My ex, Freddie, is, and probably always will be, the biggest idiot I’ve ever known. I mean the guy took our two-year-old son for a ride on a motorcycle for God’s sake. Sitting on his lap! But only once, I might add, because, man, did I give him the shit when I found out. Big time.

Oh sure, in the beginning when we were both juniors in high school and starting to date, I’ll admit that I was drawn to his tall, thin frame, dark brooding looks, and long, wavy hair; he really did remind me of what I imagined a poet from the Renaissance would look like. And the sex was good, too, I’ll cop to that right now. Great, even. So back then, I cut him a lot of slack. But flash forward ten years and things have changed. We’ve been married for five years and have five-year-old Randy and three-year-old Hannah. We’ve just bought a house in the little town of Long Lake and Freddie is happily living on workmen’s comp due to falling off a ladder at the construction site where he was working and I see him for the lazy, self-centered, good-for-nothing slob he really is. Now all he’s capable of doing in lying around our tiny home playing on the Xbox or fooling around in the backyard with his crap Harley, smoking weed and drinking beer and having his friends over to party while I work as a teacher’s aide at the middle school in Orono and clerk at the Holiday gas station down the road from us for extra money. Well, if you’d seen me back then, you’d have seen me grow from being sort-of pissed off to major-league pissed off in the course of those five long years of marriage, not to mention all the time I spent putting up his worthlessness. Plus, you’d see me on the verge of booting him out.

Flash forward another five years to now and you’ll find me happier than I’ve been in a long time because I’ve not only booted his worthless ass out, but I’ve finally divorced the lazy SOB. Last month was the second-year anniversary of that red-letter day. These days, I’m focused on my kids and both my jobs and I’m trying to move on. I’m still pissed off at him, I’ll tell you that right up front, but now it’s just on general principles, like that thing having to do with Jack.

Maybe you read about it in the newspaper: the time last August when that little girl, Sally Carthwight, went missing? Oh, I’ll tell you I was going nuts, freaking out and worried like most everyone else in our tiny, close-knit community about the fate of the little four-year-old. I even joined in one of the many search parties that were quickly organized to comb the woods and swamps around town to look for her. And, like thousands of others, I was wildly happy when little Sally was found curled up and scared but safe in a garden shed after only having been gone from 4PM on Wednesday until 6AM on Thursday. But the true scare for me, and unbeknownst to everyone else, was that while she was missing, so was Jack, who was under the care of my stupid ex, and who knew what Jack might do, especially if he came across cute little Sally.

I got it from Randy, my ten-year-old, who told me innocently, “Daddy’s snake got away.” He relayed this information to me on Tuesday morning, the day after Jack made its infamous escape from Freddie and the day before little Sally wandered off. Randy and Hannah had just been dropped off by Freddie’s new girlfriend after their one night every two weeks court-ordered visit with their dad. (Apparently, he couldn’t be bothered to bring his own kids home to me, busy as he was sleeping or getting stoned or something.) I had just plopped down a bowl of Cheerios on the kitchen table for their breakfasts, since they each told me right off coming in the back door that they were “starving, Mom.” Feeding his children wasn’t high on my ex’s priority list, either, I guess.

“Yeah,” Randy added, getting back to the snake discussion while digging in and shoveling a super-sized spoonful into his mouth, “Dad’s kind of worried,”

Well, I went crazy, absolutely batshit bonkers. I started screaming and threw the box of cereal across the kitchen and then kicked it, causing Cheerios to explode all over the place. I picked up the newspaper from the counter and flung it in the air and punched the pages as they fell to the ground. Next, I slammed my hand against the back-door frame and then punched it for good measure, which hurt. A lot. In fact, I’m surprised I didn’t break any fingers. But my actions did temper my anger somewhat and cause me to get control of myself. I stomped around the tiny kitchen for a few minutes before finally starting to calm down. When I felt I had myself under control, I went to the back door and looked out into my small, shaded backyard, seeing only the red rage in my brain. What the hell was Freddie thinking? One, what’s the deal with him having a snake? And, two, what’s the deal with him having my kids over when there was a snake around, escaped or not?

Eight-year-old Hannah piped in, trying to calm me down, “It’s okay, Mommy. Daddy says Jack’s not really dangerous.”

I was on the phone before I could get the phrase, “I’ll kill that son of a bitch,” out of my mouth.

Turns out that Jack was an eleven-foot-long python, if you could believe it. Yeah, a python, and Freddie was, “snake-sitting for a friend,” as he called it when I got him on the line and was able to finally control myself enough to talk coherently.

“A snake? A python? Are you kidding me? You’re the biggest dumbass I’ve ever heard of, having something like that around the kids.” I paused to take a breath and then added, “I’m going to call the cops if you keep this up.”

“Now, now, Bethie Button,” he said to me, chuckling and using a term of endearment from our past he had no right to invoke, “Don’t get so worked up.” I could see his confident grin spreading over the phone like oozing slime and, man, the vision of it just made me madder.

Seems that Freddie had a friend who had the python and he was taking care of the big reptile while the friend was serving 21 days in the workhouse for being drunk and disorderly at a Memorial Day celebration in Minneapolis located 20 miles east of Orchard Lake, where we live. Nice friends, I thought to myself, listening in amazement while Freddie told me the story, wondering what I’d ever seen in him in the first place. Oh, yeah, the wavy hair, the brooding good looks, the great sex.

“Well, the kids aren’t going back over there until that snake is gone,” I told him in no uncertain terms, forgetting for a minute that it already was, “I mean, long gone, like back with your friend.”

“I’m going outside again to look for him some more right now,” he told me, “Me and Ronnie.”

