Being an adult carries with it a high probability of violence, or that’s how it seemed from the perspective of a neurotic nine-year-old. You cannot blame me. In the months between December 1980 and October 1981, or for much of my ninth year, John Lennon was shot and killed outside his apartment, Pres. Reagan was shot outside of a DC hotel, the Pope was shot in St. Peter’s Square and Anwar Sadat was shot and killed, by his own troops, while reviewing a parade in Cairo (the last killing seemed very Roman; as such, I found it the most fascinating).
So it’s no surprise that I felt that graduating to the adult world (a prospect still far off, but yet now vaguely conceivable) meant opening one’s self up to greater and greater chances of being killed. Perhaps I’d been reading too many murder mysteries and comics, but there was something in the air. I had the sense that violence, as random at it was merciless, was unavoidable, striking at whim. Around this time I read a Time magazine article at my parents’ friends house about some highway spree killer. One detail, that the killer had found a newlywed couple and told them to “kiss their last kiss” before shooting them both, has stayed with me for 30 years now, emblematic of the grubby, miserable and envious baseness of petty human evil.
It didn’t help my fragile sense of the world that my parents were having a terrible spell of luck around this time. They could not catch breaks and seemed utterly at the mercy of things. We drove down to Tennessee to buy a used car. About an hour into the trip back, a tractor-trailer swung into the passing lane and struck our new car, which my father was driving, and sent it spinning across the highway and down into the median. My father wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, of course, but he said later that he just relaxed and rolled with the car as it overturned some four or five times until coming to a stop right-side up. My mother, watching this happen in her rear view mirror, thought she had been made a widow by some asshole truck driver who didn’t even have the courtesy to stop and see if he’d killed someone. The new car was totaled; my father wasn’t hurt in the slightest.
Then there were the deer. My mother hit five or six in the course of as many years, and a number of the collisions totaled her cars. (We went through a lot of cars in this period: a mayfly-lived collection of Datsuns, Volkswagen Rabbits, Fiats). One foggy night my mother and I were driving home and a massive buck suddenly appeared, as if it had been teleported, directly in front of the windscreen. Its length was more than the car’s. We struck it head-on, and it made a whimpering heavy thud, caving in the car’s hood as it expired, its body planing some twenty feet ahead of us, landing in a bloody pool of itself, framed in the narrow arc of our surviving headlight. “The poor deer!” I said. “The car!” my mother cried. At the time, I was so awed by the astonishing killing that I had just witnessed that I felt obligated to serve as the deer’s representative.
A state trooper came by, checked to see if we needed to go to the hospital, then leaned into my mother’s window, acting conspiratorially. “Do you want the carcass?” he asked. “Jesus, no!” said my mother, still a Northerner at heart. So the cop called the rescue squad to give them the good news, and soon enough an ambulance came to bring the deer’s corpse over to the cop’s house. It likely fed his family the following night.