Excuse me, Deer

Ever believe in convergence? Just when things seem quiet and habitual, a group of occurrences comes along to deliver you from the usual.

The plan was common: take First Street to Genoa; drop Teal off at ballet; and complete the circle back to Sycamore/DeKalb via Route 23. After dinner we took note of the sunset. There was one of those vast split skies with a heavy ceiling of ominous dark blue and a bright sun cutting through the middle, making a drenched landscape shimmer. If there had been a high wind, we would have been on the watch for tornadoes. Teal resisted playing piano before dance but got into it anyhow. Running late, Ete and Teal got into the car and left in a drizzling rain.

"You just sit and relax," was what Ete had said to me. I had spent the last few days rebuilding a network server after making a fatal decision and pushing the wrong button completely wiping out a whole array of hard drives. This wrong turn had taken me out of a complacency that had been latent for some time. Watching CNBC, they kept going on about the boring Oscar ceremony this year, comparing the lobbying for films to the upcoming presidential election.

I was sitting pleasantly unfazed, and postponed going down to the cellar and picking out a good bottle of wine. There was some sense of preparedness in my mind; but I was not sure what I should be ready for or how I might be needed. A half hour must have passed. I finally got out of the chair, descended the stairs and came up with a prize. As soon as I heard the sound of the cork pop, the phone rang. Teal's at dance, I thought, don't her friends know that by now?

"Grant, I hit a deer! I'm just outside of Genoa on — what is it? — Route 64, 72?"
"Are you OK?"
"OK," but shaken.
"Has anyone stopped to help?"
"No. I'm just sitting in the car."
"And is the deer there?"
"I don't know, but I think I killed it — poor thing."
"I'll call the police and then I'll meet you there." I looked in the book and the local police numbers are no longer that easy to find. 911 is listed all over, as if I would forget it. I dialed emergency and they made it clear that I should call the sheriff. They had had numerous calls coming in about deer on Route 23. That was it — Route 23. I called back on the cell phone and got an approximate location. The weather had turned very cool for late March and in my haste I had not dressed for it. Don't turn back.
I took Peace Road to 23, running the circle in reverse. I was driving carefully as if some of them might be out there. At one point I forgot to turn my high beams off and got flashed back. There is no avoiding the sinking feeling of the flashing lights and the sight of too many cars pulled off onto the shoulder as you arrive. Pushing the emergency flasher button on the van, I crossed the road, ignoring the police for the time being and saw Ete. The front quarter was crushed, the two doors were smashed and bent around their interior protection bars. She could not get out on her side. There was still bits fur blowing across the road coming from the door handles of her red Ford Escort.

"Are you OK, dear?" I asked again through the slit in her driver's side door window. She could not open the window any further.
"I'm OK, but I think I killed her." Just a minute, and I went to talk to the officer.
"How're you doing?" He was unresponsive and absorbed in his paperwork. "Did you talk to her? Is she OK?" Fishing for some response.
"She is a bit shook up but she is fine."
"Is the car driveable? Will we need your report for insurance?"
And he sat a bit longer finishing while I started to shiver.
"You will need to fill out this map: You are here, one mile north of Baseline heading south; the deer was running west; and the collision took place here. Just draw it. Doesn't have to be anything fancy. Then write a short narrative here. Send it to the State within ten days. They need your report. Oh, and keep a copy for yourself. Any questions?" I was not sure I had all of it, and I had lots of questions.
"The insurance company may not need the report; they didn't when my wife hit a deer." So we were in this together. "I gotta get back there. We're getting a lot of calls about the deer on the roadway."
"I'm glad we're OK, but it's too bad about the poor deer..." I said trailing off and starting back to my wife.
"Yes, they are a nuisance." And I was really not sure who was the nuisance.

"Can you drive it?" I asked through the same slit she must have passed her license and insurance card through. She was remarkably confident.
"Do you want to go home and sit first before coming back for Teal?"
"Yes."
"I'll follow you in case you have any trouble."
When we arrived she had to climb over the console and exit out the passenger side. We walked over and surveyed the damage together.
"Lucky it didn't go through the windshield. A deer's head coming through the windshield can be like a bowling ball coming at you." The windshield was untouched. To hell with the car, we said in relief. I took a bit of fur still stuck to the driver's door handle, brought it inside and folded it carefully into a small, makeshift paper envelope. She kept apologizing for the killing the deer. I placed the folded paper under the pipestone given to me by Jim Gillihan and recited a verse for both of them.
"What did I do before in this life to make me cross paths with a deer in this way?" This was her essential, unanswered question.

The bottle of 1995 Pomerol was waiting there open but untouched on the counter. We sat and quietly sipped. It was an especially good bottle. Then a few moments later we returned to the country roads to pick up our daughter.

On the way back out we passed the scene of the accident. It was not a simple scene. They had cleaned things up a bit, but the highway was still strewn with remains of the deer. A mere half of the carcass was in the ditch off to one side. We could not understand how the whole side of the car had been smashed in, while the deer appeared to be split in half.

After hearing her mother's story, Teal was viewing the country roads with wide, doe eyes. I turned to look at her in the back seat as the headlights of an oncoming car reflected in her eyes. Teal insisted on helping me drive from back there. She asked to go back the way we came, but Ete was not inclined. Let's just go home. Approaching the garage, Teal looked over the red car closer than we had and seemed to glean quiet lessons from its dents and curves.
"It really crunched in." I don't think she had ever seen such damage first-hand before. She hugged her mom and we opened the door to the house together.

That night I woke up again at 4:30am. The answer had come to me based on scattered pieces of the story and our sympathy for the deer: the two cars were approaching from a distance. There was only a split second for a decision and the pregnant doe dashed. Leaping forward, the window closed as her chest hit the front crunching the quarter panel and knocking the wheel out of alignment. She was just about to go over the hood of the car when the oncoming car hit her hind quarter sending her crashing into both doors, sealing the driver in. At least half a mile apart by the time they stopped, one driver heading north, the other south, they had divided and been divided by a deer. She kept saying that no one stops anymore.

This is my report.

March 2000