Victoria Nessen and
Jenny Forrester

Victoria Nessen

By Jenny Forrester
Inspiration piece

I dream I ordered a kitten snake online. It comes in a box, curled – snake body with a hard plastic Hello Kitty head. The instructions say, “This snake has not been fed for easier transport. Feed packet included. See inside.”

I say to a blur-faced dream friend, “I’m not really sure why I ordered a black kitten snake. I’m afraid of snakes.” They laugh.

I feed it from the packet of Snake Awake.

I close the lid and wait as it bumps and thuds. I step back. Unfurling, it pushes up through a box flap and smiles, becoming soft black fur – a Hello Kitty tuxedo snake. I love it. We smile at each other, his tongue flickering through his wide pink smile.

I wake up, catch my breath, panic – my CPAP mask flung off. It’s claustrophobic. I have flung it aside in exchange for freedom of movement. And Pip, my tuxedo cat on the pillow, has pawed me awake. I imagine him watching my stopped breath. I know he saves me. I feed him.

I have severe sleep apnea – the doctor says it’s severe. He said even if I lost weight, I’d still have it. My oxygen levels drop below 82% during both lab tests. I think of the song, The Gambler, “And the best that you can hope for.” I could die in my sleep. That was one of my mom’s favorite lines of all the country songs we sang in my wide sky childhood.

We hadn’t understood depression.

My grandfather sent biblical quotes for support and inspiration, transformation – often regarding communion and the consumption of the lord’s body as opposed to other bodies. It matters whose blood and whose body you consume. He was a tyrant, my mother said. Authoritarian, believing in the physical disciplining of children, the purity of religious fervor, chastity, a certain kind of punitive charity, a holding to the authority of parents over children, the tie and wool suit, corporate employee with stocks in IBM, known to have contributed to the cataloging of human beings during World War II.

When I first moved to my apartment by a shallow pond, I dreamed of snakes and saw snakes and it was a time of snakes, actual snakes shuddering rage at the unfairness of the metaphor. I dreamed smiling snakes, coiling, strangling snakes. Fangs. Alone after thirty years of never being alone as an adult. “I’m going to die,” I said often. “I want to die.”

I’m poison, I said to the mirror.

My claustrophobia is this:

Twelve boys trapped in a cave – some parts are water-filled, narrow, they’ll need oxygen masks. I study the diagram for as long as I can breathe before closing it.

Two and a half miles in, multiple passages. Darkness. The government of Thailand is going to leave them there for four months until the rainy season is over.

My mom died in a cave. She died cave diving. She appears at my shoulder, sitting behind me as we study the diagram – her ghost self and I. She doesn’t say much. Our communion now is telepathic. You know if you speak to ghosts, too. She says, “Oh.” Each day. It’s oh, like despair. Oh, like, no. Oh, like there are families waiting for their children.

I can’t wear my cpap. So much air. Rushes of it.

I see the boys in diagrams being pulled and pushed through narrow watery spaces. They’re drugged, I read later, to keep their panic at bay.

My mother says, “Oh.”

We cry. I couldn’t save her. She leaves. I don’t know when she’ll return.

I go kayaing with Amy on the Taulatin, a shallow, wide river with tree-filled banks under a bright blue sky and we hear many coyotes crying when a siren screams along the road on the other side of the trees.

I’m burnt crimson and peel – long pieces of skin, “I’m a ssssnake,” I say, considering the politics of the day, considering the whiteness that is my skin and kin.

I want transformation, being the body and blood of my grandfather. I’ve sought communion. Transformation through communion is what I’ve received. I’m grateful.

But now, shedding everything, shedding even my desire to be different than I have been, than I will be, being a snake shedding is blind confusion. It’s sensitivity. It’s pain. I want to be someone who can sleep and breathe at the same time, but I’m not. I may never have been.

So, I’ll be what I’m becoming. I sprinkle Snake Awake and aloe on my snake skin. I consider whose body I consume, whose blood. I seek shaded spaces. I wait. I strike. I transform.

I’m another kind of snake, I tell myself, not the kind my grandfather was, but I’m poison.

I’m counting on it.

Note: All of the art, writing, and music on this site belongs to the person who created it. Copying or republishing anything you see here without express and written permission from the author or artist is strictly prohibited.