Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Deer In Headlights

When a person is killed, people mourn. There are people who are sad that they will never be in your presence again. People who grieve because they have to go on living without you. And almost every person, no matter if they are good people or bad people, will meet death with tears on their grave. We all have mothers and we all have fathers. Some of us have siblings and most of us have friends. People that love us unconditionally. And that's nice. I guess it's one of those perks of being human that can be easily overlooked. From human to human life is a precious thing.

But what about animals?

Yeah, sure. I have cried my eyes out every time I've had a pet that has died. Of course. Who doesn't? I'm talking more about animals that we don't directly have a relationship with. (PETA people and people who strive to be just like PETA people are excluded.) There are things like hunting season where it's in good sport to shoot, kill and eat various animals. Fishing is a sport. Roadkill is looked upon with a sympathy that lasts until it's out of sight in the rearview mirror. So far in my life I have killed four animals with my car. A rabbit, a squirrel, a cat and a bird. All of them either ran or flew out in front of my car and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. Did I feel bad? Yes. Of course I felt bad. I just ended something's life. But did I go home and weep about it for days? Did I hold a funeral for it? Did I turn around and give a good christian burial? I sure did not. In a way, I feel it is weird that we don't. Because life is life right? Whether it belongs to a human or not. I mean I guess you can argue that plants fall into the same category and ask me if I feel the same way about plants. And I say sure. However I know that we must eat. And I know in order to do that, we have to kill some form of life be it plant or animal. And that is nature. So I understand that things must die but am unsure of why we feel that we're allowed to make our own standards for life. What life is important and what life is dispensable? What life is protected by law and what life is taken with a pat on the back?

The only reason I'm even talking about it is because my mind was stimulated, one day, after I'd found this deer in the middle of one of my father's corn fields. It was on the ground and kicking it's legs as I approached it. It tried, with everything inside of it, to get away but the bullet wound in its neck was slowly bleeding it out and making escape futile.

It was a Saturday morning. At around 6:00 a.m. I receive a wake-up call from my father. My dad isn't exactly the ideal person to wake up to. His every action is accompanied with something that makes noise. He wakes up in the morning, and turns all of the lights on. He clicks on the TV in the kitchen which has the volume set on ultra blast super sound which is a big old "fuck you" to anyone who had any intentions of sleeping in. He stomps from the kitchen to the bathroom and throws opens all of the drawers and slams shut all of the doors. (There are some details during this portion that I will omit for the sake anyone reading but just know that sounds were made.) He makes his way into the kitchen and either makes a bowl of cereal or fries an egg and slurps up his coffee. If you were lucky enough to get through this routine without waking up, you would soon hear stomping that grew louder and louder until it stopped just outside of your bedroom. The door would then swing wide open and in a voice that is bigger than God's at that time in the morning he says,

"Jared! It's time to get up. We've got a lot of work to do today."

Something about the way he said "We've got a lot of work to do today," never failed to piss me off. I didn't care that there was work to be done. If I needed to do something, fine, but I don't need to know the amount of work I'm in for before I even get out of bed. Just let me find out as it comes.

I don't know.

I've tried over the years to work out why this bothered me and that's the best I could come up with. Maybe a psychiatrist will explain it better to me some day.

I got up and took my time eating breakfast. Dad would usually have gone outside before I got around to getting up so I would often decide to make something that took the longest time to prepare and in doing so I was able to prolong the amount of time before having to go outside and see what needed to be done. I would then brush my teeth, put on some clothes, pretend I had to poop, put on some shoes, pretend I had to pee and then finally making my way outside to the shed where my dad was working on getting ready to rid his combine of all the dirt that it had accumulated during harvest.

I always approached with such disdain which is something I regretted later in life. I wish I would have been more excited to be working alongside my dad. I wish I could have been a little more supportive of what he did to help keep our family afloat. But I was a little shithead who felt he had something to complain about.

My dad sent me out on the four wheeler with the sprayer to kill some weeds where his fields bordered the creek. I'd went with him to do this on multiple occasions so I had a pretty strong grasp on what weeds and plants I was intended to get rid of. Honestly, I think if you sent me out there today I'd still have a pretty good idea.

So I rode out to "Grandpa's Place," the name given to a patch of land that sat on a piece of property once owned and lived on by my great-grandfather, Frank. His barn was still standing until a couple of years ago when my dad decided, after noticing all of its rotted wood, that it could be a safety hazard. At this point however, the barn was still standing. When going their as a kid I would play on the haystacks inside. The hay had to have been there for probably 30+ years so there was a healthy accumulation of raccoon and possum shit everywhere but that, oddly enough, was not the reason I vowed to never go inside there again.

Once, I'd been playing in the haystack and my foot got stuck in a hidden hay hole. (Anyone who grew up playing on stacks of hay bails knows exactly what I'm talking about.) Conveniently, right at that moment, a snake began slithering towards me and I was unable to get my leg unstuck. Luckily, just within reach was a pitchfork stuck in a hay bail. It was my only defense and on the first try, I speared him right through the top of it's head. It's body was active for a surprisingly long time after that. It flipped and flopped around all over the place but because the pitchfork was pinning it to the hay bail, it didn't move anywhere. I was finally able to get my leg unstuck and once I had cleared the threshold of the barn, I swore I would never go back inside.

