Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sometimes Death Happens

From certain parts of where I live I can see the beautiful skyline of Manhattan. This is because we are perched on one of the initial elevation points west of New York called Second Mountain. This range is part of the foothills of the Appalachians that spine its way down from New England all the way south into Georgia and further.

And although we are in sight of Manhattan, we are also in a wooded area that is increasingly becoming home to wild turkeys, foxes, bears and deer. The last category has become the biggest problem. Deer, like Bambi, are now more akin to pigeons and rats. The deer eat flowers and shrubbery, multiply like rabbits, carry ticks which carry lyme (which I have acquired twice so far) and get in the way of motor vehicles.

A couple of weeks ago, I was hit by a deer. That's right, the deer hit me. It shot out of someone's front yard into the street and then into the side of my car. Impact was just by the front left wheel. It was either the stupidest deer in the world or a kamikaze trying to bring honor to the herd. I'm hoping it was the first one. We certainly don't need deer trying to intimidate us in the neighborhood.

I recall an object darting alongside the driver's side. I could hear a clicking sound -- its tiny hooves prancing atop the pavement, then a small bang. The car didn't even flinch as the deer rammed its head into the side panel.

I couldn't believe after all these years living here I could finally claim a kill. Still a bit shocked, I turned to look out my side window only to see the deer skidding along the pavement on its back. Its black, round eyes just stared at me. "Hey, don't look at me like that," I thought. "It's not my fault you're an idiot."

My eleven year old daughter was in the backseat. "What was that? Did you hit a person?"

"No, just a deer."

She started crying. "You killed a deer!?"

I was thinking, at least it's not a person. I slowed the car down, then pulled to the side of the road. I wasn't even sure I should stop. There really wasn't much I could do. The best thing for the deer at that point was to die -- quickly.

I looked back down the road. I didn't see anything. Perhaps, it was just stunned. Maybe he got up and ran back to the yard he came from. Maybe his deer friends were watching from behind some bush laughing at the motorist who stopped.

Nope. I saw some legs flutter in the air. It was still on its back. It was dying. Not dead, but dying.

Should I back up and try and hit it again? Should I pull the tire iron out of trunk and clobber it over the head like in the movie GoodFellas? No, my daughter was in the car.

"I wonder what I should do?" The words just slipped out of my mouth.

My daughter was quick to respond, "I don't know, you're the adult!"

She was right, but I still didn't know what I should do. If it was a person, I would've called 911 and waited for the ambulance and police. But it was just a deer, so I drove away, down to the police station to file a report. I needed some documentation in order for my insurance company to pay for the all the body work my car was going to need.

The police officer took it in stride. "You're the fifth person this week," he said. "Animal Control is keeping busy."

Animal Control? Maybe they'll take care of the deer. I thought they were like the EMS for sick animals. They'll pick him up and nurse him back to health.

"What will Animal Control do?" I asked.

"If it's dead they'll pick it up and dispose of it. Hopefully, no one has run over it yet. Frank hates scraping that stuff off the street."

"And if it's not quite dead?"

"They'll shoot it in the head."



A little while after that our fish that we had for about 8 years started to get sick and die. This was no ordinary fish you get at the school fair. This was a freshwater blue gourami. It had girth and length and would put those fish in a baggie to shame.

The only reason we bought this fish was because previously we had a bunch of those goldfish from the school fair that surprisingly lasted beyond their allotted three days. Because they were still "thriving", the kids wanted to get them a better home. The glass pickle jar was not cutting it. I knew what was going to happen but I acquiesced and went and bought a 10 gallon aquarium with all the accouterments. I put the goldfish in the nice, clean tank with the nice pebbled bottom and the castle they could swim through -- and then they died.

At the time, the children were between Kindergarten and Fourth grade and they thought it was pretty cool that all their fish were starting to float on the surface. Each day they would come home from school to see which fish died that day.

