Back in September I received a birthday present from a friend. A snake. An albino Corn snake. My friend she literally lives in an apartment full of animals. From dogs to turtles and even snakes. He was tiny then, only a baby and no longer than my palm. She told me he was born last July. He shit on my hand the first time I held him. Yeah this was going to be fun.
He was a bit scared of me in the beginning. How could I blame him? He was just a tiny little red orange worm. Naming him was the hardest part and after his several failed attempts at biting me I ended up naming him Azrael. The name was a term I took from my Batman comics and its actual meaning is The Angel of Death.
Azrael moved in with me to my new apartment. It’s a one bedroom and he was my only roommate. He shed on his first night here and it looked as if he doubled in size. He ate the next night and soon I was showing him to everyone I knew. I had big plans for him! When he would get bigger I wanted to make little wizard hats to put on his head, take a picture and proceed. Azrael would have hated me before long. Everyone and including people who are afraid of snakes told me he was adorable. That was true but he could get aggressive easily. I noticed that he would shake the tip of his tale when he would get agitated, almost like a rattlesnake. It was his normal thing when people tried to touch him. He was just getting used to me so I doubt anyone else would be as lucky.
I started dreaming of him, almost every night for a couple months. Him slithering around. Nothing specific. It was odd and I felt almost disturbed by this, but I never understood and I still don’t know.
Very soon after I received him he stopped eating. He wouldn’t go near his food, just avoided it. I read that this had to do with stress or sometimes snakes just never felt like eating. I even read it wasn’t uncommon for a snake to go months without eating. This really bothered me that he would do this at such a young age. October became November and almost December before he finally ate a mouse. I was so happy! I took a video of it and sent it to my mother. (She hates snakes)
Now I have always been a dog guy. I have a chocolate lab girl named Nessie. She is a big dog and these type of dogs live from 12-14 years of age. She is only 6 and weighs 83 pounds. I read that Azrael could live as long as 25 years and grow 5-6 feet! I was going to have my work cut out with this guy. He was going to outlive my dog and probably the next dog as well. I could be almost 50 years old before he would die. Azrael could literally live through a lot of critical years of my life. Maybe a future wife and children? Not on the table right now, but not out of the question. He would probably be living in my first house and any other place I end up at. That is if he didn’t escape first.
Now I always knew that snakes were escape artists and I already guessed this guy was going to attempt at some point or another. So I placed a large survival knife I take hiking on the lid. It is really heavy and he is too small to bump the lid. One night I watched him climb on top of his log and slide along the glass to crawl up into a small space in the edge of the tank. Azrael had no chance of escaping but I watched in wonder as he crawled in the small gap all the way around the tank. He did two laps before he slipped and fell out. A few minutes later he tried again and made it about half a lap before he fell from the top. I only ever seen him do this one other time. Usually I could just find him under his log or getting some heat from his light.
A couple weeks ago I went to feed him another one of his frozen pinky mice. After it thawed I ran some warm water over it to get its blood good and ready for Azrael. He nearly ripped it out of my hand! I dropped it in his feeding box and he struck. What was interesting about this was he attacked it with the speed of an adult snake and even tried to coil it. (Unsuccessfully) I only imagined what he would be like as an adult. I think Azrael might have been the perfect name for him.
I adored him no matter how mean he could get. I went to feed him a week later and he got really aggressive. He struck at my hands multiple times and no pain was earned since his mouth was so small. I placed him in his feeding box and was trying to give him another mouse. He instead struck at my fingers and hand. After several minutes he wouldn’t even look at the mouse when I dropped it in. That’s when I noticed his a small bulge near the end of his tail. He hadn’t passed his last mouse yet.
Worried I checked online and they said that this could be pretty common with snakes and that it will pass in time, it also could be because he was trying to shed. I did notice his body was a little flaky so I placed him back inside his tank and I left him alone. He was always more aggressive during his shedding stage so I allowed him his space.
Now, I check on him every day more than once. Before I go to work, when I come home from work, and before bed. I ask him little questions like, “Hungry yet, Buddy?” or “How you doing you little bastard?” (Of course I do this without expecting an answer. I am not crazy!) On February 23 I awoke to finding him coiled up under his last heat light. Nothing uncommon and before I went to bed I saw him moving around under his log. I went to work not really thinking anything of it. When I came home I was looking through my mail and I went into my room to check on him like I do.
