Seven Days

June 6, 2013
This is the story of how my childhood ended. Unlike some, my childhood did not end in a single instant or over several years. My childhood ended with one, curious experience that occurred over the course of seven days.
The first day began like any other. I went to school, played with friends, tried to learn. Walking home after school however, I saw something peculiar. A single deer burst out of the forest on the edge of my neighborhood, running across the baseball field and onto the sidewalk, where it suddenly stopped, 30 feet from where I stood. In the brief two seconds before it dashed into the woods near the school, I managed a good glimpse of the animal, noticing one distinguishing feature. There was a large white patch of fur on the creature, stretching from its back down to its left flank. I was surprised to see the creature as the deer in our area only came out in the early morning or sometimes in the late evening, but never in the middle of the day. I found it strange, but gave it no further thought after returning home.
While walking home the next day, I saw the same deer with the same white patch. Only now, it was lying on its side in the middle of a drainage ditch. Dead. I paused for a moment. I was close enough to see the massive swarm of tiny black flies flitting around the body, attacking any and all exposed flesh. The eyes were barely visible, almost completely covered by the writhing mass of insects. I had seen dead deer before, lying on the side of the road, but something about this situation felt unique. Perhaps it was because I had never gotten so close to a corpse before. Perhaps it was because I had seen it alive the previous day. Or perhaps it was simply morbid curiosity on my part.

At any rate, the image of the now rotting deer stuck with me long after I had returned home. For the rest of the day I felt an uneasiness that I could not explain. It was not disgust or revulsion at what I was seeing. It was more a nagging suspicion that something in my world was being irrevocably changed.
On the third day, the carrion birds arrived. By the time I passed the corpse, they had already worked their way through the anus and most of the belly, leaving the intestines hanging out. The vultures ate in a surprisingly sequential manner. Although the rear end of the deer had been ripped to shreds, apart from small patches of fur had been torn from the animal’s pelt, the rest of the corpse had been left relatively intact.
Walking home that day, I had a sudden revelation. On some level, I made the connection between the deer and myself. I realized that one day it would be my corpse lying in a ditch as food for the buzzards and the maggots. I was disturbed by the fact that no matter how hard I worked, no matter how good of a person I was, in the end, I would be nothing but food. I saw my friends, my family, and myself as what we really were. Meat.
On the fourth day, the stench of death had spread all throughout the area. It was a pungent, almost sickly sweet smell that hit me long before I saw the body. The vultures were nowhere to be seen, but they had left their mark. Almost half the flesh was gone, leaving mostly entrails and newly exposed bones.
During dinner that day, I realized that I was seen something I had never seen before. Death itself had not been a foreign concept. What was new to me was the idea of oblivion, of simply not being. Before, I suppose I always subconsciously thought that at least some shred of my consciousness would remain even after death. Now, I was forced to confront the possibility that after death, there was nothing. To me, oblivion was just such a huge concept that it was impossible for me grasp or understand. And that terrified me. It was as if I was standing on the edge of an abyss, occasionally glancing over the edge, knowing that there was something hiding in the darkness. I was too scared to lean any further, but at the same time I could not bring myself to look away.
All this I pondered silently as I ate my pasta that night.
On the fifth day, I noticed a radius of death around the deer. All of the plants under and around the corpse had died. I wondered if the body had simply crushed the grass, or if the aura of death had somehow infected the plant life.
This was the day that I began to recognize the source of my uneasiness. Death was an idea that I had previously only encountered in a sanitized form, presented as something similar to a permanent sleep. This was my first real world encounter with death in all of its harsh, uncensored glory. The sight of this rotting carcass was slowly destroying my childish conception of death, replacing it with cold, hard reality. Death was ugly. Death was brutal. And death was forever.
On the sixth day, it rained. Hard. Driving past the half flooded ditch, I caught a glimpse of a white skull. The scavengers and the elements had stripped away almost all the flesh, leaving the bones bares and floating in a pool of liquefying offal.
Sitting in the car, listening to the rain beat against the windows, I noticed that I had shed much of my former innocence. There was now a cynicism in my mind that attacked my old, naïve beliefs, either destroying them or returning them darker than they ever been.
And on the seventh day, I, while on a walk with my parents, saw that the remains had disappeared, finally picked up by the county workers who had been neglecting their job for the past six days.
I recognized this as the end of a long week of change. I had been living in a self-contained bubble all my life. My opinions were not my own. They were prepackaged thoughts designed to be as inoffensive as possible. While the corpse was not pleasant to smell or look at, it was something real. The shock of seeing the true face of nature, so different from its romanticized portrayals in the Disney films of my childhood, was enough to destroy my bubble, jolting me out of my comfort zone and into the real world. But this came at a cost. The world had lost much of its magic. I would never again experience that particular kind of happiness only possible with the innocence and ignorance of a child.
The skies darkened as we walked home. The air became cooler. I remembered that the days were getting longer. Colder. Autumn was ending. Winter was coming.

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