Ten years ago, I was twenty. It feels like a huge chunk of my life ago, which I suppose it was. Over the next few months I’ll be adapting John Scalzi’s 20/20 blog series to talk about how life has changed over the last ten years, and maybe also how it’s stayed the same.
Week one: Pets. Ten years ago I had none, and now I have none, but in between I’ve had a few.
First off: the snakes. Kesali, Nivasi, Zenith and Haxa.
Kesali was the first snake who came to live with me. I fell in love with her and with the little heart shape she had on her head. Her name means ‘forest spirit’ because she had some branches in her tank and she loved climbing around on them.
She also had quite an appetite for mice, settling into the household remarkably quickly and not even requiring the full two weeks of hiding before she came out and tucked in.
Shortly after adopting Kesali I joined my local reptile society in order to learn more about my new snakey friend. Unfortunately for my ex, who didn’t like snakes, this meant I ended up rehoming several sad and angry snakes with various physical and psychological issues.
The first of these was Nivasi, who was a vicious little shit but she’d had a hard life so we forgave her for it.
She had a really cool chequerboard stomach. In the beginning it was impossible to handle her so I took this photo through the wall of her tank. Gradually she settled in enough to be handleable, but she was never exactly a sociable snake. Then again, neither am I.
A smooth green snake, Zenith lived in a special tank that kept her humidity levels just right and ate a diet of crickets. They would occasionally escape and hop around the flat, and it wasn’t unknown to wake up in the middle of the night and find one in the bed.
Smooth green snakes are essentially unhandleable: handling them even a little bit can stress them out so much that they die, making them immensely relatable.
This does make cleaning them out more difficult too, as you have to kind of move around them and try not to disturb them too much. A couple of times I did manage to get Zenith out of her house to give it a proper clean, but in general she’d rather live in a falling down dump than have people in making it nice for her. Having spent the last few months surrounded by builders, I can kind of see where she was coming from.
I know you’re not meant to have favourites, but Haxa was mine.
She came to the reptile society after being smuggled through a UK airport in a shoebox with 59 other pythons. We managed to rehome most of them, and a couple of my fellow reptile society people took some of the rest, and then there was Haxa, and she came home with me.
Because of her awful start in life she remained tiny her whole life, never growing much bigger than she was in the picture above. She was a sweet, gentle snake who was perfectly happy to be handled, either actively or just sitting on your lap while you watched TV. Several of my ophiophobic friends actually got over their fear of snakes because of Haxa: she was just so little and cute and pathetic that you couldn’t help but love her.
The snakes left my life in various ways: Zenith died quite early on, after only about a year of us living together, probably of complications from her pre-rescue situation. When I lost everything including my place to live, I knew I couldn’t keep the other three. I found a place to go, but I could barely afford to keep myself alive, let alone three snakes (even though they’re remarkably cheap pets). I reluctantly rehomed Kesali and Nivasi, who went to different homes: Kesali, the sociable one, to a lovely lady who’d never had a snake before but was enraptured by Kesali the moment she saw her picture, and Nivasi to a guy who was very experienced with nervous snakes and promised to give her a good home. Haxa was the only one I took with me when I moved out of London, and we kept each other company for another year or so before she died.
And then there was Fifi. My favourite pet – hell, my favourite person – I’ve ever lived with.
Fifi was the best cat in the world. She joined me when she was nine and died when she was sixteen, and we spent some wonderful quiet years together. We had many of the same interests – sitting down, watching Star Trek, refusing to speak to humans – and we got on like the best friends we were. I was devastated when she died last November, and I still miss her.
Will I get another pet? I don’t know. Immediately after Fifi died I found myself scrolling down the RSPCA’s sad cat pages (not their actual title), but I realised it wouldn’t be fair to get another one because what I really wanted was Fifi back, and no one could be that.
As time’s moved on I have found myself wanting a pet less and less, and although I still get the sad cat alert emails, so far I haven’t been taken enough with any of them to make me want to fill in a form. When I think about the mess and stress and lack of alone time that having a pet entails, I don’t know if there’s space in my life for one right now. Although I did get a twinge of snake nostalgia while I was writing about my erstwhile reptiles, so who knows? Maybe a small snake collection will be gracing my living room again soon.