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Hunting with Dad MAG
The afternoon sun penetrated the chilly air, making its way into the deer stand where I slept and illuminating my shameful lack of hunting prowess. My forehead rested on the windowsill, supporting most of my weight as I slumped forward with my butt sliding off an overturned pail. My fingers were hanging just inches above the sawdust, cookie crumbs, apple cores, and a May 2005 edition of Reader's Digest lying on the floor beside the deer rifle I had borrowed from my dad. Eyes closed, I slept on, oblivious to my surroundings.
I was jerked from sleep as my phone awoke with a shout. I fumbled with it for a moment as I regained consciousness. My dad's voice informed me that he shot a deer and wanted my help dragging it back to my grandparents' house. I sat, contemplating whether I wanted to help my dad. Realizing I had no choice, I descended the ladder. I tried to close the door, but it resisted, and I lost my balance. I teetered as the ladder threatened to fall out from under me, and the rifle slid to the crook of my elbow. The door remained stubbornly unlatched as the muzzle of the rifle swung wildly between the trees and the stand.
I knew how to get to my dad's stand because I had gone with him to set it up the previous evening. We had entered the woods in my grandparents' back yard, and having no idea where we were going, I followed my dad the way a fawn follows its mother. I copied his footsteps, hopped lightly over fallen trees, and stopped often to investigate a fungus or footprint. I let him stride ahead of me until I lost him in the trees and tall grass, then scrambled to catch up, tripping over roots and skeletal bushes in my haste. Every so often he would stop too, scoping the woods with a keen eye for stupid hunters or hungry animals. I felt safe with him. He was my protector, my guide, a doe.
Walking deeper into the woods, he transformed into a hunter as he looked for a place to erect his deer stand. After some deliberation, he decided to attach it to a birch overlooking a shallow valley. I screwed footholds into the tree and climbed into the stand. I could have stayed there for hours, not to hunt, but to observe. I prefer observing to hunting, although I usually observe people. Every day, they go about their lives, indistinguishable from each other, trapped in their own shallow valleys. Few strike me as unique, but each puts so much energy into living.
By climbing that birch, I pushed my limits, well on my way to escaping my own valley by proving that I wasn't like every other girl who flinches away from blood and violence. I knew that life has too much value to be ended by the pull of a trigger, but I had no choice. Conscious of the lengthening shadows, I resolved to kill a deer before I changed my mind. I climbed down from the stand and mindlessly followed my dad, now the hunter, back to my grandparents' yard as the sun set.
Now, squinting into the sunlight, I arrived at my dad's stand for the second time feeling lonely and out of place. My dad stood there with a small pile of organs to his left and a large doe to his right. The sight of the deer triggered a distant memory that I couldn't quite recall. I paused, straining to recall, but couldn't. I cleared my head, mystified, and returned to help him drag the heavy doe back to the house.
She didn't have any say in her fate, allowing us to pull her over bumps and bushes, roots and grass. I reflected how often this happens to me, despite my still being alive. I wasn't comfortable with killing, and I wasn't comfortable with dragging. It wouldn't surprise me if I ended up butchering as well.
Back at the house, I sat with the doe, stroking her thick fur and smoothing the ridges her unceremonious trip from the woods had created. Her large brown eyes, startlingly human, were open, though oblivious to her surroundings. Perhaps she still saw the valley where she was killed. Had it trapped her the way it trapped me?
My knife split the doe's fascia and bit into her dense muscle, cutting cleanly to the bone. I inserted my gloved hands into the seam and slowly pried the two muscles apart.
My bored twin cousins tramped over to watch, breaking my concentration. They were fascinated, bombarding me with questions in their high-pitched voices. They wanted to know how sharp the knife was, if the raw meat was edible, if they could play with the bones. I gave them two bones to quiet them. They investigated the mechanics of the joints first, then began to spar, smacking the bones together, giggling as little boys do. I tried to share in their happiness, but a whirlwind of emotion overcame me instead. I must have experienced something to trigger this, but the memory eluded me. Disturbed, I refocused on cutting up the doe, who could no longer resist.
My cousins' reactions to the bones highlighted what made me uncomfortable with hunting in the first place. My dad and I went up north to his parents' house to hunt for recreation. Purposefully, we had transformed that majestic doe into a slab of meat – but why? To eat? We could buy meat at the supermarket.
All I could see were my ten-year-old cousins smacking the bones together as they played. The bones worked together harmoniously inside the doe, but outside they became toys for children. What a waste. The harsh clashing rang in my ears long after my cousins left to pursue new distractions. It was a sorrowful waste indeed.
I was dead. Galloping through the woods, I risked a glance behind me to see my pursuer and fell. The hunter gained on me as I lay there, helpless, trapped. I felt free, lengthening my stride, achieving the impossible, catching a deer. Its squinty eyes focused on me as it closed the gap between us on two clumsy legs, crushing everything in its path. The deer laid on the ground, its legs tangled in a clump of bushes, its hazel eyes wide.
Victorious, I raised the rifle, aimed carefully at myself, and pulled the trigger. My eyes. The gunshot echoed through the woods as the bullet pierced my shoulder. I died just as my dad grabbed it to shake me awake.
It was a little before five in the morning when my dad woke me to go deer hunting. The shadow of a forgotten nightmare tugged at me as I dressed. I knew I would be restless until I remembered it, but I had a bigger task. Resolved to hunt, I grabbed my hat and gloves, then headed to the garage to retrieve the rifle. On my way, some old editions
of Reader's Digest caught my eye. I pocketed a few, looking forward to the distraction.
Outside the bitter air reminded me of the difference between the worlds on either side of the door. Walking through the woods alone in the dark was terrifying. I missed the warm garage. My puny flashlight made no difference in the vast darkness. I gaped at the sky, which threatened to engulf me, then back into the woods, also threatening to engulf me. I gripped the rifle harder and reassured myself that everything would be all right. I was a human.
I climbed the deer stand and wrestled the miscut door open. The stand had several openings for windows, perfect for shooting a deer. I sat on an overturned pail and gazed out the window. A cold breeze pushed the trees, which swayed in unison, their silhouettes standing out against the starry
sky, their branches rattling like bones. To distract myself from the cold abyss, I pulled out my pocket knife and carved the date into the soft pine window frame: 11/5/11. This was the date I would kill my first deer.