The first time I saw a dead deer was when I was 7 or 10.
I don't remember the age exactly. We were on a trip to Maine, and I walked into a family friend's garage to give my father something. There, I was met with a gust of startled and angry male voices that made my hair blow back. They yelled "OUT! OUT! OUT!" at me as if my very presence offended the baby Jesus himself.
I was more upset by their reaction than by what they were trying to protect me from seeing, which was the dead deer.
It was hanging from the rafters in the middle of the garage.
It was slit down its middle.
I remember fur.
I remember blood.
I'm sure we ate the deer at some point. I'm also sure no one told me that deer was on the menu. We lived in a city. We mostly did city things. This would be my last experience with a deer for quite some time. What would be the point of saying anything?
The first time I hit a deer with my car was about 15 years ago. I was driving on a Maryland highway, on my way home from work late at night.
Nobody else was on the road. There was darkness behind me. Darkness ahead of me.
Then there was the deer.
Suddenly. Majestically. Horrifically. And with momentary eye contact.
Then there wasn't the deer.
The men in my life have always told me "Don't swerve. It'll result in a bigger crash." If there's something in the road, don't jerk the wheel. Fight your instinct to go left. Fight your instinct to go right. Run over the thing, the squirrel, the possum, the whatever the heck that was, oh my God, I think I heard its neck break, I hate driving, I hate cars, I hate not swerving, I don't want to kill things.
I swerved, though.
And, just as I knew would happen, the first thing my boyfriend asked me when I got home that night was, "Did you swerve?"
"I did not," I said, because I was now a deer-killer, and deer-killers lie to get out of being lectured.
I swerved that night, yes, but I still hit a deer. I caught him with the front right side of my car and I saw him stumble from the impact and then fall to his knees.
I didn't know what to do. I drove on slowly. I cried for half a second. I yelled "I HATE LIVING IN THIS BLAH BLAH BLAH PLACE."
I pictured the deer's family, watching from the side of the road. "Dad? Daddy? Papa ..."
Then I drove to the nearest Maryland State Police office to turn myself in. The trooper who helped me waited for the second part of the story.
There was no second part. The final act was the first act.
"You hit a deer AND ....? Did something else happen? Do you want to keep the deer? We can go get it for you."
"What? No! NO. Isn't there a ticket or something you should give me? Like a fine?"
He thought that was very funny. I laughed, too. I knew it was ridiculous, but in my mind I had done something wrong and I wanted to make sure someone official knew about it.
I was living in western Maryland, and this trooper was a western Maryland boy. I'm nearly certain he went to get that deer for himself after I left.
I was thinking about this recently because South Carolina was just ranked No. 9 among states in which deer-vehicle collisions are prevalent, according to State Farm.
This doesn't surprise me.
I see deer all the time here.
I see them in the morning eating their breakfasts near my car, and I stare at them. My presence doesn't faze them, though -- to the point that I kind of expect one of them to appear menacingly in the screen of my back-up camera, all face and ears, saying "See something you like?"
The same deer are there in the evening when I'm walking my dog, who is, just as they are, now bored by the interaction.
When my parents first visited me here 11 years ago, we drove around Hilton Head Island and encountered a deer munching on someone's shrubs in Sea Pines. It was daylight. My dad made me stop the car.
It was as if he were seeing a double rainbow. Nay, a triple rainbow.
"Sheila, the camera! The camera!" he yelled at my mother and then at the deer. "Oi. Oi. He looked at me! Oi! He's looking at me again!"
Mostly, though, I see dead deer here -- deer that have been killed by a car, deer that are now anatomically twisted lumps on the side of or in the middle of the road, waiting for the vultures or the department of transportation workers to read them their last rites.
According to a report from the state Department of Public Safety, there were 173 deer-vehicle collisions reported in Beaufort County in 2010, but only 127 last year. So far this year, there have been 52 reported. Most years there are at least a dozen people hurt in these encounters locally. In 2012, two people were killed in the county.
This is gauche to mention now, but deer-vehicle collisions are also very expensive for drivers and their insurance companies. But it needs to be said. The last time I checked, the deer's family aren't chipping in for a new paint job or crutches.
We're in the middle of deer migration and mating season right now, which makes our big forest friends even more active, even more likely to leap joyfully from the sidelines and oopsily into our cars.
The only thing to do is to be on the lookout.
Because you never know when you're going to happen upon the carnage.
But, really, you shouldn't swerve.
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