It Didn’t Happen? (15sec)

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It’s tempting to say it didn’t happen. That it couldn’t have happened. That it was actually the beer and whiskey telling a tale. And I’d be OK with that.

Not that I’m prone to seeing imaginary things when I’m a bit lit. It’s just that in this case, no one else would believe it, anyway.

Except that…well…except that I took that picture.

Not a great photo, mind you. But my phone doesn’t drink, so it was at least a sober image.

The image doesn’t tell the whole story – in fact, what actually happened, or more specifically, what was involved – is debatable.

But the fact remains, a slice of time was objectively preserved. To skeptics, it makes the matter harder to ignore. Or maybe it will just take longer. Since there’s no shortage of those who want to forget.

Now that Jill is cleared of any wrongdoing, let’s review what happened.

By the way, as many of you already know, Jill went to the police on her own accord. And amidst the various stories, it’s worth emphasizing that no charges were filed. Or as she put it on social media, “I didn’t mean to do it, but I didn’t commit any crimes.”

Regardless of which story you’ve heard, as you probably know, I, too, was a witness, so this is my take. I’m writing this and posting it online so I don’t have to keep answering questions. (Hat tip to my cousin, Nicole, who is the inspiration for this project and who is co-writing and editing this for her college writing class).

Anyway, here goes nothing: It was late Friday. Or, for those who have been persnickety, it was early Saturday morning, since it was after 2:00 am when the Racoon Paradise closed.

There were around a dozen of us in the parking lot. Some were awaiting rides because they prefer not to drive after having a few. One was awaiting a ride due to a lost license, for not being part of the first group. A number were continuing conversations that started inside the bar. And others were already driving away, leaving clouds of dust in the dirt and gravel before hitting the asphalt. Since I didn’t live far, I said a few goodbyes before heading home on foot, along the mostly quiet and deserted country road.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I never drive home when I shouldn’t – but there are plenty of times when I walk, particularly on a summer night – or morning. Whatever.

Jill was in a small group that I said goodbye to and she asked if I wanted a ride. I almost always decline such offers, since I enjoy the walk. She was being gracious as a result of my helping her mom. It was nothing.

Tuesday afternoon I happened to be walking by a woman loading groceries into her car. While trying to regain control of one bag that was slipping from her arms, she lost both, spilling groceries on the hot asphalt outside the market. I helped her recover the scattered items. She thanked me and introduced herself. I told her my name, exchanged a few pleasantries, and we were both on our way in a few moments. I didn’t think anything of it.

I wasn’t aware the woman was connected to someone I knew until Jill told me how appreciative her mom was. I was surprised her mom even recounted the event to another person, let alone recalled my name so that Jill could extend additional words earlier this evening. It just didn’t warrant attention. If I had recalled Jill’s maiden name when her mom introduced herself, I might have made the association. Or not.

Anyway, I was a few hundred yards down the road, right where the bridge crosses the little stream with the woods on one side and the corn on the other. Anyway, that’s when I heard another vehicle approaching from behind. I paid it no mind, but as quiet it was, I was aware of the sound of each approaching vehicle. And often, at this time of night, it would likely be someone leaving the bar. Some would honk or say “Good night, Jim” from an open window while passing. Some didn’t.

Except, this time … well … this was when things got weird.

It all happened seemingly at once.

As the vehicle and headlights were about to pass, its horn blared into the night and right in front of me something leaped from the woods from my left, darting across the road at the worst possible moment. It was a typical deer move. You’d think these critters were committed to a quota of suicides since it’s a frequent enough occurrence.

Hardly anyone gives a hoot about the deer themselves because they cause too many accidents. But often vehicles need to be repaired. And sometimes people get hurt.

Anyway, instantly, tires screeched and a pickup slid to a stop just in front of me while simultaneously emitting a barely audible “thump” right before the horn stopped.

I had a front-seat view of a not-so-uncommon moment of Mother Nature meeting General Motors on a dark road.

Except, if this was a deer, it sure wasn’t a typical one.

