It’s still not clear to me exactly what I was doing driving around that night and when it comes down to hard facts, I could care less. I spent a number of purposeless hours behind the wheel during those months. Maybe it was the result of a living in a small town past my prime or maybe it was from realizing my parents were as flawed as I was, able to hurt and be hurt. There was an absoluteness to the anomie of my existence and it was sharply defined within the walls of the house I grew up in, apparent as soon as I’d step foot in the front door. While the house was held firm with buried concrete, the home’s foundation had been unearthed and I felt that my own core had been built on sand and washed out to sea. I suppose I do care what I was doing out there that night, or at least I should care. I was spinning my wheels, chain-smoking and listening to classic rock and fulfilling the oxymoronic act of attempting aimlessness.
There are roads where I’m from that are surrounded by acres of woods, farmers’ fields, and God’s sky. At night they snake for miles, stripped from humanity, save for a smattering of farm houses and an old church, weekly choir practices indicated by the beauty within shown from illuminated stained glass on Thursday nights. That building wasn’t far from one of the many spots where you could kill your headlights and see absolutely nothing. A pure vacuum of darkness and one of the few things that still had the power to scare me breathless. The road I was on was sandwiched between those two points, a route that had only two stop signs for six miles, but you could drive that distance and never have to stop once.
There was a fog that night, nothing dense, but the air possessed a vaporous quality. It was like the ground emitted this steam. The vapor had fluidity, as if the streams of cloud were playing tag with each other. Now, usually when I tell this story I say the fog that night shrouded the event in mystery and I most certainly would say the atmosphere was eerie. There was actually nothing eerie to the evening, nothing the weather did to evoke fear or doubt. It was truly a playful fog, whimsical and without worry. I drove through it trying to feel the same way.
I threw another butt out the window, watching the embers splash in my side-view mirror, and when I looked back to the road noticed subtle movements through the fog. Off to the right, in a corn field that had the season off milled at least a dozen young deer who seemed to me to be either yearlings or hardly beyond that age. They were so close to the road and I wondered why they didn’t move when my lights bathed them in light. Instinctively, I slowed the vehicle. This was a precautionary measure learned second-hand from my older sisters’ totaling their cars as a result of the venison roadblock. I took the next turn under 15 mph and immediately learned the reason behind their peculiar milling.
As I took the slow turn I saw a shape obstructing the way. A doe lay across the right lane of the road, her tail and hindquarters brushing up against the edge of the field and her nose inches from the double yellow lines. I stopped and sat for a moment. This electricity began flowing through my limbs as I flipped my hazards on and stepped down from my seat. As soon as I was in front of my headlights it was clear that she was alive. I could hear the breath coming from her snout and the work of her lungs gently moved her fur. I got closer and realized her injuries: both hind legs and at least one of the front were broken, indicated by their awkward positioning and the blood and bone revealed. I sought out her eyes, which were open and directed across the road into the adjacent field and scared, as if she was nestled in that vacuum of darkness at one of my lightless crossroads. I looked over to the field and wondered how many of that disoriented dozen belonged to her. How many would take off from the rest and wander these trails without direction?
Pulling a hard breath through my nostrils, I stood up and pivoted back toward my car. I pictured what it would feel like to drive away from her. To drive by that place day after day just to see her scattered across the road by the next motorist, the stains that wouldn’t wash away until after several days’ rain. I thought of those yearlings, their confusion. Between camping and being a kid from the country, it was only natural that I had a 15-inch hunting knife in the center consul. I unsheathed the blade, walked to her again, and talked to her in my best attempt to coax her into calmness. Studying her neck, I got close. Then I stopped thinking.
Back in my car, the deed done, the electricity felt like it was shooting out of my fingers. My chest trembled with every breath. My face was wet with tears. However perverse, however violent, this moment was her’s and mine. The act was crude, but right. My body was rapidly quenched from its emotional thirst and as I pulled out from that spot on the road I possessed an invisibility that cloaked me with strength.
Strength enough to drive me home.