Oh Deer

December 4, 2023

It’s not a humor article, but it could have been.

Then again, it could have not happened at all.

You could have…

You could have left earlier. Or later.

You could have stayed in the left lane, passing cars, rather than slowing to the right.

You could have not blinked, not changed the Spotify station, not been so giddy with anticipation to get to the city, to the party you had awaited so eagerly. Not paid for the blow-out, not rummaged your closet for something to wear, not found a passable garb from the meager stash of cocktail-appropriate items that still fit.

You could have not worn the restrictive slimming shapewear underneath that outfit, the one that still fits, which would have been uncomfortable enough for a 2-hour drive but which would become downright constrictive when forced to sit in it for nearly five hours roadside.

In the dark. In the cold. In that moment that could have not happened.

Because you should have been on your way. To the city. To the party. To the people you were excited to see after so many years of being apart. You deserve a night out, the blow-out, the black high-heeled boots in the back seat you plan to change into to replace the worn and thankfully warm Uggs on your feet that serve as “driving shoes.”

You could have taken the other car, the one with 165,000 miles and the deep scratch on the side from a run-in with a mailbox six years earlier that you never got fixed. You could have damaged that car, perhaps enough to warrant a newer vehicle, one you’ve been wanting. Slightly smaller. In white. Waiting for you on the lot to make your decision, pull the funds, stop being so cheap, live a little.

You could have chosen a different route, ignored the Waze way.

You could have been on a road less windy, less forested, less populated by wildlife.

You could have been aware of the danger of the date, the hour. You could have known – should have known – that deer are most active from October to December, that the fading light of dusk is when they are most frequently seen and also hardest to see.

You could have swerved. You could have braked harder. You could have come to a complete stop, somehow avoiding the inevitable impact you braced for. You could have not leaned on your horn… why did you lean on that horn for so long after a warning was no longer warranted? Was the continued blare necessary? Did it substitute for the silent shriek you assumed the deer would have made had it been able to utter a sound?

You could have looked away. You could have not locked eyes. You could have not felt the fear in those eyes, that moment of reckoning that one has made a terrible mistake, that time is up, that you will die cold and alone and separated from the pack on the side of the highway with only this shocked woman watching from behind her windshield, blaring her horn and muttering, “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

You could have not watched the animal soar, twisting through the air before thudding on the ground, tumbling to the shoulder, lying with legs pumping in agony until the heart stopped pumping and things became still.

You could have not had the strangest sequence of thoughts:

Who put this deer here?

Oh, no I’ve just hit Olaf.

What is the name of the reindeer in the Frozen movie?

It’s not Olaf, that’s the name of the snowman.

You could have not startled back to the present. Where are you? This is not a movie.

You are here. You don’t want to be here.

The deer, Olaf, is there, but it’s gone.

“I’m sorry,” you say. “I’m sorry.” It’s better than “Shit, shit, shit,” but it’s still not enough.

You could have had minor damage. A front bumper, a little dent. You didn’t need to find a pierced radiator, anti-freeze mixed with animal blood pooling under your car, staining the roadway. You didn’t need to look closely and see crime scene evidence in the tufts of fur stuck in the grille.

Car oh deer

Then again, you could have been an uncaring driver. Deer are a nuisance. They are overpopulated. They get hit. They cause accidents.

You could have been a hunter. Deer are meat, a food source, recreation. You could have been the type of person who displays animal trophies in the family den, looking into taxidermied eyes with a sense of triumph.

You could have gotten on with your night, to drive to the city, to the train station, to get to the party that had been the draw.

You could have been less selfish. How can you think of a party at a time like this, what is wrong with you? Your penance is your wait. You’ll wait in your fresh blow-out and worn but warm Uggs and constricting shapewear holding in what becomes an uncomfortably full bladder.

You’ll wait.

For the police. Your husband. A tow. You’ll wait for hours because you’re not close, not a priority, not fully covered.

All this time you’ll wait in your car, damaged and parked on the stained highway shoulder, staring at Olaf whose name is not Olaf only you can’t think of the name.

Img 1452 oh deer

You’ll sob for so many reasons. You’ll search for a tissue and come up only with sunglasses, a ballpoint pen, hand sanitizer.

You’ll document the incident. 911. Photographs. DOT. You’ll talk, calmly and maturely to the state trooper who looks about 19 and calls you “ma’am.” You’ll share your license, registration, proof of insurance. You’ll find the nearest dealership, a mere 3 miles away though it will take hours to arrive there long after the location has closed with only a single overworked and underpaid security guard to open the gate.

You’ve made everyone’s night more difficult. You did this.

You’ll be given items you need and some you don’t ask for. A case number. Caring texts from friends. Trail mix from your husband. Two kinds – one with almonds and the other with cranberries. You won’t eat much. You won’t talk much. You’ll sit in silent sadness, pitying yourself for the night you can’t get back, pitying Olaf whose name is not Olaf for the end of its life on this night.

It was an accident. You are a killer.

It was inevitable. It was avoidable.

It was unfortunate. It was a blessing in disguise.

Bad things happen. Everything happens for a reason.

It could have been worse. You could have been killed. You could have swerved and hit another car, maiming a passenger. You could have been hit from behind when you jammed on the brakes. You could have caused a pile-up. You could have smacked your head, gotten whiplash, been in a neck brace.

You could have better controlled your emotions after. You could have laughed when your friend texted, “This is the last bad thing that will happen to you! The buck stops here!” rather than ugly crying snot and tears with no tissue available, just sunglasses, a ballpoint pen, hand sanitizer.

You could have walked off into the woods, disappearing forever. You could have thrown yourself into traffic. You’d never do this, of course, but you could have. Where are you? Why did you go there? Come back here.

You could have not lost your husband’s glove, one of a pair he loaned you to stay warm. You could have gone back to find it, likely dropped on the stained shoulder of that highway where the deer like to roam. Just one more loss on this night that could have not happened.

Then again, you could have had no one to call, to text, to come. You could have no one to try to make you laugh when you ugly cry or bring you two types of trail mix you won’t eat.

You could have gotten over this faster. You’re so sensitive. Dramatic. Ridiculous. It’s a deer.

You’re a killer. You’re so heartless. Selfish. Criminal. It’s Olaf. It’s name is not Olaf. That’s the snowman.

You will never forget, but you will.

You will want to forget, but you can’t.

But you will get home, peel off the constrictive shapewear, empty your bladder, thank your husband, fall into an exhausted sleep.

You can’t change it. But you’ll write about it. Because what else can you do?

And you’ll look up the name of the reindeer in the movie “Frozen.”

It’s Sven.

Your friend jen scaled oh deer


Valerie Gordon, the founder of The Storytelling Strategist, is an author, humorist, and observer of stories. She feels things deeply and doesn’t eat venison. 


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