I lay under the thick skin in my father’s hunting room. I move to and fro to try to get comfortable, but all I get is rug-burn. My father shot and killed the deer whose hide I am now so ignorantly wrapped in. At six, I have no real concept of death. I do not realize that an animal’s life has ended in order for me to relish the warmth of its hide.
The room houses many other relics of my father’s war with the antlered race. Hunters gauge their kills according to how many points there are on a buck’s antlers. An 9-pointer’s head hangs proudly on the wall next to a 6-pointer, who might have been its son. Daddy’s bow and arrow case rests on the floor against the wall, below the deer heads. I love to open it and look inside at the dark brown foam bubbles. They curve up and down like hills and valleys. This cushion keeps his bow and arrows safe on the journey to harm another.
He returns from a hunting trip and I ask, “Daddy, did you kill Bambi?” He knows I won’t touch the venison stew he will prepare later that night if he says yes. “No, it wasn’t Bambi, hun.” I am satisfied. Later, I gobble up tender cubes of deer flesh simmered in a gravy of its own juices, along with soft chunks of carrot and potato, seasoned with salt and pepper.
I ask kids in my 1st grade class if they like venison, but none of them know what I’m talking about. I figure it’s rare for someone from Jersey City to have even seen a deer, let alone taste its flesh. Some people might look down on eating venison, but my father grew up hunting in the woods on Lake Hiawatha. Though his ancestors were Celts, his blood pumps with the Native American spirits of Northwestern New Jersey. Hunting was a way to prove his manhood, that he was one with nature.
Sometimes Daddy and I talk about hunting together once I’m old enough to get a license. I picture us wearing long-johns and camouflage, tall boots, our hair tied back, smelling of bug-spray and listening to each other’s breath flow in and out. We are predators. Our vision is sharp and our other senses are heightened. We hear the sound—a majestic young buck rustling through the brush with his antlers. He’s probably on his way to the meadow to eat some tender grasses. Dad is quick, but I am quicker. I get a good shot. My arrow pierces its chest. Later, we celebrate the victory by feasting on venison stew.
My father hunts for a brief period in my life. I am eight years old when my mother tells me that he is using heroin. I don’t know what this means. How could I know? They divorce a year later on a snowy December day. By the time I am old enough to hunt, my father is rarely in my life and I have become vegetarian.
Jessica Witte-Dyer is a graduate of NJCU where she earned her bachelor’s degree in English, Creative Writing. She writes memoir vignettes and has published a short piece in the online journal Italian Americana called “In Her Kitchen”, which chronicles the lives of four generations of Italian women and the struggles they faced as mothers. A Jersey City native, she and her husband reside in Hoboken where they are raising their daughter and three cats.