I thought I hit a doe last night. She was about the size of Scout, with little white dots on her fur. It was one in the morning, and I wasn’t driving fast on the backroad, home, my brights cutting a tunnel into the warm, dark night. But I was blasting the radio (Stevie Nicks), and puzzling over the difference between looking at something, and knowing you’re looking at it, when the little doe ran into the road. I saw her, and I hit my brakes, and I swerved very hard, but the music was so loud that I couldn’t hear either the clunk or the absence of one. I imagined I hit her, my brain having done the math while it was happening. She was moving too slow; the turning radius of my car was too big.
I parked the car on the side of the road, and walked back, the brush at the side of the road dark, the woods beyond it buzzing. There was a bright moon overhead, and my lights were on. What would I do? (I remembered a story Baker Roshi told me, about hitting a deer when he was driving with another famous Roshi, and then shooting it, to put it out of its misery. How, at one in the morning on a deserted back road, would I put a tiny deer out of its misery? And why would I? And yet, what would be my alternatives? Pain ran through my body like electricity.)
It had been one of those days. No, not those days—it was like this: I had cried all the way into the city, and cried all the way back, big wet salty tears that left my eyes swollen. There is really no rhyme or reason when it comes to grief; little things trigger it, and then there it is: the pain in my body all day had been so great that I tried imagining a heroin haze, or the relief of suicide, to make it better. Nothing helped.
So when I was walking towards the doe, or the space where the doe might or might not be, I felt, instead of real fear, a kind of bottom, like the sharp rusty bottom of an old metal pail: the little dying doe did not make it worse—it just made it more of what it was: it is not pretty, life. I mean, sometimes it is—I love my daughter, and all the birds and trees outside my house; but the end of things that you love, problematic or not (and it’s all problematic), is inevitable. One minute you’re thinking you’re going to see someone again, and the next minute they’re gone forever, without having said goodbye. Without having said, “I will always love you.”
It’s easy to contemplate when you’re fat (literally) and happy eating personal pints in your bed with your longtime partner watching Law and Order, but it’s not easy, in actual fact. In actual fact, it leaves you lying in ditch, sometimes, in agony, dying, completely confused about what just happened (you had seen it, but you had not known you’d seen it), having just a moment before been young and happy and flying across a road, a song in the air, headed into the future.