personal · so that happened

Memento Mori

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When I was small(er than I am now), I went on a good many roadtrips with my father. Not to sound too twee about it, but these car journeys often led down long and curving country roads flanked by hedgerows and higgledy-piggledy stone walls and endless green fields. There were no streetlights or footpaths. Houses whizzed by at a predictable, rhythmic pace. Field, field, house. Field, field, house. Field, field, house. We sped through the countryside listening to Kris Kristofferson or the soundtrack from The Big Chill.

I loved it. I still do. Once I leave the last streetlight behind I always feel a little bit more free until I reach the next town. I find it calming to be out on country roads, away from bumper-to-bumper traffic and pedestrians.

But do you know what usually doesn’t fare too well on streetlight-free, pedestrian-lacking country roads?

Wildlife.

Every so often on these childhood roadtrips we would pass an indeterminate shape on the side of the road, and if I so much as caught a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye I would react as if I had been suddenly and unexpectedly shot.

“DAD! DAD! STOP! STOP THE CAR!”

“What?”

“STOP THE CAR! DAD! PULL OVER! YOU HAVE TO STOP!”

My father would dutifully pull the car over into the ditch, I would jump out, and – one of us walking (my father), one of us running (me) – we would trace our way back to the vague shape. I would crouch in front of whatever unfortunate creature had strayed too close to the road and search for signs of life in the glossy black eyes. Over the years we found badgers, pine martens, foxes, hares, crows, rabbits, ferrets, blackbirds, and hedgehogs; the scurrying creatures and the scavenging opportunists of the Irish countryside.

If the animal showed any sign of life at all, it was carefully picked up and placed in a cardboard box. I couldn’t bear to leave a living creature suffering on the side of the road. Instead it would come with us and suffer in the boot of the car until we reached our destination, where we would try – with absolutely no medical training – to fix it and put it up in a cardboard box lined with a blanket.

You might think this strange… and you would probably be right. Some of you might think my father deserves generous dollops of admiration for his endless patience and indulgence when it came to pulling the car over each and every time we spotted anything that looked like it might be something.

…It was his fault though…

Before I was ever old enough to call for emergency stops like a deranged infant paramedic, he would frequently pull over with no prompting to show me recently deceased roadkill. Together, we would hunker down next to a dead red fox, eyes rounded by terror, and my father would point things out to me; he would alert me to the white-tipped tail, the dark paws. I have hunkered down next to badgers frozen mid-snarl by death. I have hunkered next to wide-beaked crows, silenced in the middle of indignant squawks. If the animal didn’t look diseased I would touch it. My small chubby fingers would gingerly pet the silky feathers of a pheasant, or warily touch the tips of hedgehog quills. Even in death the animals looked beautiful.*

To this day I’m not squeamish at all (although there are a couple of things that make me uncomfortable**), and at night I scroll through news stories on my phone, reading about awful stories of unfortunate people in unlucky circumstances. I sometimes read them aloud to Scrubs, who inevitably balks and says, “Why do you read such horrible things before you go to sleep?”

Why indeed?

The other day my father dropped over for a cup of coffee. We were sitting around the table catching up when he leaned back in his chair and waved his biscuit in Scrubs’ general direction.

“Did you hear about that car accident earlier?”

Scrubs nodded. “Yeah. Awful.”

“FOUR dead. Three in one car.”

Scrubs nodded grimly. My father continued.

“And what about that young girl that commited suicide?”

“What young girl?”

“An eleven year old. Didn’t like the way she looked. Killed herself. Isn’t that horrendous?”

There was a brief pause as my father munched on his biscuit in contemplative silence. I stared off into the middle distance. Scrubs shifted in his seat.

“Has there been any more news about that journalist Kim Wall?” I asked.

“Who?”

“You know, the woman who got dismembered in the submarine?”

“Ohhhh,” my father nodded with understanding. “He said he didn’t kill her. Bit unlikely that he didn’t kill her but did hack her to pieces and sink the body parts.”

“The last thing I heard about it was that they found her arm,” I said as I reached for a biscuit of my own.

Scrubs looked from my father to me and back again.

“Obviously runs in the family,” he said.

A phrase cut short to exclude the implied ‘…you pack of weirdos.’

