I was on my way to dinner over the weekend to a lovely local restaurant called Michael's, in Waterville. There were four of us in the car, all women, two in the front (myself and the driver), two in the back. Now that autumn is edging closer, skies and roads were dark. As women will, we were chattering away about mostly nothing, enjoying each other's company, looking forward to a good meal.
The deer appeared out of nowhere. I've heard people say such things after hitting a deer: "He appeared out of nowhere!" but I think I've never quite believed it. In all the years I've been driving I've probably seen hundreds of deer lurking around by the side of the highway, sometimes standing on the center line, even a few times running alongside the car. Still, I couldn't quite get my head around the idea that something that big could appear quite literally from nowhere and be in front of a vehicle moving at 55 miles an hour. I'm here to tell you. They can.
One minute we were chatting and laughing and the next minute there was a doe in front of us, right in front us not a foot from the hood. It was though she popped up out of a hole in the macadam or was dropped from above, a movie trick impossible to believe. And by some miracle, our driver missed her. We all saw her and gasped, her graceful shape right there illuminated by the headlights. There was a second, truly no more than that, when we all inhaled and said things along the lines of "Oh my God!" and "Watch out!" Within that second I could feel the relief in all of us that we hadn't hit her. The deer immediately on her tail wasn't so lucky. There was a huge thud followed at once by pieces of what turned out to be the grill flying up past and over the windshield. I'm not quite sure what happened next, although I'm told I grabbed the driver's arm (a bad idea). Also miraculously, the car never veered from the road, great testament to our driver's abilities in spite of my claw-hold on her elbow. We slowed and looked back. And again in only seconds, the deer was lying in the road, and when we looked again, she was gone. We don't know if she survived, but we think (well, I think) she did. There was no blood, no carcass, no deer, not even off to the side. The entire event happened so fast it was almost as though it hadn't happened at all.
After, it was interesting to observe how each of us reacted. One person was concerned about the condition of the car (not so good). One was worried that we might not make it to the restaurant (we did, with our trusty vehicle trundling into the parking lot and heaving one last gasp before slowing and rattling into a now smoke-filled spot). One was worried about the condition of the deer. And one announced brightly, "I hit a duck once!"
I so admire the human brain. Each of us had a completely different take on the incident: pragmatism, concern about a safe arrival, empathy for the animal, and anecdotal humor. Why, I wondered later, didn't we all have the same reaction, or at least reactions that were similar? I suppose each of us has had experiences in our life that trigger the processing of anything that happens to us. The driver, my cousin, was the pragmatist. Her mind went first to damage to the car and how much this was going to cost to fix considering she's now, counting this one, hit four deer in her life. My sister spun into take-care-of-immediate-business mode...what if we can't make it to our destination? My friend Liz visiting from the south, ever a glass half full type, quickly realized we were all okay and felt a need to recount her duck tale. I've never been in a vehicle that's hit a deer, either as driver or passenger. My thoughts were for the poor thing we'd just run down.
All this makes me wonder how anyone can ever agree. There's so much going on in our heads, based on our past and our present and our imaginings of what's to come. We all seemed so alike before the deer, verbal and witty and social. We're all successful career people, all in the same age vicinity, have traveled some and now live in smallish towns. Our backgrounds are similar, our lives not all that different in the big scheme of things. Yet in a situation we all shared our brains kicked into completely opposite gears and branched out, feeling around for what, for each of us, made sense and maybe in some way helped us to process what could have been a real disaster. If not for my cousin's superb ability to stay calm and focused, the car might have spun out of control, flipped over and killed every one of us. And if not for that first deer we missed, a flipped-over car might well have happened. That doe was our angel, giving all of us a milisecond to prepare for the one we hit.
The next morning we were all a bit achey...backs and shoulders and necks. The car, which protected us well, got the worst of it (a little nod to the Subaru people here). I don't know what my cousin and sister and friend are thinking about the incident right now, if in fact they're thinking about it at all. But I am. I'm thinking about those two deer, and how I hope they both made out okay. I'm also thinking about their materializing from nowhere, and what a stern reminder it was that life is short. I'm thinking that I'm glad to be home and safe, at least for the moment, and that my being able to take my next breath is pretty much all about luck.