About four years ago, my family was the victim of a housing scam. At the worst of it, a sheriff came to our house to evict us, and we had eight hours to pack our entire life into cardboard boxes with nowhere to go. Afterward, I couldn’t decide where I wanted to be, and when my family moved back to Jersey, I decided to go with them, and then quickly changed my mind and bought a one way ticket back to Chicago. I had nowhere in mind to stay and I couch surfed and basement surfed and floor surfed into every imaginable friend’s house I could possibly stay at.
But this isn’t a story about my family crisis. This is a story about my bunny.
When I finally found a room that was somewhat stable, I decided to get a bunny. I decided I wanted something to love me—something to need me.
“I’m getting a bunny,” I say to my mom. We are on the phone. I just received a care package from her because she is always sending care packages to me. The boxes are filled with Philly soft pretzels, bottles of nail polish she found on sale, goldfish, and other random objects like magnets and picture frames. The care packages are sent from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and delivered to wherever I’m living at the time.
“No you aren’t,” she says.
“Yes I am.” I lie back on my makeshift bed: a bunch of comforters balled up, because I can’t afford a real bed yet. I stare at the care package and realize it would make a perfect night stand when emptied and turned upside down. This makes me smile.
“Liz, keeping a rabbit is a lot of work. You won’t be able to take care of it with everything else you have going on. Trust me.”
is a tricky thing my mom says. She says it often, and sometimes I take it like a challenge and I don’t trust her; but then she’s always right. She is even right when she is 900 miles away from me.
Truth is my mom has always been there for me through all big changes: new jobs, new schools, new boyfriends. And even the small changes. Growing up was easier because my mom was always there by my side being right about everything.
Truth is my mom has always been there for me
through all big changes: new jobs, new schools,
new boyfriends. And even the small changes.
Growing up was easier because my mom was
always there by my side being right about everything.
“I want a new job,” my 17-year-old self had said. I worked at a pizza place for a few years until I got that all-too-familiar itch to change something.
“Where at?” my mom had asked.
“Meijer. Actually, the deli of Meijer.”
“Oh, Liz, no. You’ll hate it. It’ll smell and I know that’s something you won’t enjoy doing.”
“What? How would you know?! I think it’ll be fine. I really
want a new job. Anything will be better than where I am now. Seriously.” I was being defensive. How dare she know me better than myself?
A day later I showed up at Meijer and a plain-looking man wearing a stained dress shirt who didn’t introduce himself handed me a plastic bag. It held a stiff blue Meijer hat and an apron that felt like cardboard. When I got behind the deli counter I was almost knocked over by the fumes of chicken fat and slime and beef grease. The floors were permanently glossy from I don’t know what, and I was expected to use The Slicer, a horrifying machine twice my size. During my break, I left and never came back. When I got home my mom smiled casually. She didn’t even have to say ‘Told you so.’
Now, lying on my balled-up comforters, I wonder if maybe this bunny situation is similar. If maybe this is something my mom does
happen to know somehow. But there is no way. This
. This is something I know will fix everything. After the housing scam blew us apart into different states, I wondered how I would make big decisions without my mom.
After the housing scam blew us apart into different states, I wondered how I would make big decisions without my mom. There was actually a kind of freedom in knowing that ultimately I could do whatever I wanted and there was no way she could stop me. No one could.
There was actually a kind of freedom in knowing that ultimately I could do whatever I wanted and there was no way she could stop me. No one could. And really, all I want is something to love, which is harmless.
My boyfriend comes over that evening. I don’t tell him I already spoke to my mom.
“I want a rabbit,” I tell him. We are sitting on my floor surrounded by clothes and books and papers.
“A rabbit?” Michael twists his face and I smile at the way his green eyes always seem to be thinking. “Why would you want a rabbit? In here?”
“Yeah. I want something to love me.” I cross my arms and dig my cold feet into the blankets. It seems as though everyone who loves me is so very far away. I do not tell him this of course.
“But I love you.” He scratches his ear and I watch his face change. “Isn't that enough?”
“But I can’t brush your hair or feed you or kiss you without having a responsibility to stick around for long periods of time.”
“Look. I depend on you. It’s kinda pathetic if you think about it.” I think about how he cooked for me; how he drove me places because my car hated to run in the mornings; how he handed me wads of money because my minimum wage job had more problems than I did, and the salary wasn't cutting it. Without my mom here to pick up the pieces, Michael took over. It felt wrong. I didn’t want to be taken care of anymore. I wanted to be the care giver for once. “I want something to need me.”
“I need you.”
“Can I put you in a cage?”
“Jesus, Liz. I’ll get you a rabbit. Okay? You can do whatever weird control things you want with it.”
