I'd offered to give a student a ride home, and she asked me to drop her off at some big event that was happening near where she lived. I figured that since the event was in my hometown, just behind the brick elementary school, I'd stop and say hello to some people too. When we pulled into the parking lot, I could see a crowd of people, all standing around with drinks in their hands.
The parking lot was flooded with snowmelt. Big banks of snow still stood at the edges, but the party itself was held in deep water, almost chest-high. I decided to leave my shoes on, even though I knew they would get wet, and began wading into the water. Even though the pool of water was being held in by snowbanks, the water was warm and murky. I had no shock of coolness when I stepped in. I began walking toward the crowd of people, figuring I'd just make the rounds, talk to whomever I knew, and then go home.
I saw my parents coming toward me, both talking pleasantly to each other. The water was about chest-high on my father, and he had to hold his drink up at an awkward angle. I moved toward them, wading into the water until it was deep, but not over my head. Squinting into the late afternoon sun, I had a hard time seeing who else was in the crowd. I had made my way into the middle of the pool, chatting with my mother as I pushed through the murky water, when I noticed movements in the water.
The man behind me had hooked a snake, a live snake, with a metal hook and was guiding it, calmly and quietly, out of the water. Another man, to my left, had grabbed a snake near the head and was pulling it with him out of the pool. As I peered into the murky water, I saw snakes, curled and writhing, and floating with their bodies near the top of the water just the way snakes always do. These weren't the common water snakes that I know from camp, but brownish, whitish snakes that blended in with the water and sunlight.
"Oh, yeah," my mother said as she noticed my reaction. "They've been pulling snakes out of the water all day."
I decided quickly that I wanted to turn and make my way out of the pool. "Don't panic," I told myself. "Just calmly walk out of the water."
A snake floated up against me, and I grabbed it near the head. "Stay calm," I told myself. Everyone around me was calm. No one else was even talking about the snakes. They were drinking cocktails, standing in the chest-deep water. For some reason, I remembered my grandmother telling me a story about the time she dove into the water, and all these snakes came up around her. She swam calmly to shore, flinging snakes with her arms as she swam, and she didn't understand why her Girl Scout troop, all standing on the shore, were all screaming. Snakes didn't scare her.
They do scare me. I tried not to let the fear paralyze me as I walked out of the water, pushing the snake to the side and letting it swim off. I felt relieved to be out of the water, just standing in the parking lot. I looked back at the party to see if my student was still in the crowd, but I couldn't tell. I decided she'd be okay -- no one else seemed to be bothered by the snakes. My mother and I began walking through this old mansion to get back to my car.
"Something still feels not right," I said. I felt uncomfortable in my wet clothes. Something was wriggling inside of me. I began to shake.
I pulled up my wet t-shirt, and the snake that had been wrapped at my waist fell to the floor. I didn't even have time to see it before it slid quickly off and into a crack in the sideboard. I began stripping off all my wet clothes then, to make sure I had combed the snakes from my skin and hair.
I've had snake dreams all my life. And they terrify me. I wake up, tense, anxious. I can't stay in the warm bed or the dark room. I'm too afraid that there are snakes I can't see, slithering under the bed or even the covers. So I go down into the living room, turn on a light, sit where I can see the floor and know that the snakes aren't there.
Poet Woman tells me that snakes mean change, growth, transformation. She says I should embrace the snakes in my dreams.
I've always been terrified of change. And that's the feeling I had when I woke up very early this morning, in the darkness: I wanted badly to scream instead of patiently guiding the snake through the water. I hated the way the snake's body felt as it turned and twisted under my t-shirt.
I took my computer into the familiar and well-lit living room, to write the dream down, calming myself with the familiar act of putting words on the page. And then I went back to bed to lie in the dark and allow the feelings to wash over me.