Just as I was approaching the field, I was passed by a truck-full of men wearing bright, neon orange and camouflage vests. Three of them rode in the cab and four of them rode in the bed. The ones in the back held guns in between their legs and they were all laughing as if someone had just told a joke. The man in the far passenger seat held a pair of binoculars to his eyes and looked out his passenger window as if looking for something specific. I imagined them listening to Kenny Chesney or Alan Travis or some other bullshit country singer that was currently set to their FM radio station.

As I pulled into the driveway of what used to be my great grandfather's house I made my way to where the field and the creek met borders. Immediately I could spot at least six weeds that had almost grown to the size of small trees. One specific tree that I remember would always grow back within the year to the size it was when it was last sprayed. I believe it was called a locust tree and the reason we killed them is because they grew these long, thick and sturdy thorns that if not killed, would pierce the tires of tractors, combines, four-wheelers or what have you.

I got to spraying and the sun started its ascent into a humid and muggy sky. Many of the plants I had to spray were deep enough in the creek that I had to walk down the bank into the tall grass in order to reach them. I'd made the mistake of wearing shorts and could immediately feel the chiggers and the tiny insects having their way with my legs and arms. I'd gone along for about an hour when my path was all of a sudden blocked by the struggling pile of fur.

From the looks of it, the deer had been there for a little while. My judgement was based on the blood that had pooled underneath it's body and the trail of it that led to where it was. I turned off the four-wheeler and approached it with a curiosity that initially blinded my need to help it. I hovered over the creature and could feel its fear. It kicked it's legs with a ferocity that slowly began to unravel my sympathies. The more it struggled the stronger the blood seeped from its wound. The thing that shook me out of my state of shock was the way it looked at me with its mute eyes. The deer made no noise at all but its eyes seemed to plead with me as If I was simultaneously its enemy and its savior.

In reality it took me about 15 minutes to drive the four-wheeler home but in my head it felt like an hour. As I pulled up to the machine shed I noticed that my uncle was there and he was discussing, with my father, the impending rain storm that the weather man had predicted that morning. I met my dad's confused glance with news of the deer. He didn't react as quickly as I had hoped but we eventually piled into his truck and made our way to the field. My uncle followed in his own truck.

As we approached the deer I'd noticed it had stopped kicking. I thought we were too late. It had died already. But when my dad gave it a gentle kick to the side, it jolted back to life but with much less energy than it had half an hour ago. At first we all just hovered over it just as I did when I originally stumbled upon it. The whole reason I went home to tell somebody was that I wanted to help it but as we stood over it, watching it lose energy with ever moment, I realized that there was nothing we could really do. My uncle walked to his truck and fidgeted around with a box behind the seat. He re-entered the huddle around the deer with a pistol in his hand.

The shot rang out much louder than I had expected and when I saw a flock of black birds scurry off of a power line along the road, I wondered just how far the sound had traveled. The color of blood that now seeped from it's head was a much brighter red than the blood that had pooled below it. With the last bit of energy it had left inside of it, it kicked its legs for a moment longer before succumbing to its fate. The now lifeless body of the animal laid there with a stillness that struck me as peaceful. Although we were unable to save its life, putting it out of its misery seemed to bring some serenity to the whole situation.

When we got back home, my dad went back to cleaning the combine and my uncle went to go do whatever he went to go do. Despite the dark clouds in the west that usually indicated rain, I hopped back on the four-wheeler and headed back to the field. Before leaving this time, however, I grabbed a shovel from the shed and brought it with me.

Subtle rain drops started to sting my face halfway to the field and by the time I had reached the deer the rainfall had turned into a full-fledged downpour which made the dirt softer and easier to penetrate with the shovel. By the time I had dug a hole large enough to accommodate the size of the deer every inch of me was soaked and most of me was covered with mud. The deer was already heavy enough to make the task of pulling it into the grave difficult but the mud and water-soaked fur made it that much more straining. By the time I had shoveled all of the dirt back into the hole, the rain was still coming down strong and there was no indication that it would let up anytime soon. I determined that this would suffice as an excuse to go home without spraying anymore weeds.

By the time I had gotten home, the rain had washed most of the mud and blood off of me but I found myself shivering from the wet clothes I had been in for the past hour. My dad was inside the house eating lunch and when I walked in he made a comment about how I should take a warm shower to avoid catching a cold.

The warm water took away any notion that a cold was upon me and by the time I'd gotten out my dad had already went back outside. I got dressed and heated up some left over lasagna for my own lunch. The daily paper was spread out over the kitchen table where my dad had been reading it earlier and I began flipping through pages while the lasagna was rotating in the microwave. I came across the obituaries where I read about four people that had died the day before. I didn't know any of them. All of them were between the ages of 70 and 93. The pictures that their families had submitted to the paper were all professionally taken photographs in which they were dressed in their Sunday's best and posing with their arms strategically crossed in front of them. The thing that struck me as odd is that none of them were smiling. It looked as if they had attempted a smile but that there was something that kept them from fully committing to their grins. And there was something in their eyes. Something that hinted their acknowledgment that their time was almost up. A muteness that pleaded for my help and an apathy that knew there was nothing I could do.

The microwave buzzer alerted me back to reality and as I looked out the kitchen window I noticed the rain had stopped and rays of sunshine were fighting their way through the clouds. I then saw my dad walk out of the shed and make his way towards the house and it was only a matter of seconds before he walked in the house and informed me that the rain had stopped and there was more work to be done.

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