Leave My Roadkill Alone

Warning! Potentially disturbing topic ahead. 

Deer are incredibly majestic creatures. Their soulful black eyes, their regal antlers, their taupe coats, their completely docile nature. They once provided us with all that we needed: meat, clothing, tools. We owe our lives to them, in many ways. (But…you read the title of this post so you know it is going downhill…)

And what do we now? We hit them with our cars. And if we could, we would forward our insurance deductibles to them when we have to replace our bumpers, when we hit our cars against their bodies. Yet, who will replace their lives?

Okay, I may be getting a little dramatic. But I have a beef with humanity. (Or, maybe a venison with humanity? I don’t know.)

Every day I pass a lot of dead deer carcasses. Like a lot. In varying states of decay, but all from one result: people. I’ve seen obviously broken legs, half-eaten corpses, and gazing black eyes staring out from the road. It’s unsettling, at best. But like all things, we keep on keeping on. We keep driving, just as the people who hit these poor creatures probably did. We rarely slow down, and we never stop.

But so do I. Recently, when I have driven past, they have started to slip past me. I have started to accept their presence as somewhere hovering around “normal” in the mist of my morning commute.

Until last Friday.

In the dark, I sped along, wanting to get home as soon as possible. I counted about 4 dead deer in the flash of my headlights, which seemed to be a lot, even for the road I was driving on. I started to mull this fact over, when I saw a fifth.

Now, the jury is still out on what I saw. It could have been the fierce wind, or a gust from a passing car. It could have been, as my boyfriend pointed out, rigor mortis, as the nerves tightened and then shot out in what looked suspiciously like a desperate hoof in the air. And then again, the idea that we all don’t want to entertain, is the notion that the poor, poor thing wasn’t dead yet. He was almost dead and dying, in the cold air. When I saw it, when I saw the cloven hoof paw the air, my hand flew up to my chest.  Should I return and try to help it out of its misery? I didn’t have my pocketknife on me, and the thought of actually cutting its throat in a humane way still gives me nightmares. What was I supposed to do but cry and mourn his near death? Which is exactly what I did. My entire night was absolutely blackened by that moment. Suffering is a fate no one, man or beast, should endure.

And then today. I wanted to see the body, for closure. To convince myself that I did the right thing by driving past.

Except it wasn’t there. None of the bodies that were there on Friday were present. It was like a giant deer Zamboni had swept them all up. For all I knew, it could have got up and walked away. My hope was that someone had called it in, and it was put out of its misery. But it could have died on the cold asphalt. My mind flipped through the possibilities like a Roledex. Now, I would truly never know.

And well, that angered me even more than the thought of someone hitting it at all all. Knocking them down like dominoes was one thing, but erasing their existence? I felt robbed and hollow, as a bystander feels when they realize they should have done something in the moment, when they had the chance.

If you haven’t read Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty, you should. Because this is the central message of the book: we need to stop shielding ourselves from death. Death helps us bring meaning to our lives. If we lived forever, what would we live for? We would just procrastinate everything (not that we don’t do that now, but you know.)

Like it or not, the feeling that we have a finite time on this Earth helps us achieve our goals, fall in love, and buy that really fancy cheese grater when we can’t afford it. It helps us to understand the bigger picture, even when the bigger picture comes in the form of dead animals on the side of the road.

So, don’t touch my roadkill. Let it be a reminder that we all must decay, and the earth will feed on us as we’ve fed on it. But in that message, let us be enlightened not frightened as we drive along. And hopefully, we can start to share the road together.

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