Two weeks ago on Wednesday I stayed late on campus to show a movie to my seminar on the Civil War in American Culture and Memory. We were on the Counterfactual History week, so we were studying various re-thinkings of the outcome of the war that posit the South as victors. They’re reading Harry Turtledove’s “Guns of the South,” and some theory about the value of counterfactual history to historians, so I thought I’d show them C.S.A, a really interesting indie film that is essentially a mocumentary in the style of Ken Burns about the history of America since the Confederate victory. It is punctuated by advertisements for racist products, most of which turn out to be real. It’s a great, uncomfortable film that seems to say ultimately, that the South did actually win the Civil War after all, an idea that more than one historian has advocated — probably most ably by David Blight. So, I ordered a few pizzas, made a salad, bought some soda at the grocery (where a kid proceeded to vomit in front of me in the dairy section with a resounding splat), and showed the film to the students. They loved it, I loved it, so it was a good time even though it was about 10:00 by the time I left campus for my hour drive home.
I got into the car and start driving on the small, dark, two-lane remote state highways that constitute the major route from my hometown to the campus. Right away I felt kind of weird — it was raining pretty hard, and visibility was really low. Plus, the car kept hydroplaning because there was so much water in the road. About 10 minutes into the drive, I thought, Man, wouldn’t it be great to just sleep in my office — hole up there and truck through some of the 186 papers and quizzes I’ve got backlogged? But it seemed so lame to backtrack just because it was raining. I’ve driven through plenty of rain before, so, I talked myself into continuing. Boy, was that dumb.
I was about 20 minutes from home in a particularly remote section of the route and going at a respectable pace (50?) when I rounded a curve and saw a huge deer in the left lane crossing into my lane on the right, and taking her time about it, too. I slammed on the brakes, but had time enough to know without a doubt that I was going to hit that deer as my wheels slid on the wet road. The car slid, screeched, and then — whump. The deer went flying. If it wasn’t so horrific, it would have been kind of funny — it flew in that way that the fake cow does in Monty Python’s Holy Grail cow catapult — with a rigidity that looks plastic. Another layer of unreality was added to this awful scene by the fact that Patrick Tull continued to narrate Desolation Island through the iPod, saying something like “Avast there, belay the yardarm you scurvy dogs!” or “Clew up, clew up, halliards there, maintopsail!” Nothing like priatespeak to help you through the adrenalin rush and terror of a car accident.
I pulled over, and was shaking so hard I couldn’t get the damned iPod to stop. I finally managed to turn it off, and then sat there for a moment just freaking out, before I got out my cell phone. Generally, I have no cell signal between home and campus — it really is the back end of nowhere, so cell phone towers aren’t a high priority. Frankly, it’s pretty amazing that electricity has made it that far, really. But, miraculously, I had signal. A friend later suggested that the fear and adrenalin I was giving off must have boosted the receiver on the phone. I don’t know, but I was so thankful that I could reach Spousal Unit. While we talked, I got out of the car to assess the damage — it wasn’t too bad: front bumper, grill, hood, and right front panel. But, the car was drivable, so I made it home. The estimate was about $2000 smakers worth of damage. Not to mention yet another strike against Stewgad’s killing karma. This makes the 5th critter I’ve hit in a year. I swear, I’m not a bad driver and I don’t deliberately seek out small (or large) furry things to take out of this mortal plane. But somehow, I’ve hit a bird, two suicidal chipmunks who literally waited on the side of the road until my front tire was perpendicular to their path and then ran as fast as they could to make it under my tire at the precise right moment, and a strange rat-like creature that may have been a small possum. So, now I can add a deer of the list of things that I have personally dispatched from this particular life cycle.
I was talking to a senior faculty member a few weeks ago and telling him about my tally and he couldn’t believe it. “Stewgad,” he said, “In 25 years of commuting on that road I have never hit an animal. Twenty-five years. What is wrong with you?” I suggested that that question has formed the core of my identity for the past decade or so. OK, not really, but still, what is wrong with me? Why do I have such a deadly driving record? Maybe I’ve been a small furry thing in many previous lives and I’d been repeatedly hit by a car and that these critters I’ve hit thus far were the incarnations of the folk who hit me and this is some kind of payback. Or maybe, I didn’t really hit that deer and that, as a colleague suggested, baby Jesus and the Easter Bunny swooped down in their UFO and transported it off to the North Pole where Santa will fix it and add it to his contingency of flying deer. (That sucker did really fly!) Maybe this year while we’re sitting around waiting for the Christmas loot, we’ll hear sprightly footsteps on the roof and the rousing cry of “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Donner, and Gimpy!”
Hey, a guilty critter-murdering girl with a major car repair in her future can dream, can’t she?