It was their time. The misty, chilly mornings of greeting their soft wiggling noses, nudging them aside in their effort to crowd out their brothers and sisters from the first taste of food or the first sip of fresh water were now at an end. Afternoons of laying on the fresh cut grass of the lawn, holding their little bodies against my t-shirt, whispering of many things, were over now.
I had whispered my secrets to them: The secrets of my childhood, it’s end held at bay with magic, the bewitchment of words in books that told of other places. Other places and times where magic was literal, and courage almost always won the day. And if not courage, loyalty and honesty, and where often, very often, friendship was real.
During that time, I read a book of a brother and two sisters who lived in the UK. There were elements of druidical magic, and in retrospect, I think it was an allegorical tale. But the detail that has stayed with me is of a fog. The fog crept into the country and slowly encroached into villages and homes. As it did so, it erased things—anything solid, people’s memories and eventually their selves.
The children were heroic. They fought against the rising fog and they did so with a lot of love for each other, with a deeply magical uncle and the usual complement of unwitting but well-meaning adults.
But, children do not always win battles, and on the day I’m describing, it didn’t even occur to me not to obey. I carried the first rabbit to where my father stood, with his ax leaning against the stump that was our literal chopping block. I begged him not to kill this one that was special to me.
Maybe I chose the rabbit without a front paw because he was more easily distinguishable in the wriggling, warm mass of baby bunnies. But, regardless, this was the one that I held most often and nuzzled its face under my chin. I pled, pointed out that we didn’t need this particular one, as there were many other rabbits to slaughter that day. I argued that we had enough food without this special one.
My mother did beg that I be sent inside, so I wouldn’t have to watch this. With an icy voice, my father said I had to stay. The wood stump was already stained with blood, and there were deep grooves where the ax had already bitten into the wood with its dull thud.
I can’t summon the moment of my special rabbit’s death, and I know that trauma memories can unfold at any speed, and with surgical precision absent the moments of denouement.
But, my memories pick up moments after its death. My child’s imagination had never gone beyond this moment and imagined what happens to prepare meat for the table. Every detail is crystal sharp, as sharp as the well-honed knife that split the rabbit’s skin. What brought the fog ever closer for me, though, was seeing the striated shiny muscles that form the sheath around every mammal’s skeleton.
And, by the fog, I am meaning something which separated me from myself. I have before and since experienced many forms of disassociation, from sharp and swift, to an ever-thickening wall between me and everything else, to fragmentation and blurring around the edges, pieces floating away, and a numbness so complete that I could stare danger in the face with total disdain. But, it started with the fog.
But, what I am here to share is how I made it go away. I have changed the story.
In my story, a flat chested girl with long chestnut hair in two braids wakes up early that morning, slipping outside while the sun was an orange line on the horizon, and the dew on her bare feet was quite chilly. She puts a sweatshirt over her flannel pajamas, pulling its hood around her sharp boned face. She slips the hook and eye latch of the rabbit hutch and pulls her favorite from the squirming musty huddles of warm rabbit bodies. Holding him tucked under her chin with one hand, she latches the hutch behind her, although she looks a moment longer this morning, knowing that most of them would be slaughtered later that morning.
Straightening up, she walks straight-backed through the yard, past the chicken coop and ducks under the barbed wire fence to reach a little moist sliver of high grass between the outbuildings and the pasture. She sits by her favorite plant, the mullein, whose velvety leaves she used to stroke against her cheek on long, sunny afternoons. Kneeling, she puts her rabbit by the mullein plant, amongst the fuzzy leaved grass, which was broad enough to make a whistle between your fingers if you knew how.
She imagines for a moment that this was a world where baby rabbits taken from a hutch learn to live safely in a world with predators. She is beginning to understand that this rabbit may need more protection than she thought. But, she read a lot of mythical stories under these very locust trees and learned that are other places, other times than this frightening time and place. She lays on the ground, curling her body around the small rabbit, and imagines her thoughts burrowing underground, spiraling amongst and into the tree roots, and from there to all the other plant roots, calling out for protection from this one, this special one, who just needs a moment to learn the ways of this bigger world. She imagines the fox and the weasel pausing for a moment, receiving this request.
And, she lets go. She nudges the rabbit forward with a gentle shove to its behind. It resists, and curls against the hand it loves, nudging its ears under her fingers to get a little caress. She nudges just a little harder and the rabbit looks at her under its eyebrows. It seems to ask her whether it can be safe, so she shoves it just a little more forcefully. “This place is not safe for you”, she whispers and nudges it a little more insistently. It hops forward again and again and starts to smell the cattails by the pond and the moss by the stream. Darting now, it is already beginning to forget her hand. Its nostrils are flared and drink in the wide unknown.
Joy is a social worker and an addiction counselor, currently working as Clinical Director of Naropa Community Counseling.
Writing about therapeutic relationships