Let’s start with this, shall we?
A cute picture of me, cuddling a bunny.
The bunny is a puddle of warm fuzzy bunny goo, blissed out in my arms.
This is a good picture, and if all you want is something that will make you smile, you should close your browser tab and walk away now.
When I was little, my parents were into the self-sustaining thing a lot.
You know, growing their own garden, mowing hay, canning produce, raising animals, the whole back-to-nature thing.
Every year we’d raise a pig and a cow for butchering, and going to the slaughterhouse on butchering day was always a big deal.
Even though the pig and the cow lived at my grandfather’s farm, and even though I knew they were food, and even though I knew not to get too attached – and even though I do still eat kosher meat – I get nauseated when I remember the smell of the slaughterhouse, and the flies, and the screams of the animals.
The meat animals we did raise at our home were rabbits.
Yes, they were cute, and they were fuzzy, but they also were unnamed food. (And, although it pains me now to say it, rabbit jambalaya used to be my favorite food in all the world.)
So every year, we’d raise and slaughter rabbits, and every year, I’d help feed them and water them and then help with the slaughter.
And here’s where I take a brief detour to share something really odd…
My name is Rebecca. It was supposed to be Jaime, that’s what my parents had agreed upon if I were a girl, but at the last minute my father wrote “Rebecca” on the birth certificate.
Why, I’m not sure, because he’s certainly never once called me that.
In the 32 years my parents were part of my life before I’d finally had enough, he called me many, many things, but never once has he ever used my actual name; instead, he’s used odd and often cruel nicknames for me.
During the time we were raising rabbits, as far as he was concerned, my name was Sally. (My mother called me Ruby Red, after a naughty little girl in a storybook, because she and my father are most definitely a matched pair.)
Back to the bunnies.
The last year we raised rabbits for food, my father got an extra hutch. He pulled out one of the rabbits, and called me over.
“Sally,” he said, “It’s time you had a pet. This rabbit’s name is Sally, too. And you are responsible for making sure she has food and water and exercise every day. Your brother has a dog, and you can have a rabbit now that you’re old enough.”
So every morning, as soon as we read our Bible and prayed, and blessed and ate our breakfast, I’d run out to Sally’s hutch, where she would be waiting for me at the door.
I’d pull her out, and I’d snuggle her on my shoulder, and she would sniff me and grunt and twitch her nose, and then settle down and start doing that little tooth-grinding purring sound that rabbits make when they are really really happy.
After a while, I’d set her down, and let her hop around on the ground, finally calling her back over to her hutch with a special treat.
When our homeschool was out for the day, I’d run to her hutch and check on her, and if nobody was watching, I’d pull her out and hug her some more, and scratch right between her ears and rub her cheek and run one finger down her long, velvety ears.
I knew, even then, that showing how much I loved something wasn’t safe – so I did my best to make sure nobody saw me being too happy to hold her.
Finally, it was time to kill the other rabbits, and that year, for the first time, my father told me he didn’t need my help.
You guys know where this is going, right? I mean, I didn’t, because at the time I was young, and part of me still hoped my parents loved me some.
We sat down to supper that night, rabbit jambalaya, my favorite. I got ready to dig in, and noticed my father had given me the best bits – the liver, the heart, the kidneys.
I took a big bite, and my father asked me “How is your dinner?”
“Good, Daddy, thank you.”
And he and my mother began laughing uproariously, as he said “You’re eating Sally! You’re eating Sally, Sally!”
I began gagging, and choking, and screaming, trying to get the taste of my pet out of my mouth, staring at her corpse on my plate.
As I kept crying, my mother asked – for the only time in my life, through her own tears of laughter – “Do you think maybe we went too far this time?”
And my father replied “No, she needs to learn, you don’t make idols out of things. She loved that rabbit more than she loved Jesus and she needed to learn her lesson.”
And then he sighed, and pulled me away from the table, and walked me back to the bedroom, whipping his belt out through the belt loops as he went.
