Memoir — From the November 2013 issue

Killing Deer

A hard death on the high road

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Most days that summer, when my brothers and I campaigned for my father in Wyoming, started out early. We drove long distances to dusty little towns, handing out flyers, asking stores to put my father’s posters in their windows. This was well before Walmart, so there were still living Main Streets where one could hang up political posters and other notices. We had a rented machine for blowing up helium balloons in the recreational vehicle. Everything — the clarke for senate balloons, the posters, the flyers, even the RV itself — was in red, white, and blue.

One of my father’s four younger brothers, the crazy one, Uncle Aldous, had allowed us to use the RV for the campaign. We did a lot of damage to that RV. It took fewer than four weeks for us to smash the front and rip a long hole in the roof by driving under a low awning at a fast-food restaurant. We also forgot once to pull in the little set of stairs attached to the side door, so they caught on a telephone pole as we turned a corner. After that, one could neither use them nor put them away. They just hung there, flapping noisily like a metal flag beneath the door.

Like most people in Wyoming, my father’s brothers were Republicans. Perhaps the only legacy of my mother’s relationship with my father — aside from his three children, and the mess he made — was that he abandoned his family’s political beliefs and became a Democrat. It is very difficult to win a statewide election in Wyoming if you are a Democrat, and my father did not win the race we ran that year.

My brothers had to do all the driving that summer. My very first pair of prescription glasses had been stolen earlier, in June, while I was working at a camp not far from Los Angeles for developmentally disabled adults and inner-city children. I was unable to sleep in the cabin, which was too full of people, untold stories, pain. Instead, I slept on the ground nearby in my sleeping bag. At that time, I was beginning to wrench myself away from my own story, and the separation came slowly and at a cost. Sleeping outside was just the beginning.

The air in the San Bernardino Mountains was sweet at night, though what we saw, whenever we had a clear view of Los Angeles, was a thick gray haze hanging over the city. One day I went with a friend to see the city itself. Coming from Wyoming, where we did not lock doors and often left our keys in the ignition to avoid losing them, I had no idea that cracking my friend’s car window to let the air in while we wandered on foot was a bad idea. Luckily, the car was still there when we returned. Unluckily, all my friend’s cassette tapes, my glasses, and a variety of other things had been stolen. My friend, whose name I cannot remember, was very angry.

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teaches at the College of Staten Island and is the author, most recently, of The Parallel Lives of Women and Cows: Meat Markets (Palgrave Macmillan).

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