Handler Published in Anti-Heroin Chic, April 2021 issue No. 20 On the Outside, Looking In Creative Non-Fiction
The problem is what to do about snakes. When I was eight years old, I was walking in the brush behind our house and I nearly stepped on a resting snake all curled up quiet like, camouflaged in a pile of leaves against a log. I could barely breathe or react in the presence of the snake, my lungs shrunk to nothing, incapable of pulling in air, my legs momentarily dumb and slow with fear. We were silent during the entire accidental confrontation. Not a word was exchanged.
The time I was sitting in my Nana’s yard on a lawn chair reading Nancy Drew and a snake went right up the leg of my jeans, I was capable of screaming all of the words, but the snake was still up the leg of my jeans and no amount of rational discussion was going to remove him. Snakes wrap themselves around hairbrush handles when they escape their Tupperware containers. They have the gall to camp out in the middle of basements in between piles of pillows. They masquerade as belts on the floors of closets. They slither out of door jambs onto the shoes that contain my feet. They fall into 8 feet deep basement window egresses and then the guys from Ace Wildlife Removal Services have to come with their hooks and thick gloves to remove them. Snakes are at times incapable of knowing their most cherished motivations and I mostly dislike them for that. The lady at the Akron Zoo Behind the Scenes Tour told me that you can’t like or dislike a snake. You just have to be careful where you step. And you just have to know how to handle them when you can’t avoid them, because snakes mean all of the things they say.
Well, now, there is a snake right here in the grocery store parking lot. He is tensely coiled and loudly sure of himself as I look over my shoulder at him, while I stand by my minivan, part of my Two Brother’s caramel and chocolate bar stuffed in my mouth and the other half melting in the heat of the day. He has all of the words for immediate rejection and perfect defense, but it’s clear he backed his car right out of his parking place and smacked the back of his car right into the back of a woman’s car, which she had only just pulled inches out of her parking place. I know this because I saw it happen.
I can’t just continue on as I always have under the untouchable grocery store parking lot sun. There’s a snake blocking this entire section of parking lot and he is loose and hissing, readying himself to strike out at his target, this woman. His failure to reconsider is making this car accident into a wordless space meant for hunting. He is swollen with significance, his tail flicking menacingly, while I hesitate, devoted to fleeing from my certainty. Being certain and being terrified feel the same. Snakes do that to me.
A crowd is now lurking on the sidewalk by Panera. The onlookers whisper and point as if to say, “Just look at this. Someone needs to handle this situation.” No one comes forward though.
The man warns the woman to put away her phone or else. His face is purple and he’s sweating and I’m certain that if I asked him to, he would re-create the whole world straight out of himself. He recoils to consider his target. Being right and being angry feel the same to him. He seems used to that.
There are two other women who have witnessed the accident along with me. As the three of us approach this man, he cannot steady himself. He is hurtling onward, deep into the forest of his own righteous truth. He thinks he’s a trapped animal, the victim of wily hunters who have trespassed on his territory, who have tricked him with some un-named cleverness. He thinks we are his trap. He threatens to have the three of us arrested. Who will make direct eye contact and approach this man with their arms swinging confidently, ready to whisper to him, willing to lean in to him, head bent close, with a sympathetic arm draped over his shoulder? Who will pull him aside, uncoil him, and coax him? Who will explain to him that he was caught where he shouldn’t have been while also sparing him responsibility? Who will speak to him in hushed tones and gesture gently, rubbing his shoulder until he is calmer? Who is fully aware of all that this man cannot set aside?
A handler comes forward and he gets the furious man to cease his threats, to produce his driver’s license, and to wait for the police to arrive. I wonder if the manager of the grocery store, the handler, who saw the entire series of events unfold from where he was eating lunch by the grocery store café windows, also got this furious man to reconsider his cherished motives? Did the grocery store manager explain to the man how devoted he was to the intolerant pressures of his own emotional world? Did he explain to the man that he was insensible of himself?
I wonder what it takes to convince a man that what he’s demanding is the impossible. Under the untouchable grocery store parking lot sun, I continue on as I always have, being careful where I step, because the problem is what to do about snakes. They mean all of the things they say.