I know it sounds absurd, but I swear it’s absolutely true. In high school, I had a fabulous junior AP English teacher – Dot Hosford. She was hyperactive, creative, tough, hilarious, and a true force of nature. During our first semester, she broke us into groups and tasked us with creating a fully dimensional book report that was to be nothing short of off-Broadway in presentation style. We had 4 weeks to read the assigned book, write and edit our presentation, prepare a full range of props, and present it to the rest of the class. All of this, we were told, would count for 25% of our grade for the semester. As I said, it was an advanced placement course, and as devoted overachievers, we were motivated to outdo every other group in the class. The sad part is that I have no memory of the book my group was given. I think it was Moby Dick, since I have a vague recollection of owning the Cliff’s Notes. Why can’t I remember? Because it was completely overshadowed by what would happen next.
One of the groups in our class was given the book Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It’s about the spiritual journey of a boy from the Indian subcontinent during the time of Buddha. In their effort to bring the story to life, this group brought in a table draped in colorful scarves featuring a statue of Buddha surrounded in candles and encircled by……wait for it…….a live boa constrictor. The candles were lit, the lights were dimmed, and the book report went off without a hitch. It was an Oscar worthy performance. As it ended, applause erupted and the lights came back on. Pats on the back were offered all around, and then someone had the bright idea to hold the snake. The owner seemed to have no reservations about draping it around students one at a time for almost half an hour. The snake was then placed back on the table, where it curled itself back around the Buddha statue. Of course, by this time, the entire class figured out that I was (am) terrified of snakes. Was it because I was sniveling in the back corner? Maybe, but it’s not an irrational fear. I had several bad snake encounters as a child and it was completely justified (in my mind, anyway). After a great deal of teasing, I succumbed to peer pressure and agreed to walk up to the table and touch the snake. “What’s the worst that can happen?” they kept saying. “Everyone else did it!” I can still hear my mother asking about friends and jumping off bridges, but I caved. And therein lies the problem.
After sitting quietly through a book report, enduring the noise of thunderous applause and hands-on interaction with 20 or more hormonal teens for more than an hour, the snake must have finally had enough. It was just my dumb luck that it happened as I approached the table. Knowing that I was terrified, the snake’s owner tried to calm me by telling me to hold my hand vertically and approach the snake slowly, then just pet him like you would pet a dog. Deep breath…hand vertical…approach the snake…touch slowly. Then BAM! Just like that, in a split second, the snake lunged for my vertical hand, sinking his teeth right into the fleshy part of my palm and the lower half of my fingers. In another split second, I had jerked my hand back, pulling the snake and the Buddha right off the table and onto the floor. The statue shattered, the snake tried to slither away, and my hand started bleeding like I’d been shot. It seems our docile little buddy had nicked a few small arteries in the palm of my hand, and before I knew it, I was being rushed to the restroom, leaving a trail of blood down the hallway. We quickly rinsed off my hand and found that there were no cuts, just 12-15 puncture wounds from the teeth. Because of the location of some of the puncture wounds, blood began pooling under the skin of my palm causing my hand to swell up like a catcher’s mitt. It was time to head for the nearest hospital.
My parents were both at work, so a teacher volunteered to drive me to the emergency room. I’m not kidding when I say that we had to re-tell this story 3 times to the hospital staff. They thought we were making it up, until they cleaned me up and started pulling snake teeth out of my hand. I’m sure that story made it around the emergency room as one of those “you’re not going to believe this” stories. It most definitely made it around the school. After a few hours of cleaning, tooth removal and a tetanus shot in the fanny, I made it back to school. By then, the rumor mill had gone viral, and the story was that I had been bitten by a poisonous snake that had somehow crawled into our classroom, and I was on life-support in the ICU. They weren’t sure if I was going to make it. That’s high school for you. At least we didn’t have cell phones and You Tube back then, so I didn’t have to relive the indignity of it with 20 million of my closest friends.
In the spirit of my crazy, spastic, inspirational English teacher, I kept the snake’s teeth and presented them to her. This is how much I love her wackiness – she had them framed along with my school photo, the date, and a small caption of what had occurred that day. She hung it on her classroom wall behind her desk, and there it hung until my senior year, when someone stole it. And you thought the snake bite incident was the strangest part of the story. We never did find out who took it. My question is WHY? Who would want it, and what would they do with it? It’s not your typical collector’s item. I’m guessing it was the snake. They were his teeth, after all. What happens when a snake loses his teeth? Does he grow new replacement teeth, or is he sentenced to a life of liquid mice (ewww)? And why am I worried about a stinkin’ snake, anyway? At least I can say I escaped with only a few puncture wounds and a weirdly unique experience. And for that I say thank you, Dot Hosford. You will always be my favorite former teacher, and I will never forget my year in your classroom. You and your methods are still with me after all these years, and I have the scars to prove it.