[Originally written in August 2005]
I was delivered a crushing blow this morning in the cemetery as I panted my way back to the car after an hour-long walk/jog amalgamation. (My jogging is something like 2 parts Corky, 1 part wounded unicorn, garnished with a candied twist of poor eye sight.) It was a hot August day and my hair was dreadlocked with sweat, bugs and dirt, possibly blood, like you’d expect from someone who had just engaged in a spirited flee from Leatherface; this is how I exercise.
Vanity made me freeze as I rounded the edge of the mausoleum next to which I had parked, because not only did I spy my car (homestretch!) but also a suspicious rotund form hovering behind it.
Great, there’s my car, please don’t let this man talk to me. Please don’t let him talk, maybe he won’t see me, please, keep facing straight ahead, no eye contact, so close, so close, so—
All hope was lost as he turned toward me and furtively motioned me over. Trying not to scuff my feet, I grudgingly sidled up next to him.
“Look, two fawn and their mother,” he whispered to me as he pointed down the hill to the valley below.
Terrific, because I don’t see enough deer here in Western Pennsylvania. Still, I feigned interest and together we stood in silence for a few seconds longer. Would he be offended if I walked away? Do I say goodbye first? Small talk protocol is not my strong point.
And then he began talking about deer: what they eat, where they sleep, where they buy their Uggs. I didn’t want to talk about deer. I wanted to go home. Sweat was stinging my eyes at this point and my ankle hurt from when I ran into a slight ditch in the path (things like this wouldn’t happen if I wasn’t so preoccupied with whipping my head around every three seconds, looking out for ghosts and rapists, or the ghosts of rapists) and I could see the silver dome of my car over yonder, pointing and laughing at me.
I hope they don’t get hit by a car was my delightful addition to the conversation before I started to subtly back away. I told him to enjoy his morning to which he countered with, “Have a good walk.”
“Thanks,” I said as I walked the five feet to my car. Thanks? Why did I say thanks?! I was finished with my walk. Now I’m That Asshole who accepts underserved well-wishes.
Because I’m neurotic and as if that man actually cared what I did, I ignored my itchy trigger finger which was waiting impatiently to press down on the button to unlock my car door and I continued walking past it. I’d look like an idiot (to no one but myself) if I get in my car and leave after I just said thanks.
And that’s why, out of principle, I walked an extra fifteen minutes (not like I couldn’t use it, but still) uphill. All because I said “thanks.” As I looped up and around the path, I wondered maniacally about which direction the man had gone. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the intensity was making me have to pee. What if I ran into him again? Should I turn around? If he was still standing by my car watching the deer by the time I get back…he’d probably think nothing of it. But try rationalizing that to me after I already the devastating finale penned in my head.
And so I kept walking until I reached a path which would have brought me back in the same direction I was headed pre-meeting with the deer watcher, when I noticed him one path below me, taking in the view of the pond. Perhaps he had shifted his awe onto the fish. Had this man maybe not ever seen real life animals before? And then I did this thing that I do where I start to imagine worst case scenarios and I started to feel horribly compassionate for him to the point where I was on the verge of tears. What if his wife was fucking his boss at the zoo and now he has nothing going for him but a stack of National Geographic magazines and memories of skinning buck in Uncle Herb’s storage unit?
Surely he can see me, I thought. If he sees me, he could very well start walking in my direction and we’d end up meeting up at the bottom before I’d have time to hit the next path. He’d maybe want to talk more about the deer, maybe he’d want to tell me how many deer he’s seen in his lifetime. Maybe he even keeps track in a little pocket notebook, and he’d whisk it out of his back pocket to show me the yellowed pages with tiny slashes for each deer sighting. What if he kills people and feeds them to the deer? Do deer eat meat? Maybe he eats the people for himself. Maybe he kills the deer too and then stuffs them with the murdered people and displays them all over his house.
I bet he has a lot of grandfather clocks.
Time stood still for what seemed like eternity. My perspiration had nothing to do with the heat and the laps at this point. This was pure, stinking liquid-fear seeping from my pores and sluicing down my temples.
So I kept walking further away from my car. My right contact lens, clinging onto my eye with its last few ounces of suction, hated me. But I had sacrifices to make in the name of small talk avoidance. (See also: murder; abduction; rape.)
I eventually made it back in the opposite direction and, right before the bend in the path which would show me my car, I quietly slipped behind the mausoleum wall and peeked around the corner. Clear.
For all I know, this man could have very well left the cemetery and gone to feed (deer to) the homeless before swinging by the hospital to read children books (about deer). Yet here I was, playing cloak-and-dagger with some stranger and he didn’t even know.
Maybe I should just get a tread mill.