Since noticing this morbid curiosity that has evidently been passed carefully from father to daughter, I have tried to keep a lid on it. I try to stick to more wholesome parts of the internet when I’m looking for bedtime reading. I fight the urge to instantly share the last horrifying story I read about the latest lamentable occurence.

But I still get an urge to pull over every time I see roadkill, just to check whether it’s really dead or if it needs my inept assistance (or a call to the local animal rehab service).

I probably always will.

 

*Obviously if the animal had been dead for some time or looked obviously diseased or mangled or dirty I wasn’t allowed to go near it or touch it. My father was trying to teach me, not contaminate me.

**EYEBALLS. Damaged eyeballs give me the heebie-jeebies. Also maggots are revolting. It’s the way they move!

 

39 thoughts on “Memento Mori

  1. It breaks my heart if I ever hit a critter. Makes me sad the rest of the day. We don’t stop for roadkills, but if there’s a turtle crossing the road, we’re stopping to carry him to safety. 😃

  2. Roadkill is an everyday sighting for me, so pulling off to examine it would lose it’s interesting quality quite fast.

    Question: Does Ireland not have deer? That’s about 80% of my local roadkill…

      1. I’ve hit a deer while on my bike (only me…) and I’ve been hit by a deer in my car- it put a huge dent in my passenger side fender. It happened on Christmas Eve so I was blaming Santa’s reindeer. I was so pissed!

          1. I was riding down the road and one came up running along side me in the woods. Next thing I knew, it darted out right in front of me and my front tire grazed its leg and jerked the same direction the deer was headed and I toppled over the handle bars. You know… as it usually happens… NOT!

          2. I mean…. you should be able to get a good few free drinks based on that story. What are the chances?!

    1. We do have deer, but I’ve actually never seen a deer on the side of the road… I guess we have a lot of land for them to roam about on and a pretty low road:countryside ratio! I think they stick to the trees, mostly. Never heard of anybody hitting one either!

    1. Yeah! Some rabbits and a couple of birds. Some of them didn’t make it but a few times the Wildlife Rescue people would come and take them away for rehabilitation (I hope….)!

  3. You would have been my grandmothers favourite if we were related. She always had a collection of injured animals in boxes at the farm house the floor in front of the stove was like an animal ER.
    I once was bitten by a badger she was nursing and had to get a tetinus shot!
    I have to admit although I’m not a big animal lover I am chicken hearted and feel so sad when I notice any roadkill and think of the creatures suffering 😢
    I do find it fascinating how personality traits are passed from parents to children though, how you and your Dad share the same quirk albeit a little …grim!

    1. I have never been close to a wild badger so I’m jealous (not about the bite though obviously…)! Your grandmother sounds like an interesting woman!

        1. They’re a lot more shy over here I think! Nobody ever sees them unless they’re scurrying out under cover of darkness to steal the cat kibble!

  4. I envy your upbringing, with so much access to free food.

    On the other hand, I’m glad I’ve never found myself lying injured by the side of the road in Ireland. I’ve rarely, if ever, enjoyed traveling in the boot, injured or not.

    1. I got such a kick out of the last car we rented in America that had a glow-in-the-dark emergency lever in the boot of the car. WHY? How many people are locking themselves in the boot? Or getting kidnapped and put in the boot of a car?

      Mystifying.

  5. My husband doesn’t veer from death or destruction, including his taste in entertainment. I have a more personal fascination with death, but definitely prevent him from watching some of his favorites before bed!

  6. I wonder if it’s a dad thing. Maybe it’s more fear than fascination with death and loss. Every night when the family would sit around the table for dinner, my father would list off the names of all the recently deceased and the methods of their expiration from the news. ‘Listen to this car accident’ or ‘look at this murder-suicide’. If my father ever starts a story with ‘you remember so and so from such and such?’ we all know where this will inevitably end. To him, making us aware of all the ways people have died somehow protects us from it. At least, I know I won’t ever jump into a car with an on-again off-again couple who’s been drinking.

    1. I think it’s a Certain Dads thing! Haha I’m glad mine isn’t the only one. He used to take me on little road trips around border country telling me about all the activities during the troubles – all the places people had been shot by snipers or ambushed or whatever – without blinking or even considering it might not be…. super appropriate.

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