He told me to stretch out over the bed, in the usual position, and so I did, even as I was still retching.
On tiptoe, so my butt would be at the very edge of the bed, positioned in the air, my hands stretched straight out in front of me, over my head.
As the belt slammed into my flesh, over and over, he began telling me that I was overreacting. That I was being dramatic, that I was crying over a rabbit harder than I’d ever cried over my own sins, and that I was to stop crying right that instant.
And so I did. I bit back the tears. I bit back the retching. I gripped the covers of the bed, and counted each blow, until he stopped somewhere in the forties.
And then I stood up, dry-eyed, and stood in front of him as he explained, as he always did, that I was being beaten for my own good.
And then I said a prayer with him, asking his god to forgive my sinful attitude, and I told him I was sorry.
“Sorry for what, Sally?”
“Sorry for making an idol out of Sally. Sorry for overreacting. Sorry for screaming, and for not appreciating the food that was set before me.”
And he patted my shoulder, and walked me back to the table, where my brother was shuffling uncomfortably in his chair, and my mother was still giggling.
He told me to sit down, and eat my supper.
I said no.
I don’t remember what happened next, except that I know as sure as I know anything that not one more bite of my pet crossed my lips.
I get fuzzy grey static when I try to think of the rest of that evening, one of the rare times my brain simply refused to record what was going on, and let me shut it out.
That was over 30 years ago.
Every year, around this time of year, I think of Sally. Since we slaughtered in the fall, it isn’t because that’s when she was killed, but the Easter bunnies on every sign and every shelf are a startling reminder.
April is hard. For many years, I would have dreams about Sally, I would miss her, I would wake myself up in the night because the tears would start to fall and I would jerk awake thinking “Don’t cry, don’t cry” as I listened for the sound of the belt whistling through the air.
Thanks to many years of therapy, supportive friends, and my amazing husband’s unconditional love, I haven’t had nightmares of reliving any of the multiple forms of abuse since 2014.
But still, I’m sad in April – I know it will happen, I expect it, it’s part of the rhythm of our family cycle just like holidays and birthdays.
For the very first time, when the familiar sadness settled into that place in my chest, I thought “I want to hold a rabbit.”
I’ve not held one since Sally was slaughtered, never let myself have a pet my parents would cook and serve to me (even though not one of my many pets after ever lived a full life span in their home, at least that’s the only one they tried to make me eat!)
So I asked my friend, who is on the board of the SPCA, if she knew of anyone with a rabbit who wouldn’t mind me coming over and squeezing it and maybe even crying a little.
Sure enough, she knew just the person – a wonderful lady with a menagerie at home that included two bunnies.
Tonight, I went and held both rabbits – but one at a time, because the newest one is still a bit skittish.
Well, he was skittish until he felt all the years of frustrated bunny love, and snuggled into my chest, and snuffled and did the little tooth-grinding purring noise and closed his eyes and tried to melt against me, and yes only the thought of my two cats and my one husband kept me from begging to take him home with me right then and there.
I still feel a little sad – it was awful, to hold the bunnies tonight and feel their hearts beating and remember that my last glimpse of Sally was when her heart was on my plate.
But it felt so very good, at the same time. To know that there are still bunnies out there, there are still people who love them like I do, and that it’s safe to love bunnies and want to pet their ears and giggle when they snort and twitch their nose on your neck.
I’m glad I went. I’m glad I had a friend with me who loves me and supported me through it. I’m glad for the stranger who opened her home and her bunny hutches to me, and who cried when I told her why I was there, and who let me snuggle the bunnies for as long as I needed to.
I’m glad I know that Jesus doesn’t care how much I love bunnies, and that all the love I have that I’ve been holding back for all these years is ok to share now.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.
Psalm 34: 3-6
P.S. Are you sure we can’t get a rabbit, husband-of-mine? I hear they get along really well with cats after about a week… 😉