“It takes two to make an accident.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“There should be a place where only the things you want to happen, happen.”
― Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are
A few nights ago, I hit a deer with my car.
That sentence should be revised for grammatical correctness and narrative accuracy:
A few nights ago, a deer hit my car.
In an act that objectively appeared to be an Anna Karenina-inspired deer suicide, a middle-aged, pale-skinned doe was hiding from plain sight, amid the bushes and birch trees of a nearby farm, perhaps contemplating her troubled existence. Maybe it was all too much for her…. a disastrous marriage to a stoic yet solid mate, a kingdom in turmoil, a recent affair with a dashing buck. And as the sun descended past the horizon, at the purple glow of twilight, while my lone car was steering downhill at (a legal) 45-50 mph, the elegant and refined lady decided to let go of this world forevermore. From my perspective, it would have been better if she chose to stick to Tolstoy’s actual plot and hurl herself in front of a train instead.
Clearly taking literary license with her demise, with a speed and grace worthy of a sugar plum fairy ballerina, she leapt directly in front of my careening vehicle. And in a split second… crash. I can still hear the booming, metal-on-bone sound of impact. I can still feel the instantaneous collision which resembled slamming into a steel wall versus striking a singular animal. I can also still hear myself repeat the same sentence that countless others have voiced to me in their country life war stories:
“The deer came out of nowhere. There was no time to react.”
The deer really does come out of fucking nowhere.
There really is no time to react.
I’ve been driving for 25 years. I’ve had my fair share of engine breakdowns, spark plug mishaps, and tire blow-outs in extremely unfortunate locations at painfully inappropriate times. I’ve been stranded on highways and back roads, in various states of our union, close to home, far from home, eternally grateful for my AAA membership road side assistance. I’ve been towed back to my home, to hotels, to gas stations, and to auto repair shops. I’ve swiped my debit card more times than I can count to get my ass back into my repaired automobile as soon as possible, back onto the road and into my daily existence. But I’ve never once been in an actual accident in my entire life, either as a driver or passenger.
I didn’t even realize this was an “accident” until the kind folks who stopped to help me used that word to describe the smoking, leaking wreck of a car in front of me, and my shaken body and mind, as I attempted to make sense of what just happened at 8:05pm on a Tuesday night.
Accident? What? Call 911, why? I need to fill out a police report? Because of a deer? Why yes. The insurance company will want the report. The insurance company? Oh, right. I guess we’ll see if I’m really in good hands with Allstate. Where is my home? Oh just down the road. Where are my valuables? Oh, in the car… I should get my laptop and wallet out of the car. Is the car going to blow up? It’s still smoking. Can you put the car in neutral and drive it off the road? What? Get back in the car? No. Honey, maybe you can help her. She’s really shaken. Ok. Can I take you home? Does anyone have cell reception? No, there’s no reception on this road. Let’s call 911 from your house. Can you tell me your address? What is my address? I just moved a few months ago, I don’t remember my address. I can see the house from here. Let me look up my address in my phone. Yes, someone should be home when we get there. Yes, I have cell reception at home. No, I don’t want to go to the hospital.
When the police officer arrived a half hour later, she told me, “Don’t worry. Totally not your fault. Happens all the time. In fact, I almost hit a deer coming here. I thought, how embarrassing… if I had to tell my superior that I hit a deer, going to the deer call.”
While somewhat comforting, I found myself strangely envious of the officer who managed to avoid her own up-close-and-personal antler entanglement.
Other semi-comforting things friends have said to me in the last few days:
“Thank god you’re alive.”
“It could have been so much worse.”
“You’re so lucky.”
“I’m so glad you’re safe.”
Yes…. Ok. That’s all technically true. And I agree with the sentiments above, not in any way intending to denigrate my existence and safety. However, with my twenty-year-old car wrecked beyond rational value of fixing it, and a pre-existing neurological disorder that makes whiplash one helluva bitch to treat, it’s a bit difficult to jump on the “brighter side” bandwagon. At least, not right now.
A handful of friends have also expressed concern that I may also be suffering guilt from killing a living, breathing creature of this world. “Alison, it’s ok… the deer probably went into a nearby field to die peacefully.” Or, “Maybe the deer ran away. Sometimes they just run away.” No, the deer did not prance into a nearby field to silently pass on, or recover, surrounded by purple wildflowers and the friendly buzz of bumble bees. No, this deer combusted in mid-air, directly in my line of sight, due to the power of impact, releasing magical puffs of white smoke, a decapitated head, severed limbs, no blood splatter on the road nor my windshield, no remaining evidence of life. Just… gone. Poof. Incinerated bone and flesh. The truth can be gruesome. There is no sugar coating this one.