The exact instant-by-instant sequence is a bit jumbled. But somehow, I had my phone out and took a photo. The front of the truck was stopped just ahead of me. I recognized it was Jill as she jumped out exclaiming “What the! Did you see that!?” She was hyperventilating, “I hit it!” Breath. Cough. “I didn’t mean to.” Breath. Cough. She kept taking these gasping breaths between coughing.

We both wanted to identify what was hit and as we were about to converge into the brightness at the front of the truck, it got up and ran into the cornfield on the other side of the road.

Somehow I took another photo over the hood of the truck as it was leaving the zone of headlight coverage. I say “somehow” because I don’t actually recall taking the photo. Although, really, I barely recall taking the first one. But later on, sure enough, both were in my phone.

We stood in the headlights staring out to the blackness of the cornfield. Jill was sobbing and coughing quietly and her breathing was rough. She said something like, “That can’t be.” I don’t recall everything she was stuttering, it seemed she was mostly trying to regain her composure.

Later she said I asked if she was hurt. I don’t actually recall saying that, but I’m not saying I didn’t. I mostly recall being confounded, trying to get my wits around what was clearly no ordinary deer. In fact, calling it a deer is just my way of explaining something that makes no sense. I mostly recall just standing there somewhat dazed in the harsh light.

Another car pulled up. It was Tyler. He’s another regular at the Paradise. Before he was completely stopped he yelled out his open window, “Is everyone all right?” And while approaching, “What happened?” He had parked his car in such a way that his headlights were pointed along the closest edge of the cornstalks, standing as motionless sentries, guarding what seemed to be the outer edges of an infinite black labyrinth.

Jill turned to him and with a slightly quivering voice, coughed and said, “I hit something.” She paused, “Or someone.” She pointed beyond the front rows of illuminated corn. “He got up and ran away.” She turned around and pointed to where I had been walking. “He jumped from the woods, just like he wanted to get hit.”

Tyler walked further into the brightest part of the headlights. He inspected the front of her truck before stating,”Well, I can’t see no serious marks. You probably grazed a deer. It happens all the time and it’s amazing how often they survive. My brother hit one last year along this same stretch. It scared the bejesus out of him. Knocked the animal to the side of the road. But the thing got up and ran off.”

She looked at him and then looked out to the field. “He was bent over and glowing white. I didn’t see his face, just the purple hair.”

I hadn’t uttered a sound since he arrived. Later, he said I was just staring out in the direction of the field. “Jim, were you walking home? What did you see?” He was just being matter-of-factly curious.

My throat was dry and the words didn’t come out right away, “Based on the sound, it took a slight hit.” And then I started to slowly regain my wits. “It jumped out in front of me. If it weren’t for the headlights, I would think it was a deer, too.” I looked behind Tyler, much further down the road, and was somewhat mesmerized by the distant rear lights of two more vehicles leaving the bar parking lot, heading away. I could imagine the crunching sound of their tires on the dirt and gravel before quieting down on the road. But all I could hear was the idling engine of Jill’s truck.

In retrospect, it seems I was having some trouble maintaining focus.

Tyler walked a little closer to me, like some kind of spectre, gleaming white on the side of the headlights, and black with no features on the dark side, but with streaks of brightness dancing across the shadows as he approached, “Are you OK?”

Reluctantly, I replied, “It was weird.” Then I looked at Jill, “It wasn’t a man.”

Tyler sighed and turned around. All three of us stared at the cornfield, with the side-illuminated front row of corn offering no clues of anything unusual. I guess I was hoping to hear some cornstalks rustling around as something moved further away. But I heard nothing beyond the truck.

Tyler broke the silence again, “Look, there’s miles of corn in every direction.” He glanced towards Jill, “Why would anyone want to go into that field at any time, especially this time of night?” He walked over to the shoulder and looked around. He even poked his head past the first row of corn before shouting back, “I don’t see anything. Do you guys want me to call anyone? I need to get up for work in a few hours.”

#

When I awoke in the morning, I didn’t recall the event right away. A feeling of unease dominated my attention. But not like I drank too much the night before. It was a nagging feeling of something awry. Like maybe I lost my keys, but I had no idea where, or like some kind of incipient illness.

