Driving with Death

October 4, 2013
My first winter after I passed my driver’s test was fairly memorable. One event in particular stood out among the others. While my driving was questionable, so were my directional perceptions. Being lost wasn’t anything new, but I usually got to my destination eventually. Today was no different as I found myself sitting side by side in my car with my friend Ashley.

I picked Ashley up earlier in the day. Our friendship had been forever, starting up again after a few years apart. She was a big part of my support system for a long time. We were excited to hang out together and the nice weather accentuated our day. The snow stood where it was, with the sun shining and the wind light. From her little town home we drove to Park Rapids and perused the small main streets stores. Looking in through the lit windows, our minds were set on finding something to wrap up prettily and hand to a girl from school with a birthday that day. We picked a store and came out with lighter pockets but happy about our clothing and jewelry purchase. From there it was back to my house. We chatted easily and soon it was time to leave for the other girl’s home.

We went out into the frigid air and got into my car at the time, a ’98 Camry. It was almost as old as me but I loved it. Stopping at the end of my driveway I looked over at her.

“Do you know where her house is?” I asked, the car’s hum underlining my words.

“No, do you?” Ashley asked back

I shook my head and we both laughed at our unprepared lives. Recalling something another classmate had told me about where the girl lived, we started down the road. Taking the twists and turns of the gravel we continued on, questioning our choices. After a while we found ourselves at a T-intersection with a paved highway and stopped. Staring with blank eyes at the road we were at a loss. Both of us knew she lived on a dirt road, not a paved road. As a last resort we called up the classmate I knew would know and got a horribly vague answer. With trepidation we decided to take the left onto the highway and drive until we saw something familiar.

I had no idea where we were, the road was an unfamiliar jumble of trees, driveways, and country. Even so, we turned up the radio and just continued on. It started to get a little dark and we wondered how much farther, when suddenly, a shadow flashed on my left.

Out my window we saw a small deer bounding out of the trees, towards my car. My brakes went untouched as I only eased my foot off the gas pedal. My plan was to wait and see if the deer would stop. The surprised animal veered sharply, running now alongside us instead of perpendicular on a collision course. I slowed even farther, though my foot hadn’t even touched the brake at this point, and the deer was now a little farther ahead than us.

In a split second the deer made the worst choice imaginable. It turned to the right, and straight in front of my car. Finally having a clear moment, I slammed on my brakes. My reaction time wasn‘t soon enough. We felt the sudden impact of the body hitting the hood and saw the deer fly through the air and into the ditch. Finally at a stop down the road, we looked at each other. Our faces showed we were scared and not wanting to breathe. Tears pricked my eyes and I felt dazed by what just happened. We checked ourselves first for injuries. Finding none we got out quickly, assessing the damages. My worry was first for my car, inspecting it I found: a small dent in the hood, some hair, a broken headlight bracket and grill. The damage wasn’t that bad so I looked for Ashley, suddenly realizing she wasn’t standing with me. I saw her back at the impact site. She looked over to me.

“Do you have a knife?” I heard her call.

My car held no sharp objects so I jogged back toward her. The deer was lying broken in the snow of the ditch. It had flown at least seven feet through the air to where it was laying. The breathing of the animal was labored and one of its back legs was clearly broken. We wanted to help it, put it out of its misery. There was no way it would live through this ordeal. Ashley looked down at the deer and I shook my head, filled with sadness and just as we were about to finish it we realized it was already dead. A truck pulled out of a driveway and a man called out from the window, asking if we were okay. We explained our situation and said we were fine. Walking slowly back to the car we got in and continued on our way. With dread in my voice I called my dad and told him what happened, still shell-shocked. I hadn’t been driving recklessly; on the contrary I was going 55 mph when we first saw the deer. It astounded both of us that something like that could happen when I was doing what I was supposed to. As well as how unprepared I was. It was crazy to imagine anything like that happening to me and when it did I regretted not being ready. I didn’t have a plan, and since then I’ve disliked the out of control feeling.

By the time we found directions and arrived we were an hour late. People listened to our story in surprise; it certainly had been one of the highlights of that night and something never to be forgotten.

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