I felt like a coward, Gary. I should have stopped to help those kids change their tire, but I didn’t. They had been different from me, do you know what I mean? I had let myself imagine the worst they could do to me. It had been obvious by how they’d placed their jack that they’d no idea how to change it. I had been on the highway twenty minutes when my guilt weighed its heaviest. I figured that as I had sat comfortably in my old pickup truck looking at the pavement running under my headlights, they had still been outside struggling to see in the dark; trying to figure out how to change that tire. It would have taken me five minutes, Gary, if I had not been afraid of them.
I was feeling pretty low when I thought I saw redemption waiting for me on the side of the road. After I drove around a big curve, I saw a car on the left shoulder with its flashers on. I pulled over immediately to help. It was too soon actually, and I had to drive up the shoulder. I didn’t want to miss my second chance.
As I drove up slowly to the disabled car, I saw the driver standing by it. She looked fine – not fine as in attractive – but like she was going to be alright with or without my help. My second chance vaporized. It was there still, but not really substantial. I couldn’t put my hands on it and use it to pick myself up.
I would have driven off, but it occurred to me that she’d hit something. That’s why her car was disabled. The front of her car was wrecked. I looked up and down the shoulders on both sides of the road for the other car, but I didn’t see one. I thought that maybe she rear-ended the other car and its taillights were out, so I looked harder. That’s when I noticed there was something on the ground across the road on the other side. It was a deer.
The deer was big, but hard to see. I mean, I could see it on the ground; but I couldn’t tell if it was dead or alive. For the most part, you hope that things are alive; but you don’t in this case; do you, Gary? If the deer was alive, it was suffering. It was in a lot of pain – in agony. I couldn’t tell because it was so hard to see. I needed to cross the road to find out.
You’d think I was afraid of getting hit by a car, but I wasn’t afraid of crossing the dark highway. I should have been: cars weren’t slowing down to 55 miles per hour to go around that curve like they were supposed to. What I was actually afraid of was the injured deer. I don’t know what exactly I was afraid would happen. I know injured animals can be aggressive, so I must have imagined it kicking me down or biting me. Do deer bite, Gary? I guess it really didn’t matter. What was a bite to me compared to what it would endure if I didn’t help? It could have taken days for that deer to die. All I had to do to help was make sure it wasn’t alive. I wasn’t going to let my fear dictate whether I did the right thing again.
So, I got out of my truck and crossed as far as the middle of the road. I only made it to the middle because cars started zooming by in front of me. I don’t think they could see me as they came around the curve. Maybe it was hard for them to tell what lane I was standing in. I thought about running back, but then cars zoomed past behind me. When I saw a gap in the traffic between me and the other shoulder, I sprinted across. I didn’t think I’d make it, but I did. I stopped to catch my breath on the other side and marveled at how three lanes had been so hard to cross.
I snapped out of it so I could do what I’d set out to. I had to find out if the deer was dead or alive. It laid there on the shoulder not quite on its side with its feet underneath it as if it could stand up any second. I walked up to it slowly trying not to startle it. I observed it carefully to see if it was breathing, but I couldn’t tell. I walked around it and even crouched down to see if its body rose and fell with each breath, but I couldn’t tell. Its eyes were wide open, but I couldn’t tell where it was looking. Do deer even blink, Gary? I thought if I touched its eye and it blinked that I would be able to tell for sure it was alive. So, I approached it slowly and reached out my hand hoping it would move or blink before I touched its eye. I was scared that it would jump, you know; or that it would bite me.
Just as I was about to touch the deer’s eye, headlights attracted my attention to a semi truck that was coming around the curve. The gas-hoggin’ monster was on the roadkill-lovin’ shoulder, Gary! I debited three to six years from my lifespan to jump out of the way. I think I felt adrenaline squirt out of my sweat glands as I flew through the air. The semi truck struck the deer and spread it over the road like strawberry preserves over burnt toast.
As climbed out of the woods covered in brush and twigs stickin’out of my ears, you’d expect I was as mad. I wasn’t, Gary. I was happy. I was happy I’d done my duty to myself and gone and tried to help that deer even though I was afraid. A man has to be glad for what he can accomplish, you know?
I had another adventure crossing back. Cars zoomed by in front of me. A semi truck almost killed me again, but I sprinted across and I was alright.
There were two people watching me the whole time: the lady who crashed and a tow truck driver that must have arrived while I was across the street. I ignored them. I didn’t want to have to explain myself or have my experience cheapened by some uninformed or unthoughtful comment. I just got in my truck and drove away.
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