My Therapist at Ace Hardware

“Where can I find steel wool?” The Ace Hardware greeter directed me to Aisle 5, where I found it on the bottom shelf. I was looking for the coarsest kind to plug up the many holes in our house that led to the crawl space. I had done a quick survey and found at least three gaps where pipes went from the baseboard heating or from appliances down through the floor to the crawl space, a place where one hoped never to have to go.

And what is so repellent about our crawl space? It is home to mice, of course, which is nothing new and part of country life. But wait, as they say on late night TV, there’s more! Let me back track a couple of weeks.

Roberto and grandson take in the Grand Canyon, oblivious to what is happening at home

We took a short trip to Grand Canyon and while we were gone our cat-sitter Miranda called us to report that our cats were delighted with their new companion, a three-foot snake which she found on the rug in our bedroom. It was a good thing that I was in our hotel room and not near the canyon or I surely would have leapt in when I saw the photo of Miranda, clearly in our bedroom, beaming and holding the snake by the head while it wrapped around her arm. She likes snakes and took it to her house to live…outside I presume.

Miranda the Magnificent with the snake she found in our bedroom

If you saw my post about the giant pink snake in the tree you will understand how deep my fear of snakes runs. By the time we got home I was a wreck. I forced myself inside and walked from room to room, eyes glued to the floor, flinching at a computer cord, a snake-like cat toy, even shoe laces. Anything long and thin was a source for panic. Clearly we had to find every possible snake access and plug it up.

So there I was, sitting on the floor inspecting the bins of steel wool when a young woman in a red Ace Hardware polo shirt asked if I needed help. I looked up and saw a smiling 20-something, with short black hair and a piercing or two. On the verge of tears, I explained that just that morning I had found the second snake to invade our house. This one, much smaller than the first, (could there be a nest of baby snakes???!!!) had apparently been killed by our cats. I was so afraid of snakes, I explained, and I figured that the best way to keep them out was to plug all access, hence the steel wool.

She listened thoughtfully before speaking.

“Of course, you need to plug those holes — you can’t have snakes in your house. I would recommend this expanding spray foam. It will fill the holes and dry hard. Snakes can push steel wool out of the way if they want to. They are very strong, but this foam will stop them.”

She handed me a canister and I thanked her, but she went on, stooping down to my level.

“You know, I was very lucky. My uncle loved snakes. He had a boa constrictor.” I probably made a face but she went on. “I spent a lot of time at his house, and one day when my mom came to get me, that boa was wrapped around my body – I was about five and it wasn’t squeezing me at all, just gently hugging me. Every time I went over there, it came and wrapped around me. It loved me, and I loved it. In the summer I would walk outside with the snake around me. It always let me have my arms free, so sometimes I would hold a book and read stories to the snake as we walked. Those were great times. I was really lucky.”

I was waiting for the “so there’s nothing to be afraid of, snakes are kind, you should get over it, etc.”  Instead she said, “But you have a phobia and that’s a serious thing. We need to get those holes plugged up.” We examined the different foam canisters and chose one especially for pests. I thanked her, got to my feet and left for home.

I thought about her story and found that, rather than revolting me or freaking me out, it gave me real pleasure. The picture of her walking around the garden reading to her boa buddy made me smile. There are lots of ways of relating to snakes and I do not have to be locked in my version. I’m not saying that at this point I am able to free myself of the phobia, but it is very helpful to have a different version to draw on. My Ace Hardware therapist understood that and generously offered her story — an alternative narrative about snakes — rather than trying to talk me out of my phobia. She was respectful, sensitive and knew what I needed. What more can one ask from a therapist?

Note:  I realize I am on a roll with stories of strangers helping me deal with fears. See last month’s it just me, or have you been lucky in this way, too?

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