by Todd Fulginiti

He was beautiful. Somehow that made it even worse. His lush, full coat was the color of autumn at its best. He was clean. The fur on his chest was white like new snow.

I tried to keep from crying or throwing up as I stood beside the police officer and watched this beautiful creature suffer, gasping for air and taking his last breaths. I wanted to say “I don’t know what happened”. But I did know what happened, and I didn’t react in time to stop it.

A few minutes ago we had been coming home from a great day in New York City. Me driving, my wife riding shotgun and both daughters (now adults) in the back, just like when they were kids. We had seen a Broadway show, wandered around the city, and even had a surprise meeting with friends for dinner. We made the day last as long as we could, leaving for home after 10pm. I was still fully awake as we approached the Berks county line southwest of Allentown, and was doing my best to carefully watch both the cars on the road and the animals I knew might be just beyond the shoulder. I was alert and traveling just slower than the 45mph speed limit.

As we moved down the well-travelled but rural, one-lane highway, I saw a flash of orange on the right shoulder of the road. I squinted to see what it was, not having expected to see such a bright, beautiful color appear out of nowhere. Half a second later, the orange flash was in the left lane. I thought it had passed into an adjacent field, but no. Instead it became a spinning sphere of orange and white, dancing on the road’s center line, twirling like a yin-yang symbol on a roulette wheel. The car was right up on it as, unexpectedly, it reversed course and shot back across the road.

I had no time to react. And although I braked hard and quick, the sickening thump let me know that it wasn’t good enough. All three girls, asleep in the car, woke up screaming. I kept driving to avoid getting rear-ended by anybody behind us. “We’re ok,” I said several times to calm the startled girls. “Nobody is hurt. Everyone is good.” As they came fully awake, my wife and daughters realized that they were in fact ok.

As far as everyone being good like I said? That wasn’t true and I knew it. I had hit something pretty hard. The scraping sound coming from the front right tire of our car let me know just how hard we had hit it. I realized then that it may have been a fox. I was hoping it was just bouncing bale of straw or something inanimate, but I knew it wasn’t.

We drove a short way, made a U-turn, and headed back to the scene. I had to know what exactly had happened. I was hoping for a miracle; that the fox, or whatever it was, had survived unharmed, running into the field to enjoy its evening.

It wasn’t so. We all choked on our breath, looking out the window as we approached the spot where the fox lay, just off the road, mere inches from where we collided. I pulled onto the shoulder behind him, still hoping to somehow not be as guilty as I felt. One of us had called the police and explained the situation, wondering if maybe they could at least put the animal out of its misery when they arrived. The officer got there quickly, but his euthanasia wasn’t necessary. It was nearly over.

He pointed out the damage to the front of our car, which I hadn’t noticed before and honestly didn’t care about at all. As we stood there together watching the fox die, I thought back to the last time I had seen a fox alive. It was a few months ago, when we went to Rehoboth Beach with the same friends we met by surprise hours ago in New York. It was September, and something was drawing attention to itself on the sand dune by the boardwalk. It looked like a cat or a dog of some sort and a pretty unhealthy one at that. A beach of full of detectives armed with cell phones eventually determined that this animal was a fox with a bad case of mange. He, along with the dead one in front of me, was innocent. But the sickly fox with mange lived, and the healthy, beautiful one died at my hand. It just didn’t seem right.

We stopped at a closed car dealership a few miles later, trying to rearrange the dragging pieces of plastic and fiberglass under the front of our car. We did the best we could, but had to drive about 35 miles an hour the rest of the way home to avoid further damage. The car didn’t matter to me. The damage was already done.

So why bother telling this story? Maybe I’m hoping that, over a year later, my confession will lead to self-forgiveness.

But I also want us to be reminded that everything we do has an impact on the environment, our animal neighbors, and other people. If we can live with this awareness everyday, it will make a difference in the world. We will come to better understand how we are deeply interconnected to the rest of creation, and how to coexist sustainably and respectfully with everything else that inhabits the world with us. As our environment degrades, scientists continue to show us that all living things need each other.

Awareness alone won’t solve our problems or prevent all future roadkills like the one I experienced. But it will help, and it’s a really easy place to start. As we drive around each day, let’s be aware of who we’re sharing the roadways with, be alert to their impulses, and respectful of their right to coexist.

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