I've killed a man.
It was one of those moments where time stood still, where reality had an ethereal slow-motion. It was a night filled with laughs, a good movie, and remembering the grace of God in our Sojourn Chattanooga Community Groups. We left the two older kids with a sitter and spent the night with great friends. On the way home from our pastor's house in Red Bank we passed a grocery store. We needed coffee. In fact, we hadn't had coffee in our house for days. Things were desperate, but being the determined driver, I didn't want to stop at 9:30 at night with a sleeping child in the back to get coffee. I mentally planned to get up fifteen minutes earlier to retrieve an iced Americano from a local joint. As all of this was running through my mind, it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur dart across two lanes, it jumped. I didn't see it dodge the other cars, but in a split, nano-second I saw it fly across the front of the cross-over SUV. BAM! We hit it. We didn’t just hit it, we broad swiped it and then ran over it, catapulting us in the air, up and down, like we had hydraulics. It happened in a flash. It was dark. My hands were on ten and two, but nothing could have prepared me for what just happened. We had hit something, a large something.
After what seemed like minutes, but was just a few seconds my wife screamed. I was stunned. The sleeping child in the back awoke with a high pitch wail.
"What was that?"
I asked a bit frantically. Like a scene in Jurassic Park, all I could see was a mound in the rear view mirror.
The self talk was logical, yet frantic.
It's not a dog.
It's not a deer.
It's not a possum.
It's not a skunk or any other type of small animal.
Cars were coming from both directions, shining like strobe lights on the still mound.
I felt like Noah, taking stock of the animals entering the ark, going through every animal of compatible size to our car. Then it hit me… and I said aloud,
Oh Jesus, I’ve killed a man."
It was a brief second that I thought this, but I thought it non-the-less. That was, until I saw a flicker in the rear-view mirror.
Whatever I had just hit with our car was slowly coming back to life. Part ring wraith and part dementor, whatever it was hovered, rose, and stood staring in my rearview mirror. I was the only one that could see what was happening. Becky was still in shock. I looked out the side mirror and then back to the rearview, almost as if I didn’t trust what I was seeing. I finally turned around, looking out the back window. I had learned the moral lesson of the original Jurassic Park - “Objects in the rearview mirror may appear larger than they are” moments. Slowly, methodically, the shroud started to move in the center aisle. As it rose higher, I could make out a large head. It rose to the height of tall man, but then fell to half of its size. As it inched closer to our our tailgate, I could tell that it was hunched over on all fours. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Pottery phantasm now had a shape, a strut, and a scowl. Though I thought my eyes were still playing tricks on me, I now could see that we’d moved from science fiction to Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in The Edge. Veering away into traffic once more, I now could see that it was a bear. In the middle of Red Bank, Tennessee I had hit a bear.
Cars started lining up, rolling down windows, gawking and pointing. Across town, Chattanooga’s annual River Bend Festival was taking place. On this night, the Bessie Smith Strut happened, which meant that the alcohol was flowing.. Each person that stopped, well, let’s just say that they weren’t really sure what they had just seen. One car full of folks rolled up by our car, which was still in the middle of the road, saying, “Man, I'm either stoned or I just saw a bear. Did y’all just see that bear!” Classy. We moved our car out of the lane and over to the side. In the few seconds that we talked with this car, I realized that we’d lost the bear. Becky had her window down. We were looking. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the silhouette of the bear. I felt like I was on safari again in the Ngorongoro Crater, gawking at lions, hyenas, and elephants. I quickly yelled at Becky, telling her to roll up the window, that the bear probably wasn’t in the best of moods.
We called the police.
They were in shock.
We called our insurance. They were in disbelief. There wasn’t a category for the man that was filling out the report. “Are you sure it wasn’t a deer? I have a space for wild turkey, but nothing for a bear!”
We texted family, friends, and our pastor. They were all in shock.
Several police cars were now on the scene. I retrieved portions of our bumper that were still in the road. The police officers got out of their cars, shining their flashlights into the brush. We were near the city hall. There was an apartment complex directly across from us. The bear was wounded, the officer said. He was losing a lot of blood, but they couldn’t find him. They swept the area while we continued to console our eight month old. They wrote up a report and told us that we were free to go. To be clear, an injured bear was roaming across from City Hall in Red Bank, making its way toward an apartment complex. Imagine walking out of the apartment for a quick second to grab the phone charger from the car!
We were still in shock, the adrenaline pumping as we drove home. Our baby sitter is petrified of bears; she was in disbelief. Our families thought we’d lost it, but then they realized that our life is one big long sitcom of ridiculousness. My wife bought me this bear for Father's Day last year. I now use it as a business card holder; it sets the appropriate tone when I meet someone for the first time in my office.
Now, I know that I told Jesus that I thought I’d killed a man, but I have no memory of telling the police. Yet, the local news paper decided to make that the focal point of their reporting online. The next morning, it was on the front page. Our relatives let us know that there was already facebook haters in the comment section. People were saying that I was texting and driving, asking how I couldn’t see a black bear, and pleading the case of PETA. I went into work late that next morning. Remember, we didn’t have any coffee. I stopped to get that iced Americano. I get out of my car and a friend yells, “There is the bear slayer!” The other people stared, questioned, and then scowled. My barista friend, Lisa, couldn’t stop laughing at me as she made my drink. I felt like I was wearing fur with elephant tusks and crocodile skin shoes. News trucks got our address off of the police report. I told Becky not to answer the door. Everywhere we went, people were talking about the bear and the idiot that hit it. Unfortunately, the bear had to be put down. Here is the dog that sniffed it out and a picture of the bear in the truck (it’s like looking to see the car wreck when you drive by, you just can’t help it)
One year later, I am affectionately known as “The Bear Slayer.” The Bear Slayer now owns a minivan, but no fur, tusks, or crocs.