Sunday, November 18, 2012

In the Headlights

I’ve been out of pocket, as they say, for the past few weeks so haven’t posted in a while. I had a bunch of ideas for today, but then something caught my attention.
            I left my writer’s group meeting Thursday night just before nine o’clock. The ride home would be short. A couple minutes into it I came to a dark stretch. I was lost in thought about the piece I’d read at the meeting, mulling over comments my fellow writers had made.
            Suddenly, and I do mean all of a sudden, a deer stepped into my path. It was a big buck. He was just moseying out into the street, unaware that this could be a perilous situation for him. 
            We hear about this moment. “Don’t swerve,” my husband always says. “Just slam into it.” Yeah, like I’m gonna just slam into a living creature! It sounds like good advice…one doesn’t want to die trying to avoid a deer, but let’s be clear. When a deer steps in front of our car, the last thing most of us are going to do is just keep driving.
            So, I slammed on my brakes, violating every directive my husband has ever given me. When I say I slammed on my brakes, I mean my right foot was to the floor on the brake pedal and my left foot was copycatting there over on the left where there is no pedal. My butt was up off the seat (not sure why, actually, but it was). Everything that had been on any seat in the car was now on the floor. The screech of the tires sounded a´ la cartoonsville. I’m sure I left skid marks and rubber and anything else I could leave.
            The slide between me and the deer probably didn’t take more than a few seconds but it felt much longer. I watched him as the car got closer and closer. He was looking at me and I was fixed on his innocent eyes as I waited to splat him up onto my hood. To my credit, I did NOT swerve, but I wanted to…really bad. In those few seconds, I had a surprising number of thoughts.
            First, I realized what the saying “A Deer in the Headlights” means. I’ve always thought of it as depicting sort of an idiot’s stupor, like “Get off your ass, dumbo, and do something.” As I watched the deer look nonchalantly in my direction, I realized he had no idea what was coming at him behind the two circles of light. He stepped from the side of the road and these two beams caught his attention. He stopped and looked at them, having no reason to know a ton of metal moving at 50 miles an hour was barreling down on him. He just looked up out of curiosity.
            And here I came. Ready to take him out. Only I couldn’t do that. If I killed a deer, I would have nightmares for the rest of my life. So I stood on those brakes and fishtailed all over the street and came up to the inch of impact. Instead of slamming into him, I pushed him a little. Just before we made contact, I saw the realization in his eyes that there might be a threat in all this. He was processing that thought when I hit him. As we collided, he jolted and took off.
            But before he did, I had an instant with him. It was more for me than it was for the buck but, indulging myself, I’ve magnified it into a special interaction that will stay with me forever. I realize the deer is long gone and doesn’t even know I exist, but on another level we will be kindred spirits for a long time.
            So, what have I got to work with when I tell my story? A huge buck in all his grandeur, fresh out of the woods, highlighted in front of me. By now he's become a fifty-pointer...biggest darn antlers ever. He looked in my direction (I’ll tell it that our eyes met and we connected with one another in a very special way). My instinctive slamming on the brakes will convert nicely into some sort of heroic self-sacrifice. I could have killed both of us. This, of course, can be trumped up such that he was on his way out and I gave him mouth-to-mouth on the side of the road.
            More realistically, I am left with my thoughts about a lovely creature that crossed my path in a dangerous way. I was able to avoid harm to each of us but, when it was over, I felt vindicated. Not with regard to the deer, but because I like to be cautious. I consider life’s possible mishaps as something more than what always happens to the other guy. Parents of a murdered child never thought that horrible fate would find their baby. Victims of assault are usually surprised when the assailant jumps at them from the bushes. No one really ever expects a deer to walk in front of their car in the dark of night.
            Any of it can happen to any of us. So, I am reminded of my lifelong philosophy: hope it doesn’t happen, but be ready when it does.
            I am very happy I didn’t hurt the deer, but the experience has given me some things to ponder. Like, when I texted my children that “I hit a deer,” both of them wrote back “Is he OK?” Not the first concern for me. So now I realize I am less important than wildlife to my kids. Good to know. And now that I’ve had the near-death experience, I think about deer more. What do they do all day long? Do they get cold at night? Why are they out walking the streets when they should be tucked in?
            Sadly, I have now become the mother of all deer. It’s going to be a burden; I can tell.