It is my alarm. I slowly open my eyes, adjusting to the hallway light that is already on. I roll myself off of my grandparents brown suede couch. It is 4:30 AM and I know that if I don’t get up and get dressed now I will be left home.
And the last thing I want to do is get left home.
This is my year to prove myself.
I can hear my cousin who is sleeping on the opposite couch breathing softly. I tousle his hair. “Hey, better get up, time to go.” He raises his head, one eye opened, and says, “Ug….it’s already morning?” I laugh quietly so I don’t wake anyone else up in The Hogan, our family communal area where we all sleep when come home. “Yep, let’s go.”
We pile into the truck. There are five of us in the three person cab, with two others back in the covered bed. It is still dark outside, first light is still almost three hours away. We all have our rifles at the ready, propped up between our knees.
We drive, listening to Uncle Shane spin tales of when he was younger. As we round the switchbacks, the headlights illuminate the country side. He points out places where he has had success during the hunt.
Someone opens up a package of black licorice and passes it around. We eat in silence for a minute, letting the anticipation of what we are about to do settle in.
Buck fever is what they call it.
It is the very last day of the deer hunt.
We finally come to the spot that we know the deer cross. The sun is just starting to come up. You can just see the reds and yellows of the dawn, coming up over the mountains to the East. There is a thin layer of frost on everything.
The sun comes up higher and the ground starts to give off an ominous steam like the earth is mad. It is a perfect morning to see a deer. It is the perfect morning to finally prove to my family that I am not the black sheep that they all think I am.
If I could just kill a deer, maybe then they would accept me.
I have just moved here four short months ago. I didn’t grow up here in this beautiful Utah landscape.
My childhood home was fifteen hundred miles away in Illinois. This fact alone made me an easy target for being different. But, that is not all. All of my mom’s six siblings and my dad’s one sister live here in Utah.
All of my first cousins are here, all 39 of them.
All are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
They are all perfect in every way.
I am an outsider.
My dad is the only one on my mom’s side of the family that is not a member of the Church. He is also an alcoholic. My childhood was anything but secure and safe. I am damaged because of this fact, and it is something I wear on my sleeve for everyone to see.
I am a sullen, grouchy, and sad, eighteen year old lost adult child.
All of this will change if I can only shoot a deer today.
Hunting is a rite of passage in my family.
But as the day wanes on my chances of proving myself grow smaller and smaller. I keep looking at the digital clock on the dashboard of Uncle Shane’s 1995 Chevrolet. We are alone now, having dropped my sister and cousins off at home. We continue to drive, and I grow more and more melancholy as the miles pass.
He senses this and asks me what is going on.
He is my closest adult confidant.
One of the only people that I actually trust.
I glance out the window at the side of the mountain and weigh my options. I can talk to my Uncle, I can let him in, even if just a little. Or I can continue on like I have been, and continue to be so utterly miserable.
I decide to do the first.
So, I begin to talk and as I start I find that I cannot stop. I bear my soul to my Uncle telling him my fears about everything in my life. We talk about how sad I feel. We discuss how damaged I am. We talk about the anger that I feel. We talk about my childhood, and my dad.
I then tell him about how I feel that maybe, just maybe if I can kill a deer I might have a place in the family.
I sob as I talk.
I grieve deeply, not only because the light of day has started to fade and my chance to kill a deer has almost passed, but because I also still feel so lost.
He listens carefully.
He lets me cry.
Mulling over what I have said, he turns to me and tells me how much I mean to him. He comforts me. And that it is ok that I am scared and angry. That even though I might be a little worn around the edges, I am not damaged. He tells me that I have a place here, he lets me know that I fit into the family just fine.
I wipe my eyes, as I begin to believe what he has said.
The sun sets on the perfect hunting day, as we head home without a deer.