I woke up at 4 a.m., sweaty from a slight fever from a UTI that had been percolating the last 12 hours. You can wonder if you’re pregnant, be unsure if you have strep throat, lost as to why your lower back is bugging you, but if you have a UTI, you know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Ten trips to the bathroom in two hours? Yeah… You know.
Urgent care didn’t open until 9:30, so I slept a few more hours and dreamed I yelled at a church congregation because they didn’t know the third verse to the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Whaaat was that about?
I got up at 7:30, made some breakfast, and took a shower, all the while feeling a low-grade yuck. Got in the Jeep at 9:00 and headed down the hill to Walgreens. I had to check out their clinic after crying with laughter last month watching Stephen Colbert’s report: Pap Smears at Walgreens. (“They’re between the Swiffer refills and the cat food.”)
It was a beautiful morning, warm and sunny. I was thinking of the latte I’d get at Panera and was singing a few lines of One Republic’s “Good Life” when a deer ran out in front of the Mercury Mariner ahead of me. The driver slammed on her brakes, but there was nothing she could do to prevent hitting it. The deer clipped her front left bumper and was thrown into the shoulder on the other side. The driver pulled over and I pulled in behind her.
The road we were on is a high-traffic road, and its 35 mph speed limit is a joke. Most folks climb and descend that hill doing 45 or more. It’s a tight road, too, with a steep hill on either side. The deer, had it successfully crossed the road, would not have been able to climb that hill without a rope and climbing anchor.
The driver and her husband got out of their vehicle and I out of mine.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yes, yes,” said the driver. “I…I…” She looked across the road. “Oh my god, it’s still alive!”
He was a beautiful little buck, no older than a year and change. He laid on the shoulder, breathing hard, his head facing the hill. The left side of his head was bloodied. Cars passed him, unaware he was still alive or that he was even there. He looked around and then he tried to get up, but his legs were broken.
The driver called 911 and her husband walked up the hill toward him. The deer struggled and struggled and the driver and I stood on by our vehicles, horrified by his pain and desperation. The deer didn’t understand what had happened. All he wanted to do was get the hell out of there, get back to his life. But as hard as he tried to stand up, to get away, he failed. He was dying. And there wasn’t a damn thing we could do.
Two men pulled over on the other side and helped the deer stay on the shoulder, petting him and holding him in place. I tried to distract the driver and asked her where she’d been heading to.
“I was going to Oakmont Bakery to pick up my birthday cake,” she said. “Happy birthday to me, right?” She was bawling.
The deer died just before the police arrived. The officer told the driver that since her car was drivable, a deer collision was a non-reportable accident.
“But he was still alive. If nothing else, he had to be put out of his misery,” she cried.
“Ma’am, it’s just a deer,” he said. “And did you see that guy was petting that deer after it died?” He rolled his eyes. “Kinda weird.”
It’s only because that man had a gun and could arrest me that I didn’t go ballistic on his ass. I’m sorry, but that animal was in a lot of pain. Someone had pulled over and tried to offer him some comfort as he died. What the hell is wrong with that? That driver felt awful for having hit the deer, which was not her fault at all, but she felt bad. That feeling is going to sit with her for a long time, and not one more birthday will go by without her thinking, ‘On my ___ birthday, I hit a deer.’
There’s nothing good about suffering, whether it is our own personal suffering, or the suffering of those repressed by tyrannous governments, or the simple, unnoticed suffering of an animal on the side of Coal Hollow Road on a Saturday morning. I’d rather surround myself with people who care about a deer who suffers than people who don’t give a damn.
I went to Walgreens. I got my prescription. I got my coffee. I went about my day as planned. But I hope that no matter how focused I am on MY life and MY plans and MY petty illnesses that I forget the deer and the driver and the suffering we all encounter every day, small or life-altering. I don’t ever want to be someone who says, “It was just a deer.”