Of course his use of the words, ‘weird control things’ didn’t even faze me. Maybe because deep down that’s what I wanted. I wanted control. I wanted to seem as though I had a grasp on something. If I can’t control what roof goes over my
head, well the next best thing would be to have full control over another living thing, right?
An hour later we stand in front of a bin full of bunnies piled atop each other like dirty clothes. They come in all different colors; khaki, black, white, grey. None of them are doing much, really. They are eerily quiet and all I hear is my mom telling me that I won’t be able to care for it the way it needs to be; but she is too far away to be right and I see a bunny in the corner with long, blackish grey fur that reminds me of lint. It is sitting in the opposite corner from the stack of other bunnies with its black eyes wide and I immediately understand that it needs love as much as I do. We buy it. I put the cage on the floor in a room that doesn’t feel like it’s mine and I admire the little thing.
When I pick it up I can feel its ribs like the spines of thin children’s books. I place the bunny on the windowsill and take a picture of it to send to my mom. It sits so still that it looks like part of a cute calendar. I don’t remember if it’s a boy or a girl. Its nose twitches like nervous hands and I decide that I love it.
Maybe because I feel like everything changed without me being able to control it, I now want to control this bunny. I want to make it love me. I want to learn to be more like my mom.
Taking care of things is not something I am good at. It is something my mom is good at and maybe because I feel like everything changed without me being able to control it, I now want to control this bunny. I want to make it love me. I want to learn to be more like my mom. My mom is good at taking care of things and being right and I am only good at making mistakes and only sometimes learning from them. But it all changes now. There is something about this bunny. The way its glassy eyes stare at me that makes me want to care for it. I want to do cute things with it like I see everyone else do with their pets. Put cute outfits on it. Let it run around my room. Snuggle with it.
“How’s the bunny?” my mom asks over the phone three days later.
I glance over at it. The cage has begun to smell. And it never lets me pick it up anymore. “Great!” I lie. I don’t tell her that it wants nothing to do with me. I don’t tell her that like usual my boredom got the best of me and I have preoccupied myself with things that didn’t involve the bunny. I don’t tell her that I’m tired of cleaning the cage every single day and that I think I bought a defected rabbit because it’s been depressed since I took it home.
When we hang up the phone I am sad and so I open the lid to the cage. I notice that the bunny has poop stuck to its long black hair. I frown. Instead of washing it like a normal person, I pick the bunny up and shave it. The entire time I shave the area around the tail I can feel its heart racing around its ribs like a bouncy ball. I do not think that this is strange. I think that this is the easiest way to give the bunny comfort. When I think about it now, I remember all the times I had gum stuck in my hair or glue or paint and how my mom very carefully, very thoughtfully, was able to get it out without shaving my head.
This continues. The bunny keeps pooping and I keep shaving it. It isn’t cute anymore. All it does is chew on things and run to the other side of the cage when I dip my hands into the cage and reach for it. Whenever I walk into the room it looks alarmed. Eventually, I decide that
I am still 900 miles away from everyone who loves me unconditionally and sometimes when I think about the bunny and my failure to love it, I wonder if there is something wrong with me: maybe I have a disorder. Maybe I somehow didn’t get the genes that my mom has, and that stops me from fully loving one thing right now.
owning a pet isn’t right for me. I take it back to the pet store with its fur looking like a poorly mowed lawn. The woman at the counter drops her jaw like a loose hinge and I tell her that the bunny must be sick and I’m bored and I can’t even take care of myself. She gives me my money back and the weight of the money in my hand feels like the bunny I no longer have.
I had the bunny for one week exactly. I am still 900 miles away from everyone who loves me unconditionally and sometimes when I think about the bunny and my failure to love it, I wonder if there is something wrong with me: maybe I have a disorder. Maybe I somehow didn’t get the genes that my mom has, and that stops me from fully loving one thing right now. I get bored too easily and restless and impulsive and maybe I never even wanted the bunny in the first place. I never know what I want and in a moment of panic I wonder if this will be the rest of my life. If I’ll spend forever not finishing things. But through it all, all the distance, the empty cages, the care packages, and every state between New Jersey and Illinois, there is one thing I finally understand. Maybe I can’t take care of a bunny. Maybe I can’t take care of other people right now. But at least I am learning to take care of myself. My mom’s ability to be right about everything can come in handy sometimes but other times I need to figure it out on my own. I guess for now I’m just grateful for all the places with good return policies.
Liz Grear is a writer living in Chicago. She is pursuing an MFA at Columbia College studying creative writing with an emphasis on teaching. Her work has been published at Word Riot, Every Day Fiction, Hypertext Magazine, and Hair Trigger 35, among others. For more from Liz, visit her online.