This is Keagan, the best goddam snake in the entire fucking world.
I got Keagan as a present from a friend who picked him up as a rescue when I began college. He was my first ever “just me” pet; not a family pet, not a pet I was holding for someone else. The first pet that was just mine, for me, because I wanted him. I brought him home in a little, red snake pillowcase.
Tomorrow I’ll be bringing him home again in the same pillowcase, only it’s going to suck infinitely more.
Keagan was my writing buddy for many years. His favorite place to sit was in my hoodie sleeve, followed sometimes by my hoodie hood. In college he was my plotting buddy; when I had story problems, I would talk to him first and he would lay on my chest and listen to me talk, sometimes for over an hour.
Not once in the ten years I shared with him did Keagan ever even think about tagging anyone- not even the 2-year-old who latched on with both hands like vices, not even when I was holding a mouse, not even when I gave him pinkies for a treat; he would come up to my hand, tongue flickering, and delicately take the pinky from between my fingers. He also learned that when I had a cup, it usually contained ice water, which he developed a thing for, and would drink out of my cup if I held it out to him.
He never missed a strike, and he was a faithful eater most of the year; a large mouse once a week, every week. He was kind of pudgy, in the end. There was a span of three years where he got really picky and would only eat live mice; and even if he JUST killed it but got distracted and turned back and the mouse was dead, he wouldn’t eat it. He was also a faithful, excellent shedder; almost every single month, and almost every single shed was one long, beautiful piece.
Every spring, Keagan would fast for 6-8 weeks and go on a lady-snake hunt around his enclosure. The day I brought Laguna home, despite that she’s not his species and would probably rather eat him and wasn’t even in his enclosure, he acted like he’d won the lottery. He scooted around his tank for days trying to find a way through the screen lid to go say hi.
Keagan lived in an unlocked tank for most of his life; sometimes it was a 50 gallon long tank, sometimes a 20 gallon long tank, and for about a year he lived in a shoebox inside of a 10 gallon tank because he wouldn’t come out of the shoebox when it was in the 50 gallon tank.
Despite the lack of locks, he only “got out” one time, when I left him at college and went home for thanksgiving. When I came back he was not in his tank; but he was coiled up on the feeder mouse tank under his tank on the stand, nose to the screen like he could will himself through it.
In my showers through my various living spaces, Keagan always had his own towel rack. When it got around shedding time, he got to come into the shower with me and take a steam bath on the towel rack. He wasn’t much a fan of laying in standing water.
Over the years, Keagan taught a lot of people that snakes were cool and that they didn’t have to be afraid of them. He made friends with a lot of little kids, and I always packaged his sheds to give to kids who were interested. On Halloweens he sat with me and greeted trick or treaters. When people asked me if they could hold a snake, it was always Keagan that came out first because he could charm the socks off of anyone; even my mom. He loved people and people loved him, too.
It was a bit of a secret, but Keagan was ticklish. When he was laying on me, I would very softly trail a finger down his side and watch his muscles contract. Sometimes he would turn around and look, or get huffy and shove my finger away; it looked like a little snake shrug. He hated when anyone touched the tip of his tail, and the only way to make him hold still was to put a finger on his head.
He liked going outside, but he was really silly about it. When it was warm enough I would take him out and find a nice patch of grass, and he would burrow into the grass- but only the first few inches of his head, like no one could see the rest of his bright red body sitting on the dark green grass. I took him out to do that again today before the vet, for the last time.
For the past month, Keagan and I have been to more vet offices/visits than the entire rest of his life combined. It started with a small lesion on the top of his head, after which I took him in to the local vet. One lesion turned into three lesions within 3 days, which sent us to a more knowledgeable reptile vet. Three lesions turned into six when he shed, leaving him with three huge open wounds and more spots. The vet was trying to figure out what to do/what it was and we were trying soaks, injectable anti-biotics, and topical application meds.
But Keagan was older, and nothing was working, and it came down to the conclusion I never wanted to hear; cancer. Really aggressive, quickly metastasizing cancer, he said.
I kind of knew going in tonight with him what the vet was going to tell me. Edemas were forming under the lesions. His face had swollen when he popped his shed yesterday. He was due to shed tonight, and if it was going to be anything like last time, it was going to be painful and make everything so much worse.
And pretty much everything I thought was all over the vet’s face when he walked into the room. It was time to throw in the towel.
So, tonight had to say goodbye, and give up my very first and very best and most beloved scaly kid.
Everything hurts, and I’m not okay.