Before lunch, Jill called. I’m not even sure how she got my number. I mean, it was fine that she had it, but we had never spoken on the phone. Maybe we exchanged numbers after Tyler left. Regardless, on the call, she said she was going to the Sheriff’s office to report what happened and she was going to mention that I was there, along with Tyler.

#

Monday afternoon I got a voice mail from Deputy Sheriff Jonah Andrews. He asked if I could call him back, or stop by to talk about Friday night.

Later that afternoon we were chatting at the station. After I finished telling him the story, and he stopped taking notes, he said Jill mentioned I might have a photo. It seems strange that I had forgotten about that. I imagine I looked a bit perplexed when I pulled out my phone and remarked that I hadn’t checked my pictures since then.

Sure enough, there were two from Friday.

The first showed the partial silhouette of a truck at night.

However, the second had me transfixed.

I don’t know how long I was gazing at it without saying anything before Andrews asked if he could take a look.

Without saying a word, I passed him my phone.

He was trying to orient himself to the image and figure out what he was looking at. It’s not that it was too blurry to make anything out at all, it’s just that it was mostly splashes of bright areas and blackness. For me, the front of the truck is the first recognizable and most dominant feature, even though it was all dark. But once you figure that out, you get that the photo is taken at night, approaching the front-left tire.

He studied the phone for a while before asking, “What am I looking at?”

Of course, what he meant was, what is this bright, vague figure protruding above the far side of the truck which is about to disappear into the blackness?

#

A little while later, Andrews and I were parked along the road where it happened, identifiable by the skid marks from Jill’s truck near the bridge that was barely noticeable, except for the short stretch of guardrails on both sides of the road. The nearest of any other obvious marks were way down the road by the Paradise.

The scene struck me in a peculiar way. We were standing in the same spot on a road that I’ve driven and walked along countless times, looking at the same endless cornfield that I’ve viewed for years, which is about as mundane as any other Nebraska cornfield. And yet it now seemed oddly unfamiliar and left me with a feeling of disquiet.

Nevertheless, once again, I recounted the event and showed where I was and where it came from and where it went into the field.

Andrews looked for footprints on the woods’ side of the road but didn’t find any. He observed one set of footprints on the cornfield side of the road, but they just looped a short distance and I remarked that Tyler was there. He took pictures as he investigated. He looked for any damaged cornstalks. It didn’t take long for him to walk far enough into the cornfield where I couldn’t see him anymore, obscured as he was by all the growth.

When he returned, he mentioned there are some deer tracks, which are common around here and could have been there a while in all this dry dirt. He continued to ask me questions, such as “Do you think it went straight into the field?” “Is it possible it turned left?” “Or right?” “Did it make any sound?” “Did you see how many legs it had?” “Did you hear if anything went into the creek?” He asked me again, how much I drank at the bar and what time I stopped. I couldn’t provide any meaningful new info.

Before getting back in his car and driving off, he confided, “Jim, I don’t see any sign that a person was hit. And if you hadn’t shown me that photo, I’d say it was a deer. Did you hear any hoofs on the asphalt that night?”

“All I heard was the loud horn, the screeching tires, and a little thump.”

He studied my face for a second, “That picture isn’t really clear and with all that bright light and blackness, maybe that purple is some digital aberration.” He sighed, “Anyway, I’m going to have someone bring out a drone to shoot some video across the field. If you think of anything new, give me a call. Thanks for your help.”

#

Over that weekend, Jill told a few friends she was afraid she hit a glowy-white something with purple hair and word started circulating that she had.

Some were talking on social media about irresponsible folks driving while drinking and that someone was bound to get killed.

There was talk about the whole thing being a prank originated by two drunks.

Someone else wrote that it was an odd coincidence that both primary witnesses had lost spouses in car accidents within a year of each other and they were both probably triggered by the event and who knows what they saw, but it wasn’t likely some alien creature surveying local cornfields.

Tyler was posting his own messages, writing that his observations were confirmed by the Sheriff that no one was hurt and as far as he knew, it was just another kamikaze deer that survived in spite of itself.

