"Ma’am, it’s just a deer" Um…No It’s Not

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.”

16 thoughts on “"Ma’am, it’s just a deer" Um…No It’s Not

  1. Wow, Lynn, I'm crying way more than I should be for 'just a deer.' Beautifully written. Thank you for providing the impetus I needed to have a good cry. I am so sad today.

  2. I always used this poem when I was teaching…this post reminded me of it.

    “Traveling through the Dark”
    William Stafford

    Traveling through the dark I found a deer
    dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
    It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
    that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

    By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
    and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
    she had stiffened already, almost cold.
    I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

    My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
    her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
    alive, still, never to be born.
    Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

    The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
    under the hood purred the steady engine.
    I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
    around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

    I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
    then pushed her over the edge into the river.

  3. OMG…thank you so much for that incredible poem! Wow. Just….wow. Life is so emotionally complicated. Our decisions demand so much thought, and yet so many of us just go through life not thinking at all.

  4. I would have helped you go balistic. I can't believe the officer. I get that they have to have a certain “distance” from things and the paper work for discharging a weapon in huge but still …… it wans't ok of him to be that way.

  5. Reminds me of when I ran over a groundhog's paw. (Which of course, Claire won't let me forget.) I wanted to scour the woods to find the poor thing…make sure it was OK. I still feel guilty and it's been well over a year!

  6. What a terrible thing to witness. I suspect there's more people with kind souls like you and the others who stopped, rather than like the policeman, but his attitude is so hard to fathom, especially considering what you just watched.

  7. Thank you for writing this and thanks to Chubby for posting that poem. We humans forget that we are just here to share this earth and were meant to be good stewards to her and it's creatures. When I've witnessed a just-hit deer thrashing for life, I've pulled over, cried, called 911 and begged them to hurry to put the deer out of it's misery (saying it's a hazard to other drivers and there will be more wrecks if they don't get there soon. ) I would have been so angry at that cop.

  8. I would not want to be a human lying on the side of the road and have that policeman be the one stopping for me. He probably figures “it's just another accident victim”. Animals feel pain and suffering as much as any human. We are all too numbed to suffering and violence in this world, thank goodness for people who still have feelings of compassion. One reason I stopped eating meat. Lana

  9. Boy that made me cry. Yes, that woman will remember hitting that deer forever. I'm glad that man petted that deer and I'm glad the deer had some comfort before it passed. I guess some people just get hardened, sad.

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