How My Life Changed
We were in Linc's car, an aging yellow Mercedes sedan, big and steady, with slippery blond seats and a deep, strumming idle. Lincoln called it Dr. Diesel. It was a Sunday night, March 22, 1987, nine-thirty. Rural Ohio was a smooth continuity of silence and darkness, except for a faintly golden seam where land met sky ahead, promising light and people and sound just beyond the tree line.
We were on our way back to Kenyon College after spring break. Linc, my best friend, was driving, his arm easy over the wheel. My boyfriend, Borden, sat behind him. I rode shotgun, a rose from Borden on my lap. Slung over my arm was a 1940s taffeta ball gown I had bought for $20 at a thrift shop. I was 19.
The conversation had dropped off. I was making plans for the dress and for my coming junior year abroad at the University of Edinburgh. My eyes strayed along the right shoulder of the road: a white mailbox, the timid glint of an abandoned pick-up's tail-light. The pavement racing under the car was gunmetal gray. We were doing 50 mph or so. A balled-up bag from a drive-through burger joint bumped against my ankle.
At first, he was only a suggestion of an animal, emerging from the darkness by degrees: a muzzle, a sharp left eye. Then the headlights grasped him.
He was massive -- a web of antlers over his head, a heavy barrel, round haunches lifting him from the downward slope of the highway apron. Briefly, his forehooves rested on the line between the shoulder and the highway. I saw his knee bending, the hoof lifting: he was stepping into the car's path.
In the instant that I spent waiting for the deer to roll up over the car's hood and crash through the windshield I was aware of my body warm in the seat, Linc's face lit by the dash, Borden breathing in the back, the cool sulfur glow of the car's interior, the salty smell of the burger bag. I watched the deer's knee and waited for it to straighten. I drew a sharp breath.
The bumper missed the deer's chest by an inch, maybe two. The animal's muzzle passed so close that I could see the swirl of hair around his nostrils. Then he was gone behind us.
I blinked at the road. My eyes caught something else. A brilliant light appeared through the top of the windshield and arced straight ahead of the car at terrific speed. It was a meteor. It burned through the rising light of the horizon and vanished in the black place above the road and below the sky.
My breath escaped in a rush. I turned toward Linc to share my amazement. He was as loose as he had been, his eyes slowly panning the road, his long body unfolding over the seat. I looked back at Borden and could just make out his face. They had seen nothing.
Laura Hillenbrand is the author of Seabiscuit (eventually made into a movie). Thanks for fellow butterfly Upnorth for finding the link and sharing it.