Jill felt it necessary to write that she didn’t do anything wrong and her truck didn’t even need repairs. She posted a photo of the front end. Although scratches and marks were visible, they could have been from anything at any time.

That first week I got questions online and a few phone calls. I didn’t respond, or just repeated that I didn’t have anything to add to what Jill and Tyler were saying. At work, I told guys brief versions of what I told the Deputy Sheriff.

#

The next week at the Paradise, the topic of kamikaze deer was circulating, as well as the relative merits, or not, of deer whistles on vehicles.

Word must have been getting around that I wasn’t talking about the incident, because I didn’t get many questions on the matter that night, other than how I was doing.

There was a point when Jill, Tyler and I were standing near the restroom corridor and I asked Jill for a ride later on if she was willing. I didn’t mention that I wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to get to bed sooner. Tyler said he was getting plenty of questions and Jill said she was trying to talk about other things since it made her ill. On that note, I asked how her mom was doing.

#

Jill drove slowly and started recounting her ride from the week before. She mentioned how her headlights showed me walking along the left side of the road and when she honked to say hello, it jumped out and she jammed the brakes while leaning further on the horn.

She said that because it happened so quickly, and she was looking in my direction, she mostly observed a bright white streak with purple hair, just above the hood of the truck, mostly out of the corner of her eye. And even that was a blur.

Once again, she started hyperventilating and coughing. Without saying she was going to pull over, she stopped the truck and got out at about the same location. But this time she had her lights pointed along the cornfield, like Tyler’s were that night.

I got out and joined her and we both looked out into the field, my unease was getting stronger, but neither of us said a word, although it was apparent she was trying to control her breathing.

In a moment of deja vu, Tyler slowly drove by and then pulled over in front of us. As he got out he jokingly asked, “Is that deer still trying to get himself killed?”

Jill wiped her eyes and remarked, “Thanks again for what you wrote this week.”

“No biggie. Some folks get worked up about anything.”

“I haven’t had one good night’s sleep this last week.” And somewhat apologetically she added, “And all I drank tonight was cranberry juice.”

Tyler looked over to me, “I wanted to ask you earlier about the photo. But I saw online you’re not responding to those requests. Did you show it to Andrews?”

“Yea, I did. He’s the only one who has seen it. But you can check it out if you want.” I pulled out my phone, retrieved the image and handed it to him.

Tyler looked at it quizzically for a few moments and asked, “What did they say at the Sheriff’s Office?”

“Andrews said it might be some kind of photo aberration.”

“It’s weird alright. I can’t figure it out. ” He spread his fingers to inspect it closer. “Damn, that white and purple don’t make much sense.” After a while he had a realization, “You mean Jill hasn’t seen this? Jill, you should take a look.”

“No.” She took a deeper breath. “I’m trying to get it out of my mind.” She looked down, “I’m looking forward to some sleep.”

“Yea, I get that.” Tyler couldn’t take his eyes off the picture. “What are you going to do with this? I mean, if you let others see it, someone might have some ideas.” And an instant later added, “Who knows, it could also start some arguments.” He handed the phone back. “That ‘alien’ story people are passing around is silly.”

I returned it to my pocket. “It’s not a good picture.” After looking back out to the field, I added, “I don’t know if showing it around will be helpful or just stir people up.”

#

Things were getting worse for Jill.

She wasn’t at the Paradise for the next two weeks. Although that didn’t mean anything, since she wasn’t as regular as some of us. But I bumped into her mom again at the market. She said Jill had developed a bad cough, wasn’t breathing well, was having nightmares, was getting emotional, wasn’t able to sleep and was now taking vacation time from work, since she used up all her sick days.

The doctor suggested rest and Jill had been sleeping at her mom’s on and off. Her mom also confided that Jill seems to be going through some kind of trauma similar to when her husband died.

Then she paused and looked at me with calm, thoughtful eyes. She exuded a warmth and vision that seemed to see right through me, but in a caring way, as if she understood that I, too, might be going through something.

