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There is a picture of me and my father and a dead deer hanging above the fireplace. My skin is red and tear-stricken. The deer is lying limp, its head held up by its ears by my father. The gun is strung across his back, the barrel pointed proudly at the sky. I am eight years old in the picture. I had never been close to a dead thing before.
Later, he’d make me gut it. He’d hang it by its legs from the rafters on the ceiling and I would learn what the insides of a body looked like. The pool of glowing crimson collecting under it, traces of the life my father had taken, stained the floor for months. It was an art, he said, as he stripped the fur back to reveal the raw fuchsia flesh that looked more alive than skin did. I placed my fingertips against it, half expecting but mostly wanting to feel a pulse of life. Of course there was nothing. Just a cold dull mound of something that used to exist but no longer did. Ten years later, I would learn to call something like this a vessel. I would think that it was poetic.
Now I think of the deer as a tragedy. I think of it as childhood. I think of my father’s hands and the way they take and the way they give and how, sometimes, I can’t tell the difference.
My mother hates the picture. I am not entirely sure why she doesn’t take it down. But then again, I am not entirely sure why she hates it. I am not sure if it’s because there is a bloody carcass, or because my dad is smiling, or because it was from a time where we lived in separate houses. Whatever the reason, she holds her breath for a second when she sees it.
He brought the picture when he came back home, along with a few cardboard boxes and a promise to be better. I don’t know why he brought the picture. It wasn’t even an impressive deer. After we found its body we realized it was only a baby – a button buck, my father said. I could see the little beginnings of antlers peeking out from the fur. That was when I cried.
I don’t know why he was proud that he killed the creature. Was it about power? It’s always about power, it seems. At least that’s what my therapist said when the childlike version of me asked her why my dad hit my mom.
I know it’s said when you love someone you must love the bad parts of them too, but people have said a lot of things. And I am not really sure how that applies here. I guess it begs the question if there are limits to love. And if there are, then if once we pass them can we ever go back?
Maybe it is possible for love and hate to coincide. For them to inhabit the same space. I am convinced of this because there are days where I can’t even tell them apart. Where they are so intertwined or so far away, from a distance, they look the same. If I were to make a metaphor here I would say that sometimes I walk into the living room and see Love and Hate sitting on the couch together. They are having a conversation of sorts. Love is flailing her arms and Hate is doing the same. They are never indifferent. They are always yelling. But I am too tired to make a metaphor. By this I mean I am too tired to try to understand.
So instead I say that there is a picture in my house that is hard to look at. That in a way I was never, and that I am always eight years old. And that there are things that my father’s hands are capable of that we don’t like to think about.