about his lineage and how it was going to serve him right to get sucked up in the stupid tornado. Finally, just as the rain began, he stepped in the door and locked it behind him. I was scowling at him, not sure if I was more afraid of the snake, or him getting blown away. I’m an angry frightened person and if the lightening wasn’t going to light into him, then I was. Just as I opened my mouth, he cut loose with a rather boisterous and might I say uncalled for laugh. Cutting off my angry outburst, he asked, “How did you even know that thing was a snake? I looked for fifteen minutes before I even found it. I must have looked right at it ten times, but I thought it was a stick.” I told him that I didn’t find this a “damn bit funny” and that he could stop laughing. I told him that I had never seen a stick shaped as a perfect S like that. He asked me how I could tell it wasn’t an earthworm. I told him that I didn’t bleeping know how I knew it was a snake, but I knew. Every nerve inside of me knew. And where there is one, there are more. He promised me that he had disposed of it and I needn’t worry. It had probably only come to higher ground because of the weather, looking for a dry spot and some heat. I called BS because cursing seemed the only fitting solution to this problem and because it hadn’t even started to rain when I saw it and it was night time and the stupid thing was supposed to be in some hole in the ground and not out chasing and threatening poor, innocent women, children and fur babies.
Dean continued to laugh, right up until the next morning when I refused to go pee until he checked the women’s bathroom for any more of Satan’s spawn. I spent my showers staring nervously down the drain, waiting for one to stick it’s gross, ferocious little head through and ask me if I’d like an apple. My knees knocked as I dried my hair and I shook as I headed back out the door, certain that the Pied Piper or Saint Patrick, or whoever, had been calling them all to the bathroom door to await my exit as some kind of twisted joke. But there were no more. That was the first, last, and most terrifying snake we saw on that, or any, camping trip.
Not long ago, we gave the camper to our neighbors who have young children to enjoy precious time with. Now that the boys are working and have such busy schedules, there’s just not enough time for us to camp these days. We gave away the camper mostly for that reason. That, and the fact that the next time I camp it will be in a camper with shower and toilet included so that I never have to get too far from the fire again. The fire is the safe zone. Because, being Satan’s progeny and all, snakes aren’t really all that fond of fire.