by Kivi Weeks
“You were a surprise, my dear. Not many rabbits go for the sacrifice of motherhood. It is inherently bloody. The proteins attract ravens and frogs and wild dogs more often. When I saw you in my garden for the first time, I thought nothing of you. I was still expecting a fledgling raven to fall into my garden one day as I picked herbs, or a kitten with a thorn in its paw to come mewling at my door for medical care. But you kept staring at me from the edge of my garden, day after day. You were so much bolder than the other wild rabbits. And you had my eyes.”
Whenever mom tells me this story, she brings out a photo of me from my rabbit era. There’s a little bunny with tawny fur, a little cotton ball tail, and one very human eye mounted on the side of her head. The other eye is hidden; my eyes hadn’t grown to the front of my face yet. My face was oddly shaped for many years, neither human nor rabbit. There are fewer pictures from that epoch of my life.
“You were so happy before you went to school. You were just a toddler, and I did what I could to give you a good childhood.
After a few days of school, it was clear something was wrong. You didn’t want to talk about it at first. I was sitting on the couch after dinner working on those mittens you used to love, and you crawled into my lap and told me everything. I swear, I wanted to kill someone when I heard how you were treated. But I just held you, and tried to make you realize how temporary it all is.”
But she’s wrong. It isn’t temporary. I’ll never forget how they treated me for such arbitrary differences. I’ll never forgive them, not for what they did and not for how I changed as a result.
Because I got mean. I got hateful. I got to see everything kind and gentle as something naive. I hardened myself because I thought it was better to hurt than to be hurt. As the back of my skull swelled and the front of my face flattened and elongated, I stopped being cute because it was what was expected of me. I didn’t want to personify the prey creature I came from.
But you know what I realized? My reaction was by design. The cruelty done unto me and my cruelty as a result, it was what the world expected. What it needed.
I was a junior in high school, and I was hanging out near the playground for lunch hour with some friends. Most vestiges of my rabbit era were gone at that point, just the barest hint of my heritage in my bone structure. We were dicking around in a gazebo in the middle of a field, making trouble for ourselves. The elementary school let out their kids for recess, and I noticed a pack of kids who looked a lot like a younger version of my group. From their body language, I could tell they had someone cornered.
We walked over as nonchalantly as we could, but I stopped when I saw the kid they had cornered. A little tomboy with bunny ears and the half-human half-rabbit features that looked so much like my own. I felt my group’s eyes on me when they realized we shared a common heritage.
When our eyes met, I was brought back to my childhood. I remember being cornered. I remember wanting to run so hard and far. But the circle kept crowding me back, their invading hands on my tail, shouting into my ears just to see me writhe at the echoing pain. And I remember so desperately wanting someone to save me.
“Hey! Get lost you little freaks!”
A pause as they ran.
“Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
And quietly, as at that age human words aren’t so easy: “No, I’m okay.”
There was so much I wanted to say to her then. So much history I wished I could share with her using only eye contact. But the school bell rang, and she edged away from me and my group that had gathered behind me and ran towards the school. She disappeared into her tide of classmates like a hare into brush.
“Why’d you do that? They were just messing around.”
I glared at the speaker, a tall girl with cat whiskers that wouldn’t stop growing in. “You don’t know how many times I wish someone would have done that for me when I was young,” I replied.
I straightened my back and rolled my shoulders, and I started back for the high school. My group reluctantly followed, clearly unbalanced by my actions. But I didn’t care anymore. Come or go, I didn’t care. In that moment, it was clear they were more symptoms of the world I’d been living in for so long.
“It was sad, watching the world make you into something hard. You stopped letting me give you the love I knew you deserved. And I was so proud to see you change again. You wouldn’t let me take you to see a professional. I knew you’d have to ride it out.
And I am so grateful that you weathered the storm.”