02 July 2005

Midnight confessions

About a week ago I decided it was time to be less freaked out by snakes. In addition to the reptile houses at zoos and snakes in aquariums in pet stores, I can't stand seeing them in movies or on tv and wouldn't even want to touch a photograph of one.

When I think of snakes, several images come to mind: a black snake about an inch in diameter and a couple feet long that my cousin was supposed to stun with his bb-gun and then throw over the fence so it would continue killing mice. Instead, he cut the snake into three pieces that continued to writhe independently on a stair I had to cross if I wanted to keep up with the boys. I did step over it, and those 3 writhing pieces are burned in my memory.

During possibly the same visit, my dad, brother, uncle, two cousins, and I all went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark . At 7 going on 8, the snake-filled big screen was more than I could stand to watch (otherwise I loved the movie).

When I was in the fourth grade, a rare time of popularity in my life, I sat in the back and talked to a friend while an animal demo was going on. There was a large bird, a falcon or possibly an eagle, that was brought in. The next time I stopped talking to my friend and looked forward, there was a boa constrictor in front of me; I fell over backwards in my chair. We were supposed to touch it to see that it wasn't slimy; I think I managed to do it, but it didn't make snakes seem any less creepy to me. The skinniest, shortest, slithering things in the grass still made me break personal speed records every time.

Several years later I saw The Witches of Eastwick in which the protagonists are faced with their deepest fears. As I recall, it was Cher who gets covered in snakes. I hated the image, but what was worse is that it planted this idea that it was possible I might be faced with this someday. I know it's not rational, but it's there. My fear became a secret to guard. After years of my obsessive avoidance of snakes, I've realized the avoidance is just feeding the phobia. I should at least be able to endure all those snake-apaloozathon promos the SciFi channel is so fond of without being distressed. On an encouraging note, after Cher's character had endured her snake submersion for a while, the devil moved on to something else, and she was ultimately fine.

This desire to dial back my fear probably spawned last night's dream. It started in Europe, in London or France, though I encountered no monuments of significance. "Well, that's done then," I thought to myself, meaning I'd finally traveled to Europe so I could check that off my life's list of things to accomplish. Then I was in a classroom learning to deal with a cobra. Apparently they were less likely to bite you if you gave them a lemon wedge to suck on. A classmate from high school was there, and she got the cobra to chomp down on her lemon wedge while I watched nearby. The old, stocky instructor encouraged me to go next; though I was reluctant, I held out the wedge under her supervision. The cobra chomped down hard into my forearm. She told me to hold its jaws closed for reasons relating to my health, but I was too shocked to comply, and the snake let go. The instructor got the cobra back into its cage, a small room of plexiglass which she entered stooped over slightly. Picking up the snake, she held it's head so its fangs poured venom into a test tube. Somehow this venom was now my cure, but in an instant she lost control of the cobra and was dead on the floor in the cage. My high school friend was gone as happens with dream characters, so I was on my own to get help. For various reasons, no phones in her house worked, and minutes precious to my survival ticked by. Considering that timely aid was essential and I was having no luck obtaining it, I was remarkably calm.

I woke up feeling pain in my arm where the cobra had bitten. It wasn't the first time a real pain had manifested in a dream in some incongruous manner, and I found that reassuring. In the dream, I wasn't that concerned by the cobra, particularly after it'd bitten me. The worst had happened, and I did what I could. Feels like a promising start.

If I make progress here, who knows- maybe I'll be able to desensitize myself to job interviews and apartment applications.

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