It’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone, and when it happens to you, you have to tell someone.
I was driving my daughter home from a classmate’s birthday party this Saturday afternoon, just me and her in our beat-up going-on-ten-year-old grey minivan. The party was a ways away, in an area with more fields and woods than homes. I was just thinking that this was exactly the sort of event we would have declined when I was clinical, because I just did not have the time nor the bandwidth to be chauffeuring a child that distance in the middle of a weekend day when I needed to be doing a million other more important things.
But today, I not only had the time, I had a good time. I had stayed for the duration and chatted with the other parents who stayed to chat, and was in no particular hurry as we wended our way home afterwards. I couldn’t have hurried even if I wanted to, because we came upon a frustratingly slow cyclist. He probably thought he was “sharing the road”, but he was actually in the middle of my lane. Of course we were on a long and narrow route that cut through a dense forest, and of course there was no shoulder, and of course there was a double line. But this guy was literally lumbering along on an easily five thousand dollar Italian road bike. I mean, come on, rich dude, it’s a fucking Pinarello!
Now, I’m a rule-follower, but not as a rule. In this case, it took me about a minute to make a million assumptions about the overweight man in spandex who clearly did not give a shit about the mom in a minivan, and I decided to pass him.
It was a relatively straight stretch, and as I pulled around him, I pressed down on the gas. Normally, I would not be driving that fast down a dim, woodsy, narrow road in an unfamiliar area, but there I was, doing all of that, and on the wrong side, too. I just wanted to get well past this annoying obstacle.
And then the buck leapt out in front of us, from behind the trees on our left.
I’m not sure I’ve ever slammed the brakes so hard. My purse and phone hit the dashboard and the goodie bag contents shot out all over as the anti-lock system shuddered and the tires squealed. The van kind of swerved, and I could feel it pulling sideways, so I lightened up on the brakes and got control. The buck– that’s not him in the photo, that’s a stock photo, but it looks just like him– he sort of stumbled on the asphalt directly in front of us, and I braced myself, pushing back on the wheel– but he got his footing and sprung up and away, just off to the right of the hood. I just glimpsed him trotting off, with a sassy little tail shake, even.
I slowed waaaay down and eased back into the right lane, gasping a bit: “Shit we almost hit that deer… Holy fuck, wow…”
Usually, I get a lecture about using swear words in front of children, from my child. But she was in just as much shock, and said something like “OH MY GOD that was sooooo close. SO close. The deer’s okay though.”
And– insult to near-injury– wannabe cyclist dude ended up in front of us again.
I swore at him, too. Under my breath. After all, the narrowly averted accident was all my fault.
The rest of the ride was one long adrenaline aftershock, me driving carefully, with trembly limbs. My mind raced through multiple what-if scenarios: What if we’d hit the deer and I’d been knocked out? It’s highly probable that either the impact or the airbags would knock me out. We just filled the tank with gas earlier– What if it ignited and the car caught fire? Would Maria have been able to get out? The sliding doors don’t work, one’s jammed shut, the trunk doesn’t open from the inside…
I was all nausea and butterflies. We needed music. We needed something soothing and distracting, but also mindful of the moment. A tune for singing along, but with a deeper message…
“Siri, play Coldplay.”
Fix You started us back on the right track, then Vance Joy’s Mess Is Mine. The nine-year-old wanted Olivia Rodrigo, so we settled on favorite crime, and then segued into Latin feel-good, our current favorite being the emotionally endearing Robarte un Beso by Carlos Vives and Sebastian Yatra, but followed that up with Farruko’s party-punching Pepas, and I’m glad she doesn’t understand what it’s about yet.
And so we moved on as we made our way to Nana’s, where my son and Obi the dog had been hanging out. I was still shaking off the shock. We needed fresh air. So my son and I went home and raked leaves, the perfect fall multitasking workout: Get the arms, shoulders, and the core, and super-bonus, get a tidy yard, and it’s kind of meditative, too. The repetitive movement, deep breathing, focus on task, satisfaction of completion… I thought about how lucky we were that my impatience and bad attitude didn’t cause harm. Certainly, there’s lessons here, like, don’t rush, don’t judge, obey basic traffic rules, and maybe it’s time for a new car. Raking: better than therapy.
Now, I’m thankful that we had no evening plans, because I’ve been able to put together this little reflection, and while I don’t know about you, I certainly feel a lot better.