Posted on August 3, 2011 by Samara
Bonnie Bernstein is a freelance writer currently working on her memoir. Her essays have been published in various publications, including Salon, Petside, Babble and Newsday. Bonnie’s life experience includes being a tour guide, a religion teacher and a sports crazed barista, always with a story to tell.
The Vegetarian and the Deer Hunters
I knew he was a hunter. Trucks, who stood 6’3” with broad shoulders to my 5’1” waify body, told me that back at Shea Stadium where we first met at a baseball game. A non-meat eating, anti-fur wearing urban dweller who wore leather shoes and had a constant craving for shrimp and chocolate, I don’t think I ever knew a hunter before. And here was one, a man, who was paying attention to me. Before meeting Trucks, I didn’t know if I would recognize what a sportsman should look like. Charlton Heston and the NRA were all I knew of that world. I was just a tree hugger who protested against nuclear power plants, puppy mills and throwing out leftovers. The closest I came to a man handling a side of animal was back at the butcher shop in Glendale, Queens, where I grew up.
I became a divorced city transplant living in a downtown part of a small Hudson Valley town, looking to start over after being married to Clark Kent ala Urban Man for 19 years. Trucks lived on the outskirts of the village in a Revolutionary War era home. He had animal tattoo’s covering the top half of his body and a monster vehicle with a horn announcing his arrival. During hunting season, Trucks would have to go home early as he needed to wake by 3 AM to watch the deer in his tree stand. I was puzzled how he could stand still in a little wooden lean to, sometimes, in the rain. I never saw the animals Trucks got with his bow.
Trucks said how he liked that I allowed him to cook venison from his hunt in my kitchen. As the meat sizzled and simmered on the stove in a tomato sauce, it looked like liver and smelled as if it could’ve been served to Twilight’s Edward Cullen. Silence of the Lambs’ Hannibal Lecter would have suggested mixing in fava beans and serving a nice Chianti. We didn’t drink alcohol, so we opted for soda—a vanilla cherry coke for my man and a sprite for me. I, a vegetarian in the company of Bambi’s executioner, thought of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer as I helped prepare dinner that night in the company of Trucks and, in the dimly lit kitchen, my body twitched when he kissed me.
Like my favorite baseball player with a necklace of sharks teeth strung around his neck, who Trucks said he was friends with but I never saw them together, my guy tracked bears, deer, coyote and anything else with a bow. Since I shopped for turkey and cooked it for my teenage son, I thinking back now, crudely shrugged hunting off saying the woods were the equivalent to a supermarket. I don’t know how I figured Foodtown’s air conditioned aisles were anything like a wilderness. And I began to believe that if meat consumption was to be then, as Trucks explained, better the animal have a chance to live free instead of on a farm. I was some mixed up herbivore.
My uncle couldn’t eat poultry because he saw, as a young boy, a chicken running around without a head and I, after accidentally smooshing a chipmunk with my car, stayed away from eating nature’s gentle creatures. So as I turned further and further from corned beef, chops and peking duck, believing that was a healthier and kinder way to live, I met and thought I fell in love with a man who munched on cheeseburgers, pepperoni pizza and Chinese chicken from the mall. So enthralled with his jokes about my baseball player, when we kissed I forgot Trucks had steak and ketchup breath. He tasted like another planet I wanted to inhabit.
Trucks loved Friendly’s. We ate there every night on a trip to Florida. Bored with ordering French Fries topped with cheese off a burger menu for dinner, like a school girl with a bad crush, I, instead, gazed at his sparkling blue eyes. Trucks focused on the waitress. I didn’t want to see that. I wanted him to love me as much as I thought I loved him. I just pretended that he was friendly to everyone. Although he called me Babe, I don’t believe Trucks ever thought I could love him. He always asked me if I found any other men good looking. Although I lied and answered no, that I didn’t look at the guys because I had him in my life, we still kept breaking up and getting back together, again and again.
Being so close to nature as he stood for hours outdoors in the woods I thought gave Trucks the edge to instinctively, also, know humans. For most of his forty plus years, he was one year older than me, he hung out in the forests and the trails near the public parks. Trucks assured me that he felt “taken” by me. But when it came to my beloved baseball player, the one he was friends with although I never saw them together, Trucks kept wanting to know how I felt about the pitcher. I lied to Trucks. I didn’t know what I was doing to myself. I still wonder what my real feelings were.
Back then, I answered that Hunter Reliever was just my favorite to watch on the field. I loved looking at him run out to the mound, slam a rosin bag to the ground and throw a baseball. I forgot to mention to Trucks that although I had a closet full of trading cards and pictures, I fantasized how one day I would wear the baseball fella’s batting practice jacket, filled with his perspiration. When I’d watch the game on television, I wouldn’t tune in until the later innings so as to just see him. Hunter Reliever was more important to me than 1986 World Series memories. He thrilled me more than a baseball going through Bill Buckner’s legs when I was still a Met fan.
I did like that I met Hunter Reliever one year at Spring Training in Florida. As he signed an autograph for me from behind a wire fence, I asked him how he could wear a necklace of animal teeth. I should’ve asked myself how a man who walked the woods with a bow and work boots to ward off snakes turned me on. Hunter Reliever just politely signed the trading card that he would later call his convict picture because his hair was messy and he had facial stubble. When my baseball guy handed it back to me, it became my favorite of all the memorabilia that fills an overloaded closet.
So how was it that I, a vegetarian with pink work boots, could fall for not just one hunter but two. I was the city dweller who shopped at Bloomingdales and lunched at Serendipity’s. They ate brontosaurus burgers. I was a lipstick wearing baseball mom. They were the Marlboro Men, minus the cancer sticks. The Hunter Dudes were foreign to my Queens world. We kids played tag with each other. They hoped to tag a moose. The guys reeked of being cave like men. I craved the sweat that was the boys cologne, compared to my Avon Imari perfume. I juggled a grande passion tea from Starbucks in one hand and in the other always a chocolate bar. They were never without a spare arrow. I was starting all over again after being married to Clark Kent ala Urban Man.
They were not metro sexual men, the kind who carried manbags. They did not get $400 haircuts, like former Senator John Edwards was reported to have done. And they didn’t appear to be the kind of species to be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whatever that type might be. But neither was I. I was at the field level of a baseball stadium always by third base, in high maintenance pedicured toes neatly fitted into three inch heels. When the fellow fans teasingly called me, “Mrs. Hunter Reliever,” I would just wishfully smile back and wonder at the same time how I could love two men.
Nothing happened between me and Hunter Reliever. Unhappy in my marriage, I was just some silly brown eyed fan who stalked without knowing the definition of such a hobby. Newly divorced, I would arrive at the stadium hours before the game to see my pitcher finish his run through the park. I always had something, anything for my baseball guy to sign for me. Hunter Reliever was good about autographs. I don’t think he remembered that I was a vegetarian. And I tried not to think about his animal claw necklace. I didn’t want to acknowledge that he would hunt in the off season. I wished my guy well, knowing that it would never be with me. He was married with children. That was the final bit of rejection that I understood, that he never saw.
As for Trucks, we didn’t last. There was too much of a difference about where we both came from and where we might be going. I became insular, bookish and very protective of the life I was familiar with, a city person, a mother, a pet companion and fiercely independent. I, finally, admitted to myself that the great supermarket in the woods was a little too much for this vegetarian. As I look out my window and see a fawn feeding off the seeds in the backyard I, wistfully, miss some of those days but know I am more comfortable without them.