This morning, my son and I came upon a deer that had been hit by a car. The buck lay kneeling in the highway, panting, with one antler lying on the roadway and debris all around.
My son was quiet. It was on his side of the car. The people who had hit it were there, and so I did not stop. I did not feel that would be right for my child, and so I kept going. I was troubled they didn’t have a phone in their hands, but hoped they’d already called 911 for someone to come ease the animal’s suffering.
A few minutes later, I asked him what he’d seen. My heart pretended he could have missed it…but no, he said, “the deer.” I asked, “Did he look ok or no?” He quietly said, “He’s dead I think.” I asked if he saw the way the deer was breathing, and he confirmed that he had. I said, “He’s not dead, he’s hurt. He might be dying.” My son said, “His antler is all broken.” I said, “His antler is all broken.”
We were quiet. I asked if he felt anything in his body. He said no. Then he said, “I feel sad.” I replied that “I feel sad too. I feel sad in my body.” He asked if I would cry. I told him that maybe I would cry, but I didn’t feel tears coming right now. I told him again that mostly I felt sad in my body. He asked me why, and I said, “Because the deer was hurt, in the road, with his antler all broken and his body all broken, and maybe dying.”
We were on our way to preschool. He said, “I want to tell my teachers about this sad thing.” I told him, “OK.” A few minutes later, he said, “I don’t want to tell my teachers about this sad thing.” I told him that was ok too. I told him we could tell them or not tell them. When we got out of the car, and walked to the front door, he held my hand more tightly than usual, and told me, again, quietly, “I don’t want to tell my teachers this sad thing.” I said, again, quietly, “OK.”
He added an extra hug to our departure ritual, and held onto my coat. I told the teacher, “A sad thing happened on the way in, very sad. Cole doesn’t want to tell about it, so I will not tell about it. I told him he can tell about it if he wants to.” He held onto my coat, and kept holding onto my coat. I reminded him that he usually starts the day with snack, and he let go of my coat. I turned and left, and he slipped right into class. I left, hoping only that the deer went swiftly to rest.
I’m leaving to pick him up in a little bit, and I hope his day rolled gently. He met a big truth today: The antler was all broken. Antlers aren’t supposed to be lying on the road, all broken. It’s out of order; it just feels bad. But really, it’s not. Strong things are just as fragile as soft things, I suppose, and in the end, it is the odd timing of things that can expose little secrets like these.