We didn’t say anything and stood for some time in front of the frozen food section.

Normally, I’d get uncomfortable being quiet with someone for so long. But for some reason, I felt unhurried, along with a concern for Jill.

Eventually, someone needed to reach into the cooler that we were blocking. As we moved out of the way, I thanked her mom for the update and asked her to let Jill know I hope she feels better soon.

She responded, “Jim, if you have time, could you call her? I think she could benefit from talking to someone who was there.”

#

And so I did. I thought it odd when Jill asked if I would accompany her to the scene, but I agreed.

So, once again, we were standing at the location of the photos, except this time it was daylight, with the sun heading towards the horizon. Her eyes were somewhat strained. She said she didn’t understand why, but she had returned here a number of times. Earlier she thought she was seeking answers, even though none were coming. But then she noticed it affected her breathing. At first, it got worse. Nevertheless, she kept returning, with a hope for a resolution to her nightmares. Then, her breathing problem started improving. And then her sleep began to get better. So, she continued to return, although she couldn’t say for sure if there was a connection.

She asked if I knew her husband. I confirmed we were in a gym class together in high school, but I didn’t know him well, although he seemed like a great guy.

“The night he died, I was awoken suddenly from a deep sleep. I felt something bad had happened. I called him right away but there was no answer. Which was weird, because he should have been coming home from the late shift at that time.”

She took a deep breath.

“And of course, he never made it.”

We stood silently gazing out over the cornfield.

“Even after five years, there are still nights I wake up waiting for him to return.”

She told me about the funeral and how his dog died six months later — the dog was old but was never the same without him. She told me how hard it was going back to work, although it seemed to be the only thing that kept her from going crazy. She told me about identifying the body after the collision. She talked about the trial and conviction of the drunk driver, the empty holidays and about withdrawing from friends. And then her dad died the next year and she couldn’t bear it. She said if it weren’t for her mom, who was obviously going through her own grief, she doesn’t think she would have survived.

The sun got lower and she talked in a way that seemed to signify a slow release of pent-up fears and doubts from years of no answers, self-blame and endless wondering about what could have been.

Eventually, the strain left her eyes and she seemed, well, less stressed and more relaxed.

Not only was I at a loss of what to say the whole time, but I was also genuinely content to just listen. Her words enveloped me in a blanket of familiarity, even though many of the details of what she was saying I had never heard. It was as if her story resonated within a hollowness deep inside that I had never visited, or, perhaps, hoped I never would. Although I found parts of her words unsettling, none were unwelcome. Yet, underneath motionless silence, my own emotions were aching and flexing around the edges like the creaking of some old, massive wooden beams in an ancient barn that had endured countless storms over the years, but were now reaching a breaking point as part of a newly developing storm.

The stress of being on the edge of discomfit was not foreign to me. But I was more aware that the moment represented some kind of milestone for Jill. I was confident my anxiety would subside by the simplicity of doing and saying nothing.

All would have been fine, had she not tenderly uttered her next comment: “I read what happened to your wife. That was tragic.”

What is it that makes a man break?

I found myself quickly looking away, gazing way down the road in the direction of the Paradise. My mouth and throat were dry. A heavy gloom settled on my shoulders and compressed my chest. It was a familiar feeling, since it was never that far away on the best of days, and was a dismal friend through much of my waking hours.

Even though it had escaped my awareness while listening to Jill, it was now back with a punch, much stronger than usual.

I felt kind of stupid not saying anything, but the best I could do was softly croak out a brief response without looking her direction, “Yes. It was.”

“It’s OK if you don’t want to talk about it. I know it’s hard.”

Why is it that a man can hold together for so long against forces that would seem capable of crippling a mortal and yet lose it all without any active threat in sight?

My gaze returned to the cornfield. “The last thing she said was, ‘Don’t be late.’” A car drove by and honked. I was thankful for the interruption, “That morning it was kind of a joke between us because she was making lasagna for dinner that night, and I was never late for that.” I kicked a loose stone in the direction of the cornfield. “But I never saw her alive again, and I’ve never eaten lasagna since.”

