I drove up to Maine a few weeks ago in a giant, rented, black Lincoln Continental, the kind in which people get driven around towns like NYC. I was nervous about driving 560 miles alone with two little kids, afraid they’d make endless demands and that my long arms wouldn’t be long enough to mother the rear seat while I drove. But the kids did great; two stops only in 12 hours and only one ten minute scream-fest from the four-year-old. I did throw a tube of Pringles behind me when said scream-fest started. I smiled at the thought that it might as well be me who gets her started early on emotional eating.
The time came to return the beast at the Bangor Airport Hertz the next day. I had another car up here so I only needed a one-way rental. As we crossed the Trenton Bridge I came upon lanes of stopped cars. I couldn’t see the reason for the stopped traffic. A car going in the other direction pulled over and the driver stepped out, slamming his door. He started walking towards whatever it was that the cars in front of me were driving around. He had an angry, yet determined, look about him, his fat belly jiggling in the white tee, his belt much too tight. As I watched him, the car in front of me slowly drove around the obstruction. It was a young deer that had just been hit.
Staring at the dead animal, I heard the voices in my head of every woman I’ve ever known in a collective “awwww!” Their sad, baby-talk voices made me feel guilty for not thinking or feeling the sentiment myself (I eat meat, wear belts and shoes of leather and never kid myself about life, death, the food chain and the shortness of all life on Earth. I don’t find birth or death “awww”-worthy or cute.)
Two guys in a pickup truck pulled over in front of me and they too walked towards the dead baby deer. One of them, without hesitation, walked up to the dead animal and picked up her back hoofs, like he’d done it a hundred times before. He dragged her across the road, her open, dead eyes looking right at my rented hood ornament, blood coming out of her mouth in a slow steady stream. The second guy was on the phone calling, I assumed, whoever would pick up the animal.
The other guy, that had stopped first, turned around and walked back to his car. I thought about his “angry yet determined” expression and decided that he probably saw whoever hit the animal, that he was pissed that the driver did what most humans do when a wrench is thrown into their lives: nothing. They obviously just drove off, not taking responsibility, action or, at the very least, stopping to ask for help. I’m guessing the plates were out-of-state too, adding to his anger.
I myself became angry at human beings and the endless examples of inaction, cowardliness and “duh…what am I supposed to do?” I thought of the action the three guys took, and how maybe inaction is evened out by action. I formed a two-minute mini crush on all three men…for possessing the instinct to react. And I remembered being in the middle of a similar scene myself once. . . .
Many years ago, my cousin Tara and I were driving through Maple Shade on our way to Chuckie Cheese with her three little sisters. As we drove, a very white, very fluffy dog ran down a front yard right into traffic. It was hit by the car in front of us. We stopped. I got out of the car without thinking and walked up to this little 10lb thing that was just having the last of its living spasms before suddenly being completely still and very dead.
A long haired, shirt-less man in blue jeans approached the dog at the same time I did. He picked up the dead dog and we looked at each other for a moment, a silent standoff in the middle of 537. Then, he said (I’m not kidding) “I’m late for band practice” and, without hesitation or interest in what my time had in store for me, put the stiff, dead, fluffy dog in my unwelcoming arms.
Not knowing what to do, I walked to my cousin’s car and put the dog on the passenger’s seat. I phoned the police and, before long, a cop with a small yellow zip-up body bag took the white fluffy animal away.
We drove in silence and the weight of the whole scene on three little girls minds bore a hole in my conscience that I needed to fill, and quick.
So I asked them, “Girls…do you have any questions? …Is there anything you want to ask or talk about?”
My cousin, who has THE best laugh on Earth next only to my sister Chris, burst into hysterics at my lame and uncharacteristically serious attempt to open and delve into the emotionality of the situation for her little sisters. These are the same little girls for whom I babysat over many years and, on more than one occasion, had to make excuses to their mother such as “I’m sorry! I, by accident, explained death to the girls, and I’m not sure how it came up but while you were at the store they’ve been crying for an hour asking when exactly their grandparents would die. And no matter how I tried to explain everybody dies, even them, it just kept getting worse!”
We turned into Chuckie Cheese and left the whole thing behind us. Likewise, just a few miles after the dead deer, I turned this crazy rented car – with a hood ornament 6 or 7 feet in front of me - into Rooster Brothers, got a really nice coffee and stared at kitchen gadgets I’d never use but wanted anyway, my human mind stupidly, happily forgetting about life, death and the inaction of others.