Quiet Years

     I don't remember anything from before I was sixteen. When I was sixteen, I stopped thinking about my childhood.
     Back then the forest around my town was almost endless. The trees grew deep on land that was full of slopes and gullies; there wasn't a single stretch of flat earth more than a quarter of a mile long.
     Deer hunting was really difficult there, but we all liked it a lot. I did it a couple of times a year with my friends and their dads; my own father was an officer in the army who decided he never had any reason to come home. We went out for weekends with our dogs and our hunting gear and lived on the land.
     I didn't have any brothers or sisters. Well, at least not that I knew about. I figured my father was probably across the ocean somewhere, in Europe or Asia or Africa, and I thought he must have a girlfriend or even another wife out there somewhere -- so who knows? Maybe I had a half-brother or a half-sister on some other continent. I wondered sometimes what my half-brother or half-sister was like. I figured I might try finding them when I finished school.
     That fall my mother left without telling me she was going. I figured she must've just decided it was time for a little vacation. There was no note or anything. I was pretty bothered by it, I didn't even know if she was going to come back, really.
     I got really angry.
     Deer season had just started, so I decided to take a few days off from high school and go hunting. I got my rifle, my knife, some supplies, and started out into the forest. Before I left my house I wrote my mom a note just in case she got back and found me missing.
     Hunting alone wasn't like hunting with a bunch of friends. The woods were really quiet, there were even times when I couldn't hear any birds. Sometimes it would be so long before anything moved that I thought I was going to turn into a statue. But it was good to get out alone, I guess, cause at least I stopped thinking.
     I lit a fire on the first night and got really scared. Owls and raccoons looked out of the woods at me with their glowing eyes. Even when I couldn't see any eyes around me I felt like I was being looked at. At about one in the morning I got so nervous I shot off a round from my rifle into the woods just to make a point.
     I saw a doe around noon the next day. It was standing by a little stream looking around. I guess it had heard me and was trying to figure out where I was. Before the doe could run away I squeezed out a round from my rifle and grazed its back. The deer ran, and I followed it.
     Trying to find the deer without a dog was hell. It took forever. Sometimes I was ready to give up looking, but then I'd find a few specks of blood on the ground and get my determination back.
     By sundown I still hadn't found the deer, but it was too late to start walking home. I found a patch of level ground and made camp.
     I had a dream that night. Without having to move my legs, I was rushing through the trees in the forest. I was going so fast everything was going past me in a blur. I thought I was flying at first. I looked down and saw that I was riding a doe.
     She stopped running when she got to a stream. She lowered her head and began drinking. Then we both heard something, and she looked up. She perked her ears and gazed around at the forest. We heard the sound again: a human voice. I looked off to the west and saw someone standing in a shadow. He was holding a gun and aiming it at us. I poked the deer to get her to look over in that direction, but she wouldn't. I didn't want us to get shot. I grabbed her neck and tried to turn her head towards the hunter so that she'd see him, but she just wouldn't look. I decided to yell at the hunter to put down his gun, but before any sound escaped my mouth his gun went off.
     I woke up and the forest was pitch black. I thought I was dead.
     The next day I wandered around for another six hours before I decided to give up and go home.
     Two miles from the edge of the forest I began to hear a bunch of dogs barking. There must have been at least a dozen of them, they sounded mad. I had never heard anything like it. As I got closer to them, still a ways away, I began to see what was happening; there was something on the ground that they were all fighting over -- something that really got them excited. I didn't figure it out until I saw it with my own eyes; they were tearing apart the deer I shot the day before. It had wandered almost all the way to the edge of the forest before dying, and then all the neighborhood dogs had discovered it.
     The deer had almost walked to my doorstep to die.
     I consider that hunting trip the end of my childhood. My mother finally came home a week later, but only to tell me that she was selling the house and moving to another state. I couldn't come with her; she was finally giving up on dad and moving in with another man.

-- Martin Martin, 1992

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