And then it happened. It was entirely unexpected. I exploded.

From the outside, it looked like a maniac had been let loose.

From the inside, it was a volcanic eruption as completely out of my control as a violent fit of repetitive vomiting attempting to eject something noxious.

I bolted from the shoulder of the road to the first row of corn, yelling some ferocious, guttural, agonizing sounds — more animal-like than human — while grasping cornstalks and yanking them from the ground with a force beyond my strength.

All links to reason and self-possession detonated into a crazed, passionate fury.

Although I don’t understand how or why, I became aware of my consciousness splitting and a slowing of time. I was cognizant of myself as an independent and passive observer above the fray, witnessing a foreign body that, although represented my corporeal existence, no longer seemed to have any connection to me.

The madman grabbed more stalks, screaming out a tortured cacophony analogous to the horrid throes of some dying bear being ripped asunder by vicious biting and shredding from a pack of wolves that finally got the upper hand in a life and death struggle and had begun to devour its prey alive.

I flailed stalks against the ground. I hurled some high into the air. I spun and wildly punched out into the infinite matrix of maize, which was as unresponsive to my plight as any grand old oak tree might be to an ant on one of its leaves.

And like the mighty bear falling to its demise, I finally collapsed into the dirt, dizzy and overwhelmed by the weight of long-repressed, but now unleashed pain, chewing me alive like the ravenous wolves ripping a beast to its bones.

Crumbled in the dirt, I convulsed with sobs of despair.

All sense of self-consciousness evanesced into the ether.

I hadn’t cried since a child, but I couldn’t contain myself.

Images of opening my front door to a Deputy Sheriff uttering words of sorrow about a highway accident, as the life escaped me like a flock of birds departing a tree in unison at the instant it received a lightning strike.

At that time and all time since, I had never cried for my wife. I never cried for my parents, who were in the same car, accompanying her to a routine obstetrician’s appointment. I didn’t cry for my unborn boy, who had two more months before birth – interrupted by a flying mattress that loosened from the top of a car to hit their windshield, resulting in a loss of control and driving into the side of an overhead bridge. I never cried for what I deemed the utter cowardice of my inability to take my own life to assuage the eternal loathing I had for having been at work, for not being there – for surviving. I had no right to be alive.

And now, years later, I wept for it all.

Jill slowly walked down in the gully and gingerly sat next to me.

On the one hand, some vestige of myself wanted to crawl further into the field to hide myself and my mortification from any glimpse of another human. But I was too weak and despondent to care.

Tears continued to roll down my face. The strident outbursts of agony subsided into suppressed, low gasps of grief.

Nothing made sense.

And for some time my face lay in the dirt while uttering an occasional groan as sand found its way into my mouth, in between my diminishing sense of loss.

Eternity passed. I yawned. Many times. My sense of self cautiously began to return.

As confounded as I was about my outpouring, I was equally perplexed by the nascent feeling of repose infusing the outer reaches of my awareness. The concrete armor repressing all that horror was now completed busted and collapsed, like some destroyed and crumbled dam, after all the water escaped and chaos subsided.

Although on one level I felt I lost a fight, on some other level I was left with a sense of having escaped death.

A car drove by and honked. I didn’t look up. Nor did I even care that I would probably have to explain this scene to others. At least that would be a later time.

Finally and somewhat sheepishly, I looked over at Jill through my watery eyes. She nodded that she understood.

A sense of easing suffused through me.

And, just as if our earlier conversation hadn’t been interrupted, I sat up and continued, from the perspective of a different man: “What I’ve never told anyone is that a few nights later, after she died, I was so exhausted and drained that it occurred to me I might finally get some sleep.” I took a deep but soothing breath. “I had some kind of vision.” I paused. “It was a white apparition of some sort. To me, it was her.”

I couldn’t look at Jill, for fear she would now know for certain that I’m even crazier than I seem. But on the other hand, if there was ever a moment to let it out, now was the time.

“I had this profound sense that she was telling me she was sorry for what happened, but things would be OK.”

I looked at Jill and kind of wearily noted, “It gets even stranger.”

