Did you know that a snake can lunge and envenom a person for up to an hour after it has been killed? Seriously! What power of darkness is this?
I learned that fact when my children were very young. We live in the woods and have taught them the rules about snakes: see snake, run screaming from snake. One day they were bounding down the steps to their cousin’s swing set when my eldest saw one on the path. She stopped the merry procession and called for me.
It was a bad one. A fat copperhead stubbornly coiled on a short retaining wall at a child’s eye level. In fact, one of them had passed within a foot of its mouth before they spotted it. There was no angle to use a shovel, so I had to resort to my brother-in-law’s rifle. I am an excellent shot, but don’t own a weapon (Unless you are a criminal or young man with bad intent interested in one of my daughters, then I have an arsenal).
Locked, loaded, snake shot nearly in two. Problem solved, right? One would think. I proceeded to use the shovel to move it to the driveway. It was slithering a little, but I didn’t think about it. After all, its head was nearly disconnected from its body. About halfway up the stairs, that broken snake made a desperate lunge for my leg. Luckily, I saw it and dropped the shovel with the snake’s fangs about a half an inch from my calf. I left the minion of evil slithering around itself on the steps for a few hours and made the kids play inside until it could be properly disposed of.
The whole thing gave new meaning to the phrase, if it were a snake, it would have jumped up and bitten you.
There was another snake this week. Its camouflage was perfect and it came out of nowhere to bite me. I can see most relevant dates on the calendar and predict their emotional impact in this season of grief – any holiday, her birthday, the anniversary of diagnosis and certainly the date of her death will be forever marked with a big red X on the calendar. The first day of school lay hidden in the weeds and bit me hard Monday.
Eight years ago, we took Kylie to first grade. Mommy had to wear sunglasses so the others wouldn’t see her tears. It seemed that Kylie’s classmates were all first children while she was the youngest of four. Some of the kids cried and held onto their mommy’s legs. In our case, quite the opposite was true. The younger parents must have thought us an old couple who had pleaded for a child (ala Abraham & Sarah) as we unpacked her, said goodbye, and sat on a bench outside the classroom while mommy wept. Leaving her there meant being at home alone and mommy likes having her little eaglets in the nest.
Last year, Kylie bravely fought to be at school. She was sick and exhausted from chemo but determined to be there. Mommy sat nearby that day as well, in case she needed to go home early.
Last Monday should have been her last “first day” at our beloved Perimeter Christian School. She should be the big kid there – an 8th grader. We should have gone back-to-school shopping in the previous weeks, and if treatment had gone as planned, she should have had hair. She should have been able to walk the halls on her own. We should have taken pictures of the reunion with her classmates and hugs with teachers.
We should have had more. Kylie deserved more.
The first day of school pictures Monday were just like that snake lunging at me – only this snake connected. I don’t begrudge anyone posting them. The pictures are part of the routine – the parents and children deserve that routine despite the effect it might have on me. It is just hard to see normal. Cancer stole normal.
And yet… I love those kids and that place. Once I dropped the shovel, I found a great deal of pleasure in seeing how much they’d grown and remembering how well they loved my little girl. Kylie’s friends are starting to look like little adults and their beautiful smiles slowly won the day.
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I know there are bad snakes lying in wait, but I have learned that there are good snakes also. While some don’t agree, one year I killed two large non-venomous snakes, and the next year my problems with the bad ones doubled. You see, good snakes eat bad snakes. The only surefire way to shed myself of my snake problem is to never go into the woods.
Here’s the rub: I love walking in the woods. There are so many good things in the woods that I won’t allow the occasional bad snake to ruin the pleasure of a hike among the trees. It may just take time and a couple of good snakes to nudge me back on the path.