Many years ago, I burst into tears in my car, convinced my tire got the best of a fluffy tailed grey squirrel whose only fatal error was trying to grab an acorn in the street. As this was a quiet suburban street in my hometown, I got out of my car to search the area for its remains. Ultimately finding no flattened squirrel crime scene, I concluded he must have dashed off to safety. Squirrels clearly value their lives more than the entire suicidal deer population… or perhaps Squirrel Traffic School requires an advanced course in “How To Cross The Road Without Dying, Destroying Cars or Injuring Humans.” I suggest this class be expanded as an interdisciplinary seminar offered to the entire animal kingdom for the benefit of humanity.
On a more recent occasion, I found myself morally aghast at a guy in my life who hit a bird with his car while he was driving us to an event. We heard a smacking sound, then saw feathers fly up in front of us, as he continued down the mountainous road. He laughed. A lot. With a bit of a maniacal tone. He also didn’t like dogs. Cruelty to animals = relationship red flags (but that’s a whole other story…)
But a deer? I have little remorse for this particular animal who, in less than five seconds, derailed my life, my deadlines, my health, and wrecked my car in the process. Besides, you really can’t have chronic Lyme disease for two decades without thinking, “Good riddance… one less tick-infested Lyme carrying deer in this world.” Maybe I’ve saved some unsuspecting nine-year-old from a life of mysterious symptoms and medical disbelief.
Amid the insurance claims, calls to osteopaths, trips to Whole Foods for herbal anti-inflammatories, and the hours spent lying down alternating heat and ice packs, the following thought-pattern has emerged and will not leave the recesses of my mind:
In recent years, I’ve become acutely aware that energy moves me… from one home to the next, from one relationship to the next, from one job opportunity to the next. When I fight it, or try to control it, things end disastrously… emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically. When I surrender myself to it, then things flow… naturally… even if it’s to a person, place or thing that I could not, nor would not, have otherwise imagined I needed or wanted.
In light of this energetic paradigm, as Ms. Carrie Bradshaw would pen, “I couldn’t help but wonder…” is the life lesson here:
- Alison, you are going too fast, down the wrong road, and you’re not seeing the hazards leaping in front of you. Stop. You’re going to get seriously hurt.
- Shit happens. No matter what you do or where you go.
I’ve since polled some of my close friends with this question. Thus far, most have strongly voted for Option 2 (likely to prevent me from spiraling into a total existential freak out… as I’ve been known to do).
Two friends interrupted my Jungian ramblings about how car = self; and accident = energy to interject, “It was just a deer, Alison. Just. A. Deer.”
One friend astutely suggested an alternative to my multiple-choice exam: “Find another answer.”
The day after my fateful collision, a nearby friend ditched all her plans for the day to be my personal Uber (and therapist). From sitting next to me while I called around to auto body shops for sticker shock estimates, to helping me rent a car, to driving me into town for a medical appointment… she confirmed that indeed, “This shit happens, all the time, particularly in the country.” She pointed out that I’m so used to New York City life, I’m reading waaaay too much into this. Everyone has a deer story in the country. Everyone. I’ve just been indoctrinated.
Is it like Girl Scouts? Do I get a badge? Do I have to sell cookies? I refuse to wear a weird green uniform.
But yes, She’s right about one thing for sure: I am quite accustomed to city life. I know what to do with a cockroach infestation; how to handle an irate landlord screaming at me in Albanian; how to approach the unhinged elderly neighbor wandering the hall in her bathrobe searching for Mavis, her lost dog (FWIW: there was never an actual dog…); and how to get from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side without even glancing at the subway map. But…. Bambi’s mom hurling itself at my car? Yeah. The urban jungle does not prepare a person for such wild things.
In a twist of fate, about two weeks ago, I randomly asked a friend if he’d ever hit a deer with his car. His answer? “Nope.” I replied, “Me either. Which is impressive. All things considered.”
Well, isn’t that ironic, Ms. Morissette?
I don’t regularly query comrades about their deer-vehicular events. Nor have I ever proclaimed my own prowess at avoiding such a catastrophe. Maybe I should have knocked on the wooden table in front of me? Or carried a rabbit foot with me? Or maybe it’s like summoning Beetlejuice. Say: “I’ve never hit a deer with my car,” out loud, with extreme emphasis, and one will magically appear!
(Come to think of it, if that’s the case, maybe my friend should take extra precaution on the road for the next few months… Just sayin’…).
I’m deciding to stick with the wise “Find another answer” perspective on this one.
Because maybe it was time to finally let go of my car; the car that’s been breaking down every other month, including a frightfully dangerous situation on Route 66 outside DC a month ago… the car I never would have given up without brute force. And maybe I needed to calm the hell down when driving behind slow-pokes on back country roads. Doesn’t matter what the speed limit says. They know something this city gal doesn’t. There are deer lurking in those woods. And tragic heroine doe or not, all it takes is one leap… and your entire universe can shift.
Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.