My name is Chris. I am a musician, writer, son, brother, hiker, runner, disc golfer and addict. I keep reminding myself that none of the preceding defines who I am.
So instead of a half-assed, cookie cutter About Me page like every other blog out there, instead of trying to distill the entirety of who I am in a single blob of text, I’m picking out one moment of my life to relate. It’s not meant to be some symbolic representation of my time on this Earth. It’s not meant to mirror my later life. It’s just a singular, powerful memory that will be forever lodged in my brain. I’m not even entirely sure why it’s such a strong memory.
* * *
I was as pissed off as an eight year old could be. This plebeian neighbor who thought herself so high above me was on my last nerve. I can’t even remember what she was saying to me. Her words were typical of kids our age, simple minded, personal and attacking. The other kids in the yard were watching this battle of young wits between us as Jenny assaulted my character in front of them all.
My main directive was for her to cut the shit, but not in those words. I was still too young to be brave enough for such adult vocabulary. Not only that, but my house was directly across the street and my parents were at the dining room table with the summer air wafting through open windows. They could almost certainly hear the angry shouting taking place and would easily recognize my voice if I ever decided to let fly with some choice vulgarities.
Jenny was prancing around the yard with a big fucking grin knowing that her insults had precisely the effect she had hoped. She was older, and because of her own place in the pecking order of her peers, took pleasure in the bullying of someone smaller and younger than her. My anguished looks combined with my hurt voice likely had her little dopamine centers firing away. More, more, MORE! is all the motivation she needed to try and push me to the next level of emotional pain.
But I’d had enough.
In addition to Jenny having the upper hand in this back and forth, the other kids were also laughing and parroting the best of what she threw at me. Becoming increasingly enraged, I became aware of a stick on the ground, right next to me. It wasn’t a big stick but it was large enough to wield as a threat in my young mind. My wrath had reached such a point that I’m pretty sure the next words to come flying out of my mouth were something akin to, “I’ll kill you!” As I shouted this, I reached down, picked up the stick and held it high over my head, showing her I meant business.
She wasn’t very close to me, maybe twenty-five feet away. In reality, a stick this size wasn’t any real threat at this distance. Any child would be aware of that. But the look on Jenny’s face told a different story. It wasn’t just fear. It was horror. She pointed at me and screamed. She screamed like someone witnessing a murder as it took place. The other kids also underwent a change. Their wicked smiles evaporated into expressions of slack-jawed surprise.
Sure, I wanted a reaction. I wanted her to apologize and treat me like a decent human being. This reaction, though, was completely outside my expectations. My mood dissolved from one of extreme anger to bewilderment. “What?” I said, “It’s just a stick.” And with that I brought my hand down to show her, and probably myself, that it was just a relatively small stick.
In my hand, however, was not a stick. It was a snake. A living, writhing, and suddenly quite large and completely freaked out snake.
I imagine this snake, up until a few moments ago, had been having a pretty good day slithering hither and thither. Then came the thunderous arrival of young humans and all the bullshit they bring with them. And now it was in the clutches of a particularly enraged small human, being waved madly in the air under the guise of weaponry. How could things possibly get any worse for this poor creature?
When I realized what I was holding, I forgot about Jenny. I forgot about appearances and saving face. I forgot about my parents across the street and exactly how many ounces of bravery were required to recite my pitifully small lexicon of swear words. And words? What are those? The only thing that came out of my face at that moment was a high-pitched, terrified scream.
I released the snake, but sadly, it wasn’t a gentle, compassionate release. It was a launch. Straight up it went, probably with enough g-force to render it temporarily unconscious as it flew. By the time it hit the ground, I was already halfway home, my little legs moving faster than they ever had before, my lungs somehow finding enough air to power my escape as well as emit that piercing scream, broken only by the short moments needed to inhale. Years later, my Mom would describe the event as a rising wail, punctuated by my crashing through the door, completely bonkers on adrenaline.
My father was instantly captivated – by the snake. He bolted out the door to the group of kids across the street looking down at the distraught reptile. He had to see just what I had in my overly eager hands.
I numbly followed my father over to the scene. We all stood over the snake inspecting it as it moved. I twitched and shuddered as the last squirts of adrenaline left my body. Amazingly, the snake appeared to be physically okay. However, I can’t speak to its emotional wellbeing. I found myself feeling a little guilty at having traumatized this animal. It wasn’t intentional by any stretch but because I was angry and didn’t know how to deal with that anger, this innocent animal felt the brunt of my wrath. It’s not the last time I would witness how my actions would, in an unhealthy, emotional moment, negatively affect the lives of the innocent.
Afterward, when the snake became old news, we all set about the task of playing an outdoor game. Jenny and I forgot about our war of words. When it got late enough, we all headed to our homes for bed.
Like I said at the beginning, this really doesn’t define me. It’s a window and, like most windows, it shows a different view depending on which side you stand. From today, it shows a snippet of my childhood. And from within the rendering of the above moment, a view of who I became can be glimpsed.