In 1992, I was drained. Why? I was nineteen and carried a full course load of freshman engineering classes at Texas A&M, worked a full-time job as an assistant manager at 7-11â„¢, served the Air Force Reserves as an Air Transportation Specialist in San Antonio, and donated plasma every week for extra cash. Sometimes I would go for two months without a day off. This particular night was the tale end of four fortnights of school, labor, military and loss of precious bodily fluid. Simply saying I was â€œexhaustedâ€? would be like describing a Titanic survivor as â€œwetâ€? or Pinochet and Hitler as â€œvery assertive and proactive.â€?
I had just driven back from my monthly reserve duty Sunday night. Texas A&M was located in College Station and Kelly AFB was about 180 miles away in San Antonio. Monday, I had Calculus, Political Science, and Chemistry 101 from 8am to 1pm. Donated some plasma from 2pm to 3pm, then went home for a nap. Woke up around 8:30pm and went to work at 7-11 for the graveyard shift.
I got back to my studio apartment at six oâ€™clock Tuesday morning. My vision was cloudy and my body felt numb. It was crucial that I go to sleep immediately because I had an eleven oâ€™clock Engineering Graphics class. Except I had overdosed on chili cheese dogs, nachos, chimichangas, Cherry Coke Slurpees, and Funyans and my stomach was killing me. Instead of passing out onto my twin size bed, I bee-lined it toward the bathroom.
My digestive system impatiently sent repeated signals to my brain requesting immediate action to alleviate the situation. My brain responded by quickening my pace and shoving the bathroom door open. There seemed to be an obstruction behind the door, possibly a wet towel that had fallen off the hook. The amount of force being delivered was not sufficient enough to overpower the static friction produced by the damp cloth and the tiled floor. My digestive system pushed the â€œFor Emergency Use Onlyâ€? button and my arm received a surge of unparalleled strength. I slammed the door against the wall, almost puncturing the door knob through the drywall. Fortunately, the towel was there to absorb the wooden tsunami and acted as a buffer. In a one sweeping motion, I flipped the light switch on, pulled down my pants and sat down on the toilet.
As tired as I was, it was a magical moment of peace. Similar to Siddharthaâ€™s revelation with the river, I felt relaxed. I sighed, placed my forearms on my knees, and looked to my right for a magazine. I found the magazine next to the â€œtowel.â€? But the â€œtowelâ€? was not a â€œtowel,â€? it was a coiled snake. A five-foot ball python named Houdini, to be exact. He was named Houdini obviously because he could escape any enclosure. I had him in an aquarium with a lid laden with encyclopedia books, volumes. He had somehow used some ancient technique to miraculous raise the cover stacked with Britannicaâ€™s volumes A through M.
An ordinary person unaccustomed to serpents would have freaked the fuck out, but it was a weekly encounter that I had with him. I found him in the most unexpected places: On top of door jams, in my plants, under the couchâ€¦etc. My seventeen year-old brother Chris had asked me to baby-sit Houdini because our mother had threatened to kill it if it escaped one more time.
I agreed because ball pythons were renowned for being timid hence the name â€œballâ€? because they usually curl up into a scaly sphere out of fear. Up until this night, Houdini had never scared me and we had cohabitated in harmony. But letâ€™s reenact the episode from his point-of-view. He had probably slithered to the bathroom because it was dark and damp, a perfect python environment. Through his tongue, he could sense the vibrations of me opening the front door and walking quickly in his direction. Again an ordinary snake would have scurried off, but he was also familiar with me. His next reaction was completely justifiable. Doing nothing more than resting his belly, he was mortified when I callously slammed his body against the wall and turned on the lights, torching his eyes lacking eyelids.
Houdini acted like a cobra being hypnotized by a Calcutta snake charmerâ€™s flute. His head rose slowly while his neck stiffened. His head rotated in a small circle. Iâ€™ve never been this close to a snake in strike mode, especially with my pants down. I tried to reason with him, â€œHoudini, think about what youâ€™re doing. I didnâ€™t mean it. Iâ€™m sorry. For Christ sake, come onâ€”letâ€™s just settle down.â€?
He couldnâ€™t hear me, the Dark Side was flooding his senses with Fear and Anger. Since I couldnâ€™t reason with him, I started to yell, â€œI swear to God, if you draw blood, I will kill you. Do you understand me? You will die!â€?
His head stopped revolving, springing back a fanged mousetrap. I was petrified. How could this little bastard turn on me? Did I not feed him mice every week? Clean his cage? Save his life from my motherâ€™s death threat? His ingratitude hurt my heart. I realized I had to put the emotional damage aside and deal with my imminent peril. I kept shouting, â€œDonâ€™t! Donâ€™t! Donâ€™tâ€¦â€?