Ronnie. What a stupid name for the bitch who was now Freddie’s new girlfriend for the last, what, month? If I had a nickel for every tattoo I’d seen on the slut, I’d be able to buy a new car instead of the piece of crap 25-year-old Honda I was driving. Add in the ones I couldn’t see and I’d probably be able to buy my kids each a new bicycle, too.

“Well, you’d better hurry and find it then,” I told him, “I’ve heard those things are dangerous.” I shivered when I slammed the phone down.

My grandmother grew up on a farm in northwestern Minnesota that was regularly inundated with six-foot-long bull snakes (harmless, but still, six feet of snake is a lot of snake). She passed that fear on to my mom, who tried to pass it on to me but failed. I don’t love snakes, but I don’t hate them either. Live and let live is my motto, but still, a python is not like the little garter snakes I’m used to seeing when I’m working in the yard, not by a long shot. Pythons ate things, even big things sometimes, so in my book, Jake was something to worry about.

When Freddie and I divorced, I kept the house we’d bought three years after Randy was born. Freddie and I made it for a couple of long and unhappy years before I was finally done with his wasted ways and I kicked him out for good. He didn’t move far away. In a moment of benevolent parenting fervor, saying that he wanted to be close to the kids, he rented a dilapidated garage a half-mile from me out on the edge of town. It was on the property of the guy who owned the construction company where Freddie was injured, a guy called Cameron who was rich and who apparently felt sorry for my idiotic ex. But Freddie’s always been lucky that way, always seems to find a way to get people to feel sorry for him, always seems to have friends around to help him out. In short, he always seems to get by. Me, I have to work two jobs to make ends meet (just barely). But I’m not complaining (much); it just seems that Freddie’s not only a lazy good for nothing SOB, but he’s supremely lucky, too. Luckier than me, anyway.

So, strike that comment about complaining, because I guess I am. But least I have the kids, and that counts for a lot in my book no matter how difficult it is to pay the bills, keep my home and stay out of debt, which I pride myself on doing. Whatever the case, Freddie calls the junked-out garage home, but I know better: peeling paint, crummy-looking roof, crap laying around inside and out. You can’t fool me; it’s a piece of shit shack that’s a poor excuse for a place to live, and I only let the kids go there because it’s close and they can run home to me anytime they want if they need to, and besides, he’s their father after all, and has a right to see his son and daughter (I’m not a complete jerk, just protective of my children).

The point is, a half a mile away..was that close enough for a python to get to me and my kids? I looked it up on my iPad. Yeah, it was.


I was off from my teacher’s aide job for the summer, but still worked at the Holiday station for extra cash. I didn’t have to go in until three that Tuesday afternoon, so I spent the rest of the day patrolling my yard with one of Randy’s aluminum baseball bats, keeping on the lookout for the python. I had no idea what I’d do if I found it, but I couldn’t just sit and let the big reptile come to me, could I?

When I left for work a little before three, I told the kids to stay inside until I got home, hoping they’d mind me; they usually did. I tried to put the fear of God in them before I left.

“Do you know that a python like that could swallow each of you whole, one after the other, and then spend a week or two slowly digesting you until you were nothing but a gooey glob of guck in its stomach? How’d you like that?”

I’m not sure my statement was true or not, but the way their eyes went wide, I could tell I made my point. “Just stay inside. I’ll be home by 9:15.” I said over my shoulder as I left, “And don’t go out of the house for any reason whatsoever.” I turned and gave them my best evil-eye mom look. “I mean it,” I said, pointing my finger at each of them. “Stay right here.”

I’m pretty sure they followed my instructions, because when I got home that evening, their bikes were parked exactly where they’d been left out back along side of the garage. It being August in Minnesota, there was still enough light for me to grab Randy’s baseball bat and do a quick check around both the front and backyards, looking behind bushes and checking around the foundation of the little single story rambler I call home. No python. But let me tell you, by the time I got inside and curled up on the couch with the kids and a big bowl of popcorn to watch one of the Minions movies, my nerves were shot.

Hannah, my skinny, bookish, daughter lay her head on my shoulder and said, “Mommy, don’t worry about anything. Daddy told us Jack was really a nice snake.”

Snake maybe, python no. I’d read up on them on my iPad at work. There’s no such thing as a nice python, a reptile that could suck down a baby fawn in the blink of an eye, is what I was thinking, but Hannah was a sweet little freckled redhead who reminded me of the main character in my favorite book when I was growing up, Anne of Green Gables, and I didn’t want to scare her (much) and lay my concern about her or Randy being swallowed alive on her, so I told her, “I’m not worried, honey, just tired.” I shuddered as I said it, picturing a huge python wrapping itself around…I shuddered some more, but in spite of all the shuddering, I’m pretty sure I was able to convince my gentle daughter that everything was going to be alright. I even managed to convince myself. Boy was I a good liar.

I spent the morning the next day, Wednesday, cleaning the house while the kids watched cartoons until I turned the television off and told them to entertain themselves which they did, Hannah by reading and Randy by building a Lego model of some Star Wars thing. Then I fixed grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch and when that was over, and since I was still not excited about any of us going outside, the kids and I commandeered the kitchen table and started playing board games. Even though we were stuck (trapped?) indoors with no air-conditioner on a hot summer day (the temperature was near 90 degrees outside) the three of us rose to the occasion, and by the middle of the afternoon, we were deep into a marathon game of Monopoly and having a pretty fun time.

Then I got a panicky call from my friend Sandy. “Beth, did you hear? Sally Carthwright’s gone missing.”


For all installments of “Reptile Lust,” click here.