My hands smell like deer. It’s a gamey smell—wilder than horse but tamer than buffalo.
I was thinking about deer today after having pulled out last year’s Christmas card, a Hipstamatic shot of a plastic deer bathed in the delicious rainbow of sunflare. I got the idea to make a new card for this year and started working on it after lunch.
At five, after a full day at work, I bolted out of my office, ready for my beer and my family (in that order), and as I was driving the winding, rural roads, in my usual hurry, the card flashed in my mind. I slowed down and adjusted my seat back a little. These roads are littered with road kill. And deer are everywhere.
A few miles down Greenspring Avenue, I thought I saw one cross the dark roadway; indeed, a bunch of cars slowed down and sped back up, as if waiting for it to pass. The streets were surprisingly empty for a rush-hour Monday night. I got to the intersection of the beltway and Greenspring in just fifteen minutes, but the good time I’d made was about to disappear.
A baby deer lay squirming in the road.
I stopped my car, backed up, and turned on my hazards. I was on automatic pilot—clearly not thinking. The deer had been hit, but no one was here on my side of the street, normally a busy intersection. The animal was between the two lanes, and I was blocking one of them. I saw the mother on the hill, looking down and running away at the same time.
You can’t unsee an animal in pain. And that instinct just kicked in, you know? How could I let this gentle creature die alone? I massaged his fur, and when I was sure he wasn’t going to bite me, I hugged him to feel his weight.
Cars were coming, so I stood up and motioned for help. Lifting is an issue, so I turned and faced the growing number of headlights, like a deer in them myself, and begged: Will someone please help me?
They just wanted to go home. I know. I’m one of them, usually. I’d have been leaning on my horn, screaming at me to get out of the fucking street on any other day.
So I cradled the animal’s head, which was too far in the other lane, and directed traffic around us.
I asked again if someone could please help me move the deer to the side of the road, and a Jeep pulled up behind my car. A man got out and walked toward me. “I’m a veterinarian,” he said. “Is he dead?”
He wasn’t, but I felt like the deer had relaxed in my hands, was less anxious. Dying. The man said, “What are the chances that a veterinarian would be behind you?” He picked up the baby animal and carried him to the side of the road.
“Thank you,” I said. I had nothing more profound.
“I’m going to put him down,” he said, and went back to the Jeep for some medicine. Last time I saw that medicine was December 13, when we said goodbye to Cleopatra.
“I love you,” I told the man, and I left. I did love him. I do.
I cried the whole way home, headlights and streetlights a wet blur, gamey smell of deer on my fingers.
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If you know this veterinarian (maybe he told you this story), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.