The Deer with the Broken Leg: The Risk of Loving the Wounded

a closeup of deer eating snow
Image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / CC BY

“If you go out to your car to get anything, be careful,” Justin’s mother says. “Look out first to make sure the deer isn’t there.”

She tells us that there’s a young deer with a broken leg who lives nearby. He likes to sleep right next to her front door to get away from other animals. And the last time she went outside while he was on her step, he tried really hard to get into the house.

“The other deer bully him,” she says. “It’s so sad.”

“I doubt he’ll make it,” Justin’s father adds.

Later on I’m sitting in the living room, staring out the window. Squirrels do acrobatics off the bird feeders. Always show-offs, they hang upside down while they steal seed. It’s been snowing for a while, so they’re dusted with fresh powder. A few are sporting little white beards. The world’s tiniest mall Santas.

Suddenly, they scatter, and a young deer emerges. But it’s moving all wrong. Too slow, too awkward. I know instantly that it’s the deer with the broken leg.

I’m gripped with sadness, which surprises me. I don’t even like deer. Where I’m from in the Maine woods, they’re considered giant rats essentially. Always getting in the road. Destroying things. Carrying disease (seriously, they all have salmonella and ticks).

But seeing this wounded one limping gingerly up the slope makes me wish I had a freaking barn. A place to put this deer away so that the others ones can’t bully or harass it. And so that nothing can eat it.

In that moment, I’m seized with the instinct to take care of this deer.

What are you doing?¬†I think.¬†You don’t even like deer.

Once He Got Healthy, He Went Back to Being the Same Thing He Always Was

I realize going to bed that night that this is what happened before. That Fluffy was right about CC.

CC had seemed so different when we redated. Fresh off a heartbreak, feeling diminished, backburnered, alone. Uncharacteristically serious. Earnest, even. He was finally able to connect with me, to really be present in a way that he wasn’t the first time we’d dated. And when he opened up to me, it was glorious.

But a few months later, all of this was gone — replaced by bluster. Jokes, distraction, and boasting flooded into the spaces where the vulnerability had been. I was disappointed and felt like a fool. How could I have misjudged the situation so badly?

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Fluffy said. “When y’all started dating again, he was a wounded bird, and you nursed him to health. Once he got healthy, he went back to being the same thing he always was.”

I’d let the wounded deer into my barn. And once he’d returned to fighting shape, I was confronted with the reality of what he really was.

*

I’m not sure what the lesson is here, I think later, as I’m sipping a cocktail that’s basically Mad Men in a cup. Bitters, rum, a kind of cherry liqueur. Maybe this is why people are so scared of rebounds.

Perhaps damage is the most powerful intoxicant at all. Sympathy clouds our judgement.

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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