Pulling a Rabbit out of My Hat–In Which I Mourn Tommy

Dear Lily June,

When I was a kid, I had begged and begged for a pet. My sister had a cat, appropriately named for the eighties Madonna, and that cat couldn’t stand anybody but my sister. The family joke was that, when it heard my father driving toward home from a mile away, that cat would start working up a good hiss in order to perfect its pissiness by the time he set foot on the front stoop. I wanted a small animal that would be loyal to me in that way, who would snuggle into my arms and comfort my lonely sorrows.

What I got was a rabbit, who I promptly named Tommy, only learning later that he was a she. It didn’t matter to me. Tommy was meant to be my playmate, a not-so-imaginary friend to accompany me through my days and ways.

Only, there were problems with pet ownership right away. For one thing, Tommy liked to nibble. At everything. She would chew on carpet like it was carrot cake, nip at my hair like it was alfalfa, test her teeth on my fingertips like they were straw. For awhile there, I was missing every corner of the pages from my treasured Ann M. Martin and R.L. Stine collections. And Tommy would get sick from everything she ate, with her bowel movements collecting along her backside, so she required frequent baths to get the mess unstuck from her fur.

And Tommy would quiver in fear at everything (except for the cat who, when she once started hissing towards Tommy’s cage, caused the rabbit to bolt toward the metal bars, which made that cat back away slowly from the basement where we kept my pet bunny). And that fear hit a little too close to home for me. She had a leash I could walk her in the backyard with, but frightened of the birds in the air and the bugs beneath her paws, she’d always find a way to shake her tiny neck from the holster and would take off hopping for the nearest convenient hiding space.

I used to do the same–sitting in the confines of my own closet–after my sister had, moments before, pointed to the rabbit in her cage with one hand, a kitchen knife in the other, and claimed she was going to slice open my pet. I knew she didn’t mean it. She was threatening me like our father used to threaten our mother. We had both seen it.

And apparently, I was young and not very good with pets in the first place, because by nine years old, I’d pretty much abandoned her. And my mother, who didn’t have any more interest in her, took her down to the garage, where she dumped her cage on a table that hit freezing temperatures in winter, and there my bunny stayed, unplayed with, unloved, and alone.

On my lifetime list of regrets, add toward the top how I treated Tommy, Lily. She was a scared pet who needed care and understanding, but I was so used to being left alone myself, while being riddled with my own fears and anxiety, that I didn’t know how to love her. I was as scared of her as she was of me, because I was as scared of me as she was of me. (When we get you a pet someday, it’s my hope that you’ll love it like you’ve been loved yourself, responsibly, attentively, devotedly).

Of all people, it was my father I would find bonding with Tommy. He used to go down into the cold garage, even in the dead of night in winter, to pull his treasures from the brown bags he kept hidden down there. And it was his hands, so accustomed to inflicting hurt, that he’d let turn practically blue while he held Tommy, the both of them shivering. He would stroke her with a kindness and a patience that was beyond, to me, understanding. And she lit up, as much as a rabbit can, when he’d free her from the cage just to hold and pet her, sometimes for hours at a time. He’s always had that way with the wild, and animals have always seemed to have a connection with my father that is miraculous, otherworldly.

Tommy died shivering on a day I stayed home from school to be with her. I held her as her heart gave out, which we knew was coming because for days, she had stopped eating. It had been so long since I held her, I was shocked to discover how thin she’d become, how like a literally oversized coat her fur was as it hung loosely from her bones. I cried for all that I’d never done for her, and I stroked her pelt while over and over, but never enough, I apologized.

***

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12 thoughts on “Pulling a Rabbit out of My Hat–In Which I Mourn Tommy

  1. Shayan says:

    Beautifully heartbreaking.

    I have also had pets all my life. For all the love that wasn’t reciprocated in my life, my pets have always given me that. I loved all of my conversations which I ever had with them. They were the one thing in my life who didn’t judged me for being what I was.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ShitHappens2U says:

    I love the lessons you leave for your daughter. You were too young and inexperienced to know how to care for a pet. But, the lessons you write for your daughter will hopefully equip her with what you didn’t have. As a parent my goal is to make my child better than I am…these lessons assist in that process. NICELY DONE!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      You’re too kind to me, lady. That’s all anyone of us try to do, right? Give more than we got to our kids? Help them to be better than we could/are?

      I can only imagine with your amazing senses of both survival and humor that you’re an exceptional mother! You’re kids are lucky!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. BumblingOptimist says:

    I keep forgetting to never read your blog at work, I always tear up. I think your bravery in exposing those vulnerable moments that most of us keep hidden away because we didn’t want to face them is awe inspiring. Your daughter is lucky to have a mommy like you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. originaltitle says:

    Wow this was a tough one to read. So much sadness. I can relate to finding it hard to get close to a pet. I don’t have a lot of experience with death and I knew dogs had short lives so when my dad got my mom a dog, I vowed that I would not get attached. I was going to go to college, then I would probably move away and I had no business getting close to something that I would only leave. Years went by and there were times where I had to watch my mom’s dogs while she was out of town. I hated being in her house alone. It was scary so I let the dogs sleep with me. In spite of myself, I spent all night checking to make sure they were breathing and that I hadn’t smothered them in my sleep. little by little they were needling their way into my heart. Bailey had a habit of licking me constantly. My feet, my hands, my legs. I guess it must have been some sort of pheromone thing. And this too started to wear away at my resolve. Then Bailey started having seizures and I was away at college, so I started to distance myself again. I couldn’t get too close. But I realized that no matter how hard I tried to distance myself from him, there was no way I could. He had healed my mother. He had been the completely unconditional love she had needed for so many years and for that I loved him so much. A few weeks ago, he started shaking uncontrollably and wouldn’t eat. He was very old. My mom had to put him down. I cried for two days straight. Turns out, I guess, that I never succeeded in shutting him out and like in your story, I wished I had given him my love freely and not worried so much about the losing of him. All good things must come to an end and I should just enjoy them while I can instead of trying not enjoy them thinking it will make their end less painful. It doesn’t. I’m so sorry for your loss of Tommy all those years ago. I know that you will teach Lilly such great skills in taking care of a pet should she ever have one. A wonderful post and a great lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dearlilyjune says:

      Isn’t it amazing how much emotional investment we writers can put into species that have no concept of language? They’re forced to transcend words and provide affection and comfort through their eyes alone.

      And what those eyes can convey–and the depth of loyalty they can exemplify (as was the case with your mother–is astounding. I wish I had been better to the one pet who was “mine” in this world.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. musingsbymegha says:

    This was.. tough to read..
    What caught my attention was the title.. I thought it was going to be about a pet and how it died after a couple of years.. I’ve been there. I had a dog for 15 years who I was insanely crazy about.. When he died I tattooed him name as well.. But I should have known, that no post of yours is as simple as a.. well a post.
    The layers of human emotions that it deals with is incredible.
    I understand the regret of not being able to love Tommy back. I do.. You mentioned, the manner in which your father connected with him and brought out a very different side of his character. It made me wonder, is it the lack of judgment one faces when dealing animals that makes us open up to them.. The feeling that we can be *us* without artifice? I don’t know.. but it definitely is food for thought.
    My takeaway from the post is – You react and respond to people/animals in the way situations color your perception of life. So we must make it a good one..

    Lily is going to really care about any pet that she may have and will be free to share her love unconditionally.. similar to how she receives it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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