Last spring I bought a van. It's a Honda Odyssey, and I got a great deal on it because it had hit a deer.
You can read a little about it here (but beware... that's a post I wrote when I was still quite sick, undiagnosed and unmedicated for my lupus).
Lately, I've been spending a great deal of time in this van. Last night was the third night in a row that I got to sleep in my own bed after many nights away, and I tell you, it has been wonderful to be home.
My most recent trip was a whirlwind jaunt to Illinois to look for a house with Shawn. Prior to that, I'd gone to western Pennsylvania and also to Minnesota through Cleveland. Actually, I've been seeing quite a lot of Cleveland lately, and Interstate 90. Incidentally: Madison, Wisconsin is a beautiful city.
Back to the van. Ever since we bought it, it's had a jiggle, a vibration, a shake. This is unnoticeable when driving around town and neighborhoods, but it increases exponentially on the highway. I attribute it to the collision with a deer that lurks in the van's past history. If you get over 80 MPH, the drive smooths out, but, of course, that's not safe either. So we drive, and shake, and 6-12 hours later, when I get out, my body continues to quiver for quite a long time.
Monday, on our way home from Illinois, the first seven hours of the drive were not so bad. The worst thing was all the dead deer. I've never seen so many dead deer. There were big deer, small deer, mangled deer, bloated deer, deer by the median and deer by the shoulder. Strangely, on Saturday, on our way out, there had been hundreds of police pulling people over everywhere. On Monday, on our way home, multitudinous dead deer had replaced the multitudinous police forces.
As the sun set and the highway darkened, the deer carcasses took on a more macabre tone. We didn't see them in the same way; the shadows hid the bodies. The van whizzed along through the black night, vibrating. At random, unpredictable intervals the fan of illumination from our headlights swept across blood on the road, and our eyes would follow the bloodstain to the humped over carcass of a deer off on the side. During the day, I never noticed the blood, but at night it glistened red under the moving lights on the black asphalt, thickening near the roadkill. It was a dark night.
In Buffalo we noticed that we were out of gas, but we decided that it would be quicker to continue on to the next thruway service center, rather than getting off and searching for a gas station in the city. Going west into Buffalo, there are a couple of service centers right before you arrive. However (and we should have known this), coming east out of Buffalo, there is not a service center for a good, long time.
Finally we saw the sign for the Pembroke service center in 15 miles. The gas gauge was awfully completely registering empty, but we tightened our jaws and set our faces, praying under our breath, and continued on. There was nothing else to do, and by the grace of God we arrived before the tank gave out. After the darkness of the thruway, the bright lights and garish, cartoony red and orange signs for gas and soda assaulted our senses despite the relief it was to be there. Between the lateness of the night, the vibrations of the van (now after more than nine hours), and the fast food I'd injudiciously eaten for dinner, I was feeling very carsick, with a strong stomach cramp. We filled up and set out once again for our last lap.
I can never rest while I am in a vehicle. I have to watch the road, as if by watching, by straining my eyes, I can somehow control our safety. I huddled in my seat, arms crossed over my cramping midsection, and kept my eyes peeled out the dark windshield. There was nothing, nothing, nothing, and then, from out of nowhere, a deer was standing in the middle of the road, silhouetted like a cardboard cut-out. I saw bristled white and gray hairs on its side, illuminated by our headlights. It was completely still, and its head was oddly down, as though it was grazing on the tar. It was directly in front of us.
Shawn gasped as I screamed, low and guttural, the kind of scream that rakes your throat and almost gags you. Shawn's strong hands grasped the steering wheel hard as he swerved onto the rumble strip on the shoulder as the quiet night filled with desperate noises, my scream, the thundering road, a horn honking long and mournful. It was our horn, I found out later. He'd squeezed the wheel so hard, the horn just sounded, almost as involuntarily as I had screamed.
He missed it. And he got us back onto the road. I cupped my fingers over my mouth and sucked deep breaths through them, trembling, thanking Jesus, worried for the cars behind us, sorry for the deer that would surely not live to see another sunrise.