There was always a warning to be careful on the road by our house. Yes, it’s a straight road, and it keeps straight for miles past woods and pastures and long-overgrown pastures. But still, it’s dangerous.

And that’s because of the deer.

We’d see their bodies often, bloated and unmoving by the side of the road. And once, my brother came home with a dramatically buckled passenger door—a buck had run up against it in the middle of the night.  

“You’ve got to watch out for deer on this road,” my mother said. She said this while teaching me how to drive, her right hand around the door handle, clutching it tight.

My father gave more detailed advice. “If it’s dark,” he told me, “Look for orange lights at the side of the road. That’s the light shining in their eyes.”

And so I have driven, nervously and carefully, in and out of my childhood home for years, watching for the promised emergence of animals too brain-wild to learn that coming cars can’t always stop.

I remember watching as I sped down the road on the way to my first job. I remember watching the bushes and thinking, “Oh, the last thing I need is to hit a deer right now.”

And I remember a year or two later wishing I would hit a deer while returning home late at night, caught out long past curfew. “Maybe then,” I thought, “Mom and Dad will be so worried, I won’t get a lecture.”

That’s all long ago now.

And while I don’t really know if there can be a true homecoming after one has moved away from their parent’s house (and delightfully no longer has a curfew), every time I do come home and turn onto my street, I still watch for the deer.

And I have never, ever seen one.

Until last night.

After dinner and a walk in the field with the dogs, I drove out onto empty the street, and there were the deer I have so carefully watched for all of these years.

Slow and present, they stepped out onto the pavement by a stop sign. Five of them, moving single file as if they were not herd at all but an assembly moving purposefully in a row.

It was dark. We were alone, and they weren’t in a hurry. They looked at me though, alertly, as if I was the one to be wary of.

I turned off my engine.

I thought about all of the years I’ve been watching. How they emerged from the trees exactly as I had always been warned they would.

I thought about the promises I have been told in my life. And of the ones who made them.

The world is all at angles these days. Nothing has turned out the way I imagined it would, or the way people wanted it to be. It’s become hard, in the aftermath, to trust anything.

But here are the deer, following the prodigal pattern. And me—well, I’ve been watching from the window for them this whole time.

All this is to say that the last deer moved into the brush, I turned on my engine, and I cried the rest of the long drive home.

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