What the World Swallowed Up

By Anna Mitchael

Farm-to-market to goodbye

I can’t even guess how many times in my life I have driven the stretch of FM 217, right before it intersects Highway 6 at the Valley Mills baseball field. Three or four times a week for six years, give or take a hundred. I know the houses on the road by heart and take note when something changes — if a new car is parked in a yard or someone moves a swingset.

Last week for the second time in my life I stopped on that road. I steered the car I was driving to the side and then slowly exited the vehicle. After looking both ways (Look both ways! Brush your teeth! Take your plate to the sink!) I walked across the road to a pasture full of brush that was much taller than I expected. Lately, I have been trying to remain steeled for how fast the world can change, but sometimes it still takes me by surprise.

A kind, neighborly sort of person (I’ve learned they are in great supply on this stretch of road) slowed his truck when he saw me standing on the edge of the brush.

“Ya’ doin’ all right?” he asked. And I was doin’ all right. Average. My head was above water — barely. But that’s not so exceptional. We all hit times we must dog paddle with extra gusto to stay afloat.

“I’m going to see about a deer,” I said. And as I spoke I thought about the movie “Good Will Hunting,” when Matt Damon finally writes the note that says he’s gotta see about a girl. You’ve been waiting for him to see about this girl, so it’s the pivotal moment. It’s the moment you cheer.

But the man didn’t cheer. He had no idea this was a moment. He probably thought it was a little strange for this middle-aged woman to be wandering around on the side of the road, but if so, he said nothing. Instead he gave me the only currency we slop around in this part of Texas — the wave — and drove on.

I waded farther into the brush, stepping on the tall grass until I finally smelled what I was looking for. The stench was so thick it sailed right through my nostrils on a fast pitch for the back of my throat. Even now, just thinking about the thick ick of that smell, my tonsils tremble.

Of course, when I finally caught sight of the doe, she was much different than the last time I saw her. The day of the accident there was one eye wide open and shining. I locked onto the side profile of her face as she jumped in front of the grill of my car, and at the same moment I turned to Andrew in the passenger seat. Apparently, decades of feminist training did nothing to deprogram the thought that struck me upon impact: “Save me, you man.”

Now she was mangled and eaten and partially decapitated. Even though minutes before I had known with certainty what I was doing there, now I felt less sure.

There was such a stillness right after the accident, like the world had swallowed the powerful thud, not even needing to let out the smallest belch. And once we knew we were all right and the good Samaritans started arriving to help us bungee cord the bumper back to the truck and make sure it would start, the dismissals of any emotional impact I might still feel began.

“Bound to happen.”

“You drive these roads long enough, and you’re gonna get a deer.”

Then in the coming weeks I found these weren’t just country catch-alls — pretty much everyone I talked to had hit a deer. Or their spouse had hit a deer. Or their cousin’s brother. Or a cousin who’s also a spouse.

Maybe I should have been relieved that this mammal-studded road had already been journeyed by so many, but I felt no reassurance. Back when I first moved to the country, I was eager to know others were in my same boat. I clung to morsels of shared experience like manna. It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only woman who has ever been slightly disturbed by the fact that men in the country will literally stop anywhere to pee. Or that at least once a spring, a baby bunny will turn up in the yard, dead. Or that even with these facts, even with the hard, occasionally unfair grip that nature has on our addresses, we are disinterested in living anywhere else.

Perhaps it’s because I want to stay that I no longer want to be told how to live. I have figured out I could never, even if I tried, be a bona fide country girl. There’s too much of the other stuff mixed in. And so when a 70-pound animal launches herself in front of my car, effectively committing suicide and also sending me and my car into a state of needing repairs, I will not respond with the strength, fortitude and resilience a country girl might.

The experts can tell me it happens all the time. I can Google statistics on deer populations and see, rationally, the life of one deer isn’t such a big deal. In the eyes of the man who stopped on the side of the road, life will hold larger tribulations for which I should save my strength.

But I’m a country-city-girl-woman-mother who still believes that even in this time, when someone’s probably already tweeted what I’m thinking, I still get to be my own person with my very own set of weird, complex, unattractive, side-of-the-road wandering moments and feelings.

The tops of the brush waved slightly. Not with a breeze — almost like they were shaking in resistance to the scorching heat. I wished I had worn my tall boots. A true country girl would have thought of that.

“I’m sorry,” I said to the deer. And the world swallowed it up.

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