He seemed to be in the same position I left him in when I went to work. I didn’t think much of it but I did notice his water bowl was a little low. I preceded to pour some water into his bowl. Normally this causes Azrael to scurry into his log when I do that, but this time he didn’t move. I got a little worried. I said his name and reached to pick him up. I hooked his body with two fingers and noticed how limp he was. Upon lifting he didn’t move at all and his mouth was hanging open. Azrael was dead.
I placed him on top of his log and wondered into my kitchen. I sat down in a chair and stared into space for a long time. I got up and moved back into my room to see him still lying dead on top of the log. I pulled him out and expected him. His body was flat and in certain spots and he had dark marks. I had no idea what happened and I filled myself with despair.
I talked to my friends and other people. They kept telling me it wasn’t my fault. You took great care of him and you shouldn’t put that on your shoulders, but I did notice his how aggressive he was a few days before. I did notice something was off and I just assumed the obvious. I remember thinking maybe if I take him to a pet store they would have somebody look him over and maybe they could have figured out a way to save him.
I wrapped Azrael in paper towels and placed him in a shoe box. Soon, the loneliness sunk in. He had been with me in this apartment since the day I moved in. (My dog has to stay at my dad’s place since I can’t have a dog that big in such a tiny place.) “Why?” I kept asking myself. “WHY?!” I would scream it! I felt like a failure…I still feel like a failure. I had such big ideas for him, I couldn’t wait to be able to wrap him around my neck when he was big enough, handle him outside, letting him slither around in the grass. I failed him, I failed myself. My first snake and he died in under a year. What did I do wrong? I cleaned his cage, I fed him, and watered him. WHAT DID I DO WRONG?!
I talked to my boss at work about it and he said maybe he had bad genetics because he was albino. Breeders will inbred to get certain types out of the offspring. I tell myself this to help myself calm down. I channel my hate towards the breeder. I have a friend who has pet snakes and he said 9/10 it wasn’t my fault. That the chances the snake died because of itself and not my care. These words help but I still feel like I failed a bit.
Yesterday I pondered if I should get another snake to help fill the void but I am going through that typical period “I don’t want another snake! I want Azrael!” I went to try and bury him at my grandparent’s farm. (A lot of our departed pets are buried out there) The ground is still too hard to bury him. So I placed him in a bag and he’s in my freezer in some strange irony since he is right next to his frozen mice.
That hurts knowing that. I have to hold him there until the ground warms up which could be as late as April in Illinois. I hate this feeling. I want him back so bad. Sleeping in my room hurts since it’s now pitch black. His heat lamp used to be my nightlight. It’s weird not checking on him all the time. I don’t know what I am going to do with his tank and his mice. I also have a feeling I will no longer dream of him.
It has been said that time heals all wounds. I don’t know who originally said that and don’t care to, but I have always lived by it and I know in time I will eventually set up his old tank and place a new snake in it. I am hooked on owning one as a pet. I’m a dog and snake owner for the rest of my days. Soon, I will be able to bury him at The Farm and allow him to join that circle of Life. The years will pass and other things will fill my heart with joy and other things will break my heart all over again. That’s the ugly truth and it’s the fucking world. As time will go on a new snake will grow in my care and I may have a wife and family with more dogs. In time I will only have a few pictures and my memories of him. Soon, the people that met him will forget about him and only I will remember there was once an albino corn snake named Azrael. I imagine I will never look at another snake again and not think about Azrael. As his body is absorbed into the earth, his memory passes with others, it will be like he never existed at all, except to me. Only me.
Azrael, I want to thank you for the months you gave me, the love I learned from raising you, the smiles you put on my face when I watched you. You were adorable and fascinating to watch. You have lead me down a path of owning snakes that will remain with me. Even if I can’t I will still think of you always as a part of my family, like Nessie and any other dog. I miss you even now. You could be a little prick, but you were mine and you learned from the best. I am sorry Azrael. I am so sorry. Rest now. Goodbye.