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By Rachel Howard
I didn’t think I fully existed until I stepped on a deer carcass while walking alone in the forest. I mean, I was existing in the sense that I was in the world, but I lacked an interior life where stories unfolded and there were mountains and beautiful old things. And I felt this was necessary.
Other people had evidence of an interior life -- stories to tell, journals full of pretty little sketches or angry dark knots of words. They wore magical clothes or they wore normal clothes. There was a rip in a shirt. Something had happened and the shirt had been torn.
And me -- I had journals full of words, but I felt like I was forcing it. The stories I had were dull and unworthy to record or to tell to anyone. My clothes didn’t have accidental rips. I bought a black sketch book once and tried drawing images from my mind, but I felt as if I was grasping at nothing. I was convinced I was nothing.
I’d been trying to appear as if I was someone, like I had some sort of world inside of me, my whole life. I taught myself from films mostly. After watching Gus van Sant’s "Paranoid Park" I started looking over my shoulder at intervals while walking because that’s what the main character did. It made me look like I had something to be afraid of. But I was just afraid of being empty.
So it was at one point in my existence when I felt the void filling me up entirely and for good. I had been away at college for 6 months. I made a friend, I lost the friend, I got a boyfriend but I faded away, I made other friends and I drifted away.
I didn’t share a dorm room by sheer luck and was therefore utterly alone when I decided to shut the door. No one could enter unless they knocked. And when they would, I wasn’t there. I was in my bed, which was smashed up next to the window lengthwise so I could look out while in the fetal position, questioning how I was supposed to get through this thing, this life my parents had seemingly so flippantly given.
It was one early morning in February when I decided I needed to get out. I needed to prove to myself I could have an adventure, some sort of quest that would make me realize I could have some sort of meaningful experience unaided by anyone else. Some sort of proof that there was something to me.
I took a camera so I would have an excuse to walk slow and look at things. Since I was in a suite with four girls, I decided to climb out my window to avoid detection and possible interaction. Climbing out the window was easy because I’m pretty sure I’m Spider-man and also because I was on the ground floor.
I headed across the green space in between the ugly block dorm buildings and headed up the heavily forested hill. Circumnavigating the campus, I idly took pictures of grass and trees and the train which screamed by every 20 minutes, which always sounded excited to get to wherever it was going.
Between the campus and the neighborhood, there is a thin line of forest where the train tracks reside. This was where I found the dead deer.
I was standing in the middle of a clearing, looking at the far away houses, having just taken a picture of the inside of a chip bag in an attempt to be creative, when something bright yellow caught my eye. In contrast to the dead hues of the trees all around, it drew me in and I walked toward it.
About the time when I had almost reached it and also about the time I realized it was just a license plate, I stepped in something kind of bony. I looked down and I was on a hipbone. Stepping back, I was convinced it was a human.
I became increasingly aware of my surroundings, realizing that something had killed this thing, that something capable of killing had been there and that maybe I shouldn’t be. But I decided this was the adventure so I hunched over and began to inspect it.
There were hooves. There was a pile of white fur piled next to it that felt like pine needles. There was no head. The ribs had petrified matter between it, the stuff that held it all together maybe.
I kept looking around. The woods seemed sinister now. I quickly took a few pictures for proof of the existence of the carcass.
Walking away, I was proud of myself. I had found something of note. In my mind, I had done what I had set out to do.
When I climbed back into my dorm room, I slid the memory card from the camera into my computer and looked at the pictures. There it was. The proof that I was a person with stories and secrets and memories. I had something to write about and to draw and to tell about.
I tried to lead my suitemates to the deer the next day but I couldn’t find it. I showed them the pictures and they thought it was cool, and then we went to the dining hall and talked about other things. So I existed. There I was. And here I am still.
Discovering a dead deer didn’t end the issues I had and still have with myself. Pictures of dead things never usually solve much in my experience. Finding a it didn’t make me more of a person, but it did give me something to latch onto, something to have just for the sake of having.
But it wasn’t there to help me when I sunk into depression and dropped out of college and started to abuse myself.
Sometimes it is hard to accept the fact that I exist. I have to make a conscious effort to be present and take meaning from the events happening around me and from the people around me. There will always be apart of me that will never truly feel I am fully here.
I don’t think it’s just me -- everyone needs something to hold onto to reassure themselves. For me, it started with a dried-up deer in the woods.
I referred to it in my mind for awhile as “the only thing to ever happen to me ever,” but in truth, so much had happened to me. I just didn’t recognize it and got caught up in the nothing. And I still get the feeling, but sometimes the nothingness is beautiful. I feel the void that is all around me and everyone and it makes me want to be here even more, to fight it, to stay.