Once they were all gone, I didn't want to leave a perfectly good tank idling so I bought what I was told was a more hearty fish - the gourami. As I mentioned it was blue, but over time it turned orange and it grew quite large, at least 7 inches from head to tail.

We never named the fish because we expected it to follow the same fate as the previous tank inhabitants - flushed down the Toto toilet. The kids would come home from school in the beginning to see if it was floating. They were soon reciting a version of the famous line from Monty Python: "It's not dead yet."

After a while the kids grew bored of the living fish, and I was left to maintain its tank, scrub algae off the tank walls, make sure the temperature was at the right setting and occasionally buy some medicine for it when it got a disease called Ick.

I even bought dissolving food so it could eat while we went on our week long vacations. It was only then on return that the kids would have some renewed interest in the fish. They would race upstairs to the room with the aquarium and shout out in disappointment: "It's still alive!"

As I mentioned, this went on for at least 8 years and "it" never got a name because no one thought it would last.

And, one day, soon after the deer incident, it stopped lasting. The once blue, once orange fish was now stark white and lying on its side at the bottom of the tank. It pained me to see it struggling to die. For two days, it stayed in the same position with it's gills gasping fruitlessly.

On the third day, there was no movement at the bottom of the tank. I called the children into the room so they could see the final demise.

They cheered: "It's finally dead!"

I told them he/she (I never knew) deserved a little bit more respect after all these years. I told them we would have a burial in the backyard.

"Why don't you flush it?" my older son asked.

"Because it will clog the toilet." I responded.

When it was in good health, this fish could've been a decent meal. Without the head and tail and de-boned, it could fill a sardine can. And I was not about to carve it up just so it could flush better.

I grabbed our green net, the one we used previously to sift the goldfish off the surface all those years past. The net was fine for those small creatures, but this gourami had some weight to it. Once I scooped it off the bottom, I felt its heaviness. The handle was bending and I had to use two hands to support it.

"Let's go!" I snapped to the children, and we ran down the stairs and out to the backyard. I wanted to move fast in case the net broke and I would be forced to use something else like a stick to push it along.

"Where are you going to bury it?" my daughter asked.

"Back by the old tree."

"Don't you think the neighbor's cat is going to dig it up? That's where he's always peeing." My middle son said.

"Get Mom's gardening shovel. We'll dig deep."

I rested the net on the ground so I could begin clearing a burial site. I was glad to put it down. The fish was already spilling over the sides of the small net and the handle was bending almost to the final point of its tensile strength.

Once the hole was made, I flipped the fish right in. Just like that. I had to. I felt I was starting to lose the kids' attention and I wanted to finish up quickly and with dignity. I have to admit the fish looked a little odd lying in the soil. It didn't quite seem like the proper final resting place. But there it was, the white fish against the dark earth.

I told my older son to put away his cell phone. He could text after the funeral.

I managed to get a few words in: "Thank you fish for being part of our family. We're sorry we never named you, but we all knew who you were. You had a good, long life just like the man at the store said you would, so thanks for that, too."

"C'mon, Dad," my middle son said.

"Okay, Amen." I went to cover the fish with dirt when all of a sudden its mouth opened wide and its fin flapped.

"Oh my god! It's not dead," my daughter screamed. "Why are you burying it? It's still alive."

I panicked. Thoughts of the deer struggling to survive went through my head. Should I just stamp on its body and squish the last bit of life out the fish? No, there were too many witnesses. I quickly got on my knees and covered it with dirt, then looked up at my daughter who was crying again.

"I'm sorry. It was just about dead. I was just putting it out of its misery. No vet would be able to do anything at this point. The fish will be better off."

The boys laughed. My daughter sobbed. "It wasn't floating at the top like the other fish. You're a murderer! All you do is kill things!"

I just looked at her helplessly. Still on my knees, with my shoulders shrugged and palms facing up, I said, "Sometimes these things happen."