I did not expect to be on the side of the road fishing a deer out from a ditch this weekend. Yet here I am, heaving this poor doe that got blindsided by a college student, who is morosely taking the reprimanding from Lesko, one of our local cops. It’s the thin line of road that takes you west off the campus, winding past the Capitol Business Center, and weaves its way to the Sheetz at the mouth of Route 230. It is pretty treacherous at night, and the deer seem to like it there. Thus, why we are here. The other cop, Tingle, simply smiles at me and the guys as we haul the deer up and over the guardrail, and into my virgin truck bed. The only thing that had been in that bed was stage props. As I stare at the doe, eyes open and tongue lolling out of its mouth, I do feel sorry for it. It looks to be fairly young with only one or two fading spots on its hide. I tell it sorry and thank you as we drive back to the fire station, where most of us live.
We get back, praying that the wedding party up the hill doesn’t decide to look down and see us slicing a deer open, and proceed to attempt to hang her up on the basketball hoop behind the station. None of us can lift her high enough, despite being a fairly small doe. After much debate, yanking the carcass back and forth, and some deer puns (Joe continuously mutters “oh deer” for the entire night), the doe ends up on the tailgate. As I stand by the hindquarters, holding the leg up and out of the way, the others cut a single shallow line from the rib cage down to the rectum. I don’t find myself as squeamish as I thought I should be. If anything, I’m morbidly fascinated, watching the thin membrane that keeps the body together slowly split apart. It is a little strange to see the steam float up into the cool air, reminding me that this deer was alive half an hour ago. I tell it sorry and thank you again.
Kenny, the one who originally rounded us up from a birthday party to go help find “Dory,” as he named her, is having difficulty scooping out the innards. His hands are too big, singularly grabbing at one organ and slipping past the others. The EMS lady, Amber, who has been hunting and gutting since her childhood, tells him to let someone with smaller hands give it a try. I step forward.
The first thing that strikes me is the warmth. With gloved hands, all I feel is a searing heat as I dig towards the pelvis, scooping carefully around the intestines, the urinary tract, and what I assume is the uterus. Amber tells me I should be able to reach around, find the butthole, and just start pulling everything out towards me. It is surprisingly tough.
But it’s also horribly easy. There is nothing holding the intestines in other than a few fibrous, gristly strings that hold everything to the spine. With every careful tug, another string snaps, and the organs start to ooze out, towards the bucket under the tailgate. I find myself elbow deep, blood soaking its way into my sweatshirt, panting a bit as the lower stomach makes its way out and down.
I switch towards the front, finding the lungs and heart behind the rib cage. I feel the splintered side of her ribs, where she was hit by the car. I think it ripped my glove open a bit. With a final tug, a final snap, everything comes plopping out at once.
And misses the bucket. Oh well.
Amber praises me. Despite having nicked the intestine and let out some poop, she says most importantly I didn’t rupture the stomach. She says don’t forget the heart. So, I reach back inside the warmth, Jason’s knife in hand, and hack away at the aorta, the superior vena cava, and the pulmonary artery. Cut, cut, cut, and out pops the heart. It oozes blood as I accidentally squeeze it. I am holding what kept this animal alive. Amber and Kenny joke that I should take a bite of the heart, an old hunting tradition for many cultures. I wonder if I bit it, would I taste its fear? Kenny, Joe, Brandon, and Dylan dig in and start taking the meat from the deer. After a short while and many skilled knives, Dory is able to fit into two large cooking pots. I thank her.
I find myself torn between feeling entirely clinical about it and feeling remorse for the deer. While in the deer, I thought it was fantastic, being a tactile learner, to point out all the organs we have in common, feeling how her body was put together. But when collecting her from the side of the road, I felt sad. Life cut short because of a hereditary flight response. In the end, I choose to be grateful. I have seen more death that I could have imagined, and I always feel blank when it comes to people. People are panicky, give up too easily, and waste space in the ground because they want to be remembered. With Dory, she just wanted to live. And she died trying to. I am grateful for what she gave us. I hope when I die I can be of as much use as she was, hoping my organs can be used to save another life.
I remember signing up to be an organ donor at 16, when I had gotten my driver’s license. I had finished all the paperwork, signed the dotted lines, took my awful picture, when the lady asked me if I wanted to be a donor. I had felt confused. A slight pause of possibly saying no held my tongue until I looked at my mom and asked if I should. She said it was my choice. I then wondered why I couldn’t have been if I was younger. Would driving be that bad that I would die on the side of the road? But I figured they’d be better used in a child who needed them than being buried with me. So, I signed my organs away.
When we eat her this week, I will remember what happened. I will remember the brief feeling of grief as she bleeds from her mouth into the rivets of the truck bed, slow rivers of red forever staining it. I will remember the steam rising from her chest, praying her soul likewise makes its way to a nice green forest up above. I will remember the heat seared into my arms, my heartstrings tugging as I tug hers away. I will remember that she will give me strength, and the courage to run like she did, even as she knew she was dying.
Thank you, my friend. I am sorry.
Valerie Frigerio, the Assistant Fiction Editor for this issue, is a junior and “an aspiring writer who enjoys creating fiction and fantasy. I like to think my style is lighthearted humor coupled with heart wrenching with vivid descriptions. I am a firefighter and currently live at a station near you! I have a loving pair of parents and two sisters. They help with my ramblings.”