Simultaneously, I observed the mesmerized look on Jill’s face, as well as my indifference to what I was saying out loud. I looked away and went on, “Out of this white, vapory nothingness appeared a luminous ball of purple, which was her favorite color. She, or it, or whatever, appeared to be offering it to me.”

Before continuing, I looked back at Jill, “And then I finally went to sleep. I slept until the next afternoon. The longest I ever slept in my life.”

My hand caressed the soft, upper layer of the sandy dirt. I picked some up and let it sift through my fingers and watched the sand fall several inches back to the ground. I admired how some of the particles seemed to float while others just fell directly below. My body felt utterly wracked, but deeper inside I felt a distant spark of, I don’t know, a spark of renewal.

I picked up another handful of sand and while it slowly sifted through my fingers, I looked at Jill and offered the obvious, “Something ripped through me. But I’m OK.”

She slowly grasped her own handful of dirt and also let it flow through her fingers. With her eyes still wide, she said, “Now it’s your turn not to believe me. What I didn’t tell you earlier is that night when I was startled awake, a white glowy something was right in front of me. But it streaked away in a few seconds. The white glow was replaced with these purple strands that floated in the air and disappeared. It made absolutely no sense.” She let some more dirt fall through her hand. “But, as nuts as this all sounds, I didn’t feel threatened. I didn’t understand it, but I was left with a feeling of hope.”

Her words were heartfelt. “Wow.” It was all I could utter, however quietly it came out of my mouth.

In the same instant that I was trying to process what she just said, I was simultaneously struck by how I never really noticed her. I mean, I know that’s weird to say, but within the framework of everything else up to this point, it’s just something else that had escaped me. It’s not that I previously didn’t know who she was, but I just didn’t really connect with her. Heck, for that matter, I haven’t connected to anyone for years.

She radiated a kind of sublime purity that touched me with a sentiment I recognized as something long forgotten.

Then an old sense of myself returned and I joked, “It’s remarkable what we can learn if we just take the time to abuse some corn and sit in the dirt.”

She laughed, “I don’t think anyone will miss these stalks.”

So, that’s what happened.
Jim

UPDATE: Thanks again to Nicole for her writing/editing. And thanks to everyone for your comments, questions and encouragement over the past few weeks since I posted this. I wanted to provide some new info for anyone interested.

Yes, Jill is doing better. She’s not sick anymore. Yes, she and I have been talking. And in response to some speculations, I think she says it best: “We’re just two broken people trying to find our feet.”

But here’s what I really want to say. Last night at the Paradise, Tyler approached Jill and I and said, “You ain’t gonna believe this.”

We chuckled and I responded, “Tye, I don’t know if anything will surprise me anymore.”

Tyler went on to relay a tale of discovery. “I bumped into Deputy Sheriff Andrews. We were in line at the deli and started talking about the photo.” Andrews said it took a while for a drone operator from another office to make it out here to fly a camera over the field, but eventually, he made it. Although the video didn’t show anything notable, the drone operator happened to get into a conversation with an old, retired farmer who now does a lot of fishing, who was also parked near the bridge.

As it turns out, the fisherman had recently observed an albino buck. He said he figured he had probably seen thousands of deer in his life but this was the only white one he ever laid eyes on.

At this point, my attention heightened.

“So, the fisherman says this buck had something caught in its antlers.” Apparently, the guy had once seen a buck sporting a plastic toy pumpkin on its antlers, but this was something else. “Get this. The albino buck had a purple mop head, or something like that stuck on its rack.”

The three of us shared a laugh.

Tyler joked about how he imagined a buck might get into a fight with a discarded mop and then having to sport the evidence indefinitely. Would the buck tell his friends he won or lost the fight? “The fisherman also said there’s an old legend that seeing a white deer is a sign of luck. And wouldn’t you know it, shortly after that sighting, he caught the biggest trout of his life!”

We were all sharing a good chuckle when Jill raised her glass for Tyler and me to join her for a toast: “To the albino buck. May he shed his baggage and continue to share good fortune.”

by George Alger