Last Friday we finally enjoyed the Knoxville Zoo, something that’s been on the “Must Do Soon” list I made after moving here. With our Dollywood season passes, we got a worthwhile 20 percent discount, and since I packed our lunch, the only money I spent was on admission. The zoo is fabulous for city this size, complete with elephants, giraffes, an array of African cats and large birds. My favorites were the red pandas and river otters, while Jeremy and Jackson fawned over the reptiles.
Of course they did. They ooed and awed and “Hey Mom, look at THIS one, it’s HUGE.”
The reptile house was like an exercise in asphyxiation for me. First, it was the python and then it was the 5,000 other snakes that I barely peeped at because I wanted very much not to scream in public.
Which became an impossibility when along came a zoo employee handling a live snake for patrons to see and touch. (Heart attack.)
I stood back. Way back, and I nudged the boys ahead so they could get all the snake they had coming to them. It was some ugly shade of orangey brown with spots or zigzags, and it was weaving in and around the man’s large hands. The small crowd around him, which included my boys, was fascinated.
I was in misery. Shifting and pacing, I keep half an eyeball on the boys for their own safety while also eyeballing the exit. We needed to be done very soon because my stomach hurt. The man noticed my unease and asked, “Is it okay for your boys to touch him? He won’t bite.”
“Sure, whatever,” I say, waving in his direction, my eyes to the ground. “I just don’t want to watch.”
After a few minutes, the man took a few steps in my direction. What the…? Is he taunting me? Teasing me? He better not come this way.
I look at the exit, look at my boys, and look at the man with the snake. He’s taken another couple of steps my way, and my heart squeezes. He needs to stop coming this way.
“I really don’t need to see it, thank you!” I yell at him. Doesn’t he read body language?
The crowd dissipates and my boys turn to check out the snakes behind glass. The man steps further toward me and I think I’m going to scream.
“You REALLY don’t need to come over here,” I say. My breathing quickens at the thought of this snake attacking and swallowing me whole.
“Yes, I do,” he says. The snake had wrapped itself around both his wrists and around one arm. God help me.
“NO SIR, PLEASE,” I yell. I could cry. Everyone turns to look at me. I am the center of attention in the reptile exhibit.
“Ma’am,” he says sternly, barely five feet away. “I have to. I need to put him back and you’re standing in front of the door!”
Puzzled and jerked out of my trauma, I turn to see the Employees Only door behind me, where I had scooted and cradled myself into a corner. Mortified and eyes downcast, I whispered “Sorry, I’m so sorry” and moved out of his way as if inching along on a ledge. I called for the boys and they both come running around the corner talking about how cool the exhibit was and how I needed to see so-and-so snake behind such-and-such glass.
“Nope, we’re done here,” I said, eyes toward the turtle sanctuary and beyond. “We’re going back to the pandas.”