I’d lived in the New York area for a year and a half, shared intimate moments with more than a dozen men, including a fantastic night with a sailor in Hell’s Kitchen during Fleet Week, walked out of bars at three in the morning in the middle of the week high on margaritas, fled a job by getting on a train and leaving the conference without a word to my boss, hid a boyfriend in the basement of the house where I lived as a nanny, and repaired the bumper of my employer’s car without telling her I’d backed it into the retaining wall of her driveway, when I did the most shocking, daring, risky thing. I adopted a rabbit.
I should say, two rabbits. The first rabbit I adopted did not feel particularly daring. A fat Albino, Violet arrived with her owner, looked us over, and sat back in her cage as though content to spend the rest of her life shitting on hay. A week after finding her, though, I read an ad on Craigslist from a woman whose coworker had given her a rabbit for a Christmas present. Meanwhile my girlfriend, who had always loved rabbits, was mock-weeping over my cute li’l white bunny. I decided to chance it and get her one for Christmas. I met the woman from Craigslist at Astor Place, finding her holding a baby black and white rabbit in her purse. “He’ll eat anything! He loves cake and trail mix!” she enthused. “But I’ve been taking him to work with me every day because my roommate got so mad at him for eating his phone charger cord, he hit him hard enough for him to make a squeal.”
With a weakness for black and white animals, creatures who are being fed cake despite non-cake dietary needs, and unwanted Christmas presents beaten by roommates, I had no choice but to take the little guy. She pulled him out of her purse, asked me for thirty dollars, and got on the train. I carried him up to my office, empty in the last afternoon before Christmas Eve, and let this rabbit, who was going to belong to my friend, hop around my computer.
My chest was covered in red marks from his claws for a week after carrying him home on the subway. My delighted friend took him home, only to have her roommate tell her the apartment already had too many animal inhabitants. Jody brought the rabbit back to me and I found myself with one skinny baby rabbit and one fat adult rabbit hissing at each other, diving together with teeth bared, pooping in one another’s cages.
My parents arrived to stay with us for Christmas, emerging from my bedroom the next morning asking, “Did I see a… rabbit?” An owner, at times, of three cats at once, my mom calmly accepted my new pets while staying with me, but immediately began urging me to rehome both of them the minute I described their territorial battles.
“No, Mom,” I said, “I’ll see if I can find a home for Violet first…”
The little black and white bunny would leap across the living room doing a quarter-spin in the air, while the white one often “humphed” at us when we tried to pet her. Moreover, Violet would easily fit into any home, whereas Flip…
Named for his tendency to flip out, Flip ate any cord he could reach, crawled into my dresser drawers from beneath to chew on my clothes, and would shake the bars of his cage between his teeth for hours on end if left there.
My mom continued to suggest I find homes for both rabbits. But Violet went home with a single dad wanting a pet for his son, and Flip stayed. I bought him a little triangular rabbit litter box and set it, full of wood chips, next to Harley’s litter box. He immediately hopped into the cat’s box and used it from then on. We folded up the cage and stashed it under the bed, coating computer cords in plastic. When we moved, we found the TV and VCR cords nearly chewed through. How he’s survived the electrical charges I’m sure he’s exposed himself to without our knowledge is beyond me.
Flip is a high-maintenance pet. It cost three hundred dollars to neuter him, an extra hundred every time I fly with him, plus the months of frustration and mess he caused my brother, a dozen power cords I have spliced or replaced, and countless articles of knitwear, books and furniture legs marked with fierce, quick little bites.
He also hops up to, rather than away from, strange animals, sticks his head under the food as it falls into his bowl, and stretches out on a chair with his legs spread behind him when the house is at rest, a chic black and white canary announcing that all is calm and well in the house. He makes me smile in an unjustifiable way, not by protecting me from mice, purring on my lap, or providing warmth, but by diving into a bag of packing materials to tear them apart, jumping atop a rolled-up mattress pad to survey the room, and yes, biting the toes of lovers.
I knew nothing about rabbit care, feeding or manners when I adopted him. My only justification for taking on the responsibility of a strange pet was the desire I’d secretly nursed since petting my friend’s lop eared pets as a nine year old. My mom kept us in cats, who was I to insist, as a child, on an animal that required a cage and couldn’t be trusted to wander the house unsupervised?
Adopting Flip taught me that I still had a lot to learn about who I was and what I wanted. Among other things, I learned I was a person who took great pleasure traveling with a bunny as companion, a person who didn’t mind a few holes in my clothes or the occasional errant bathroom mess, and most importantly, a person who had wanted a rabbit for eighteen years without doing anything about it. Always encouraging the wild fantasies of others, I pay so little heed to the quiet wishes of my own heart. This rabbit taught me I deserved happiness, and in a way, triggered my going to Europe, laughing with toddlers on a trampoline, choosing a peaceful job in Buffalo over a stressful one in New York, and last week, buying myself a baby pink laptop that gave me so much pleasure just to hold, I finally sat down with it alone in my living room last night and put to paper the beginning of a story I had tried telling, with far less success, a bajillion times before.
He doesn’t even greet me when I walk in from work, yet I love him to bits. Maybe he taught me a little bit more about that “L” word, too.
I’m just suggesting that, next time you’re down, you close your eyes and think back to when you were nine. What did you want, then? What’s stopping you from giving it to yourself today?