He lunged at my calf. I jumped up and to the left into the bathtub. I grabbed the shower curtain to keep myself vertical. Defying physics, the three-dollar plastic curtain seemed capable of bearing my weight. I started to lose my balance and grabbed the curtain with my other hand and the extra weight ripped it from the first shower ring. The second ring sustained me once again for the same amount of time as the first, giving me a false sense of security. Once the third ring failed, the others rings popped off like the buttons of groomâ€™s tuxedo shirt on his wedding night. I came crashing down into the tub. Houdini wasnâ€™t content with just scaring meâ€”he wanted to taste my flesh.
I threw the shower curtain on top of him and dove head-first through the door. Somehow I phenomenally managed to roll into a somersault, stood up, did an about face toward the bathroom and slammed the door shut, all in one fluid motion. I was trying to slow my breathing down because I was hyperventilating, forcing myself to breathe through my nose and out my mouth in a steady manner. My heart felt like a rat trapped in sealed in a TupperwareÂ® container. My right hand still gripped the doorknob and my left hand pushed on the doorframe sealing the door. To an outside observer, it would have been ridiculous to assume Houdini would have been capable of opening the door, but they had never been attacked by a five-foot python while sitting on a toilet.
My winter trench coat was hanging to the right of the door on a hook, so I grabbed it and threw it down on the ground to block the Â½-inch gap between the door jam and the bottom of the door. Feeling a little safer, I let go of my white-knuckled grip and stepped away from the door. I felt a bit of chill and my body shuddered uncontrollably. I realized my pants were still down around my ankles. I reached down, pulled them up, and buckled my belt.
I went to my closet, grabbed my .22 caliber rifle and a box of .22 long shells. I unlocked the loading tube, unsheathed it from underneath the barrel, filled it with 17 rounds, inserted it back into the hollow cylinder, and locked it back into place. I grabbed the cordless phone, a pack of DjarmÂ® clove cigarettes, and a lighter. Placed a chair about seven feet in front of the door, lit a clove, and called my little brother in San Antonio.
My mother answered, â€œHello?â€?
â€œMom, itâ€™s Dan. Can you wake Chris up?â€? I said.
â€œHoney, are you alright? Itâ€™s six fifteen in the morning,â€? she asked, â€œAre you okay? Do you need me to come get you?â€?
â€œIâ€™m fine. Iâ€™m fine. I need to talk to Chris,â€? I said, â€œitâ€™s about his snake.â€?
â€œHoudini!â€? she screamed, â€œKill that motherfucker! Oh, sorry about the cussing, but I knew it. Kill it, you have to kill it.â€?
â€œMom settle down!â€? I said, â€œJust get Chris on the line.â€?
I heard her fumble with the phone and yell, â€œCHRIS!! CHRIS! Houdini just try to strangle your brother. WAKE UP!â€?
I had the rifle trained at the door jam, resting on my lap with the stock underneath my armpit and my finger on the trigger. Chris finally stumbled to the phone in the kitchen. â€œWhatâ€™s goinâ€™ on?â€? he said wearily.
â€œI just wanted you to know that Iâ€™m going to shoot your snake,â€? I said calmly.
â€œNO! You canâ€™t! Iâ€™ll come up and get him. Please donâ€™t shoot him,â€? he cried.
â€œThen Mom will kill him. Either way heâ€™s going to die,â€? I said.
Chris started to cry and begged me not kill him, â€œPleeeease, donâ€™t kill Houdini. Pleeeeaseâ€¦â€? he sobbed. It hurt my heart, I felt like I was telling Timmy that I had to shoot Lassie in the head because he tried to bite me. I then said, â€œIâ€™ll call you back,â€? and hung up the phone.
I put the safety â€œonâ€? and leaned the gun on the wall next to the door. Lit my clove cigarette and inhaled an intoxicating drag of spiced flavored smoke. I held it in for four seconds and felt my brain being massaged with narcotic stimulation. Once relaxed, I realized that I had initiated the confrontation and he had only reacted defensively with the primal instincts infused within him from a million years of evolution. It wasnâ€™t personal. In fact, he had probably already forgotten the incident since reptiles lack memory. They only have RAM but no hard drive.
I smoked the rest of my clove, unloaded my Remington, hung up my coat, and went to bed. I couldnâ€™t kill Lassie. Houdini was truly an escape artist and this time he had escaped death.