Tendrils of fog cavorted in low lying hollows in the chill morning air. I traveled the curving country lanes with half my mind already in the classroom, preparing for the day ahead. When I arrived I would unstack the tidy piles of chairs and nestle them up to the tables already set with bright red caddies and folders labeled “Morning Work.” The weekly newsletter was printed and stacked on the table by the door. I couldn’t forget to send those home and mentally envisioned sticking one bright sheet of paper into each small cubby.
A flash of movement ahead caught my eye, pulling my attention fully back into my car and the moment. Flocks of turkey, raccoons, fox and deer were a common sight along these back roads at dawn. Many flew, scampered or bounded across the road, but others were still, strewn across the road or heaped in a pile– lifeless obstacles to avoid. On the occasion when I misjudged my tires’ trajectory, I was literally sickened by the thud under my wheels and I’d learned to be extra cautious driving at dawn and at dusk.
Ahead of me the movement repeated, low, by the side of the road. What was it? I peered through the windshield, easing my foot off the accelerator, and drifted closer.
There it was… on the other side of the road…a deer. It lay on its side, parallel to the road, facing me. As I neared, it suddenly moved, twisting with tremendous effort, yet unable to regain its feet. It’s tawny legs thrashed from side to side. It lifted its long neck, struggling mightily, then dropped back down to the berm. Then it lay there, sides heaving. My guts twisted, as I slowed the car to a crawl and looked, horrified, at the deer. How long had it been here? What should I do?
The words leapt unbidden into my mind. I wish I had a gun.
But even if I did have a gun, what would I do? I might like to think I’d be able to calmly and resolutely end that deer’s misery, but I’d be lying to myself. That takes a kind of strength I don’t have. I’d never held a gun in my life and, anyway, I had no gun. My brain raced in circles while the deer continued its futile struggle at the edge of the road.
Watching, my stomach churned and my fists clamped, white-knuckled, on the steering wheel. My car continued to edge slowly closer to the deer’s resting place. I still had no idea what to do and felt trapped in the moment, paralyzed. My eyes darted frantically up and down the road, looking for someone, anyone, who might know what to do and have the physical and mental means to do it. “Oh my God, Oh my God,” I repeated to myself again and again, as I watched the deer struggle.
In the distance ahead, yellowed headlights bobbed into view. I continued drifting, passing the deer, half off the road, still hesitating. I looked desperately toward the approaching vehicle, praying it was a pick up truck with a gun rack. It pulled into view–not a pick up truck. But then, without hesitation, this driver pulled over beside the flailing, distressed deer, stopped his car and opened the door. He was clearly prepared to handle the situation. A better man than I.
Tears in my eyes, I continued to roll away from the parked car and the deer. Then passing the baton, I pushed on the accelerator and moved forward into my day, toward my gleaming classroom, leaving a ribboning trail of shame and guilt behind me like a dark splotch on a country road.