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A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts

June 3, 2013

We certainly showed my brother a good time this weekend. He drove down from the Chicago area on Saturday to see us and attend Walker’s high school graduation ceremony and party on Sunday. When he arrived, we took him with us to a party for one of Walker’s friends, and then we played Rage and had a lovely, convivial evening.

The next morning, my brother and I were talking, still waking up, and I said “come out with me to see Snowbell while I give him his carrot and apple” so we stepped outside, onto the deck, as I do every morning. And Snowbell was…not responsive. Forgetting what I’d said I’d make for breakfast (Ron carried on, making pancakes), I woke the kids, we conferred a bit, and then they said their goodbyes. Nobody wanted Snowbell to linger in that state, so Ron drove and I held him in my arms and we took him to the vet on call for Sunday, in Utica, about 20 miles away. The vet, saying Snowbell was the oldest rabbit he’d ever seen (10 years and 1 month), eased him out of life as quietly as he’d lived it. When offered a pretty little walnut box for the ashes, with his name engraved on a brass plate, I said yes without asking the price, a decision Ron silently supported and I felt some regret over when I found out what it cost in money, although I jettisoned much of the regret with reflection and the help of a few friends who pointed out the other ways of weighing its worth.  photo-51

We managed to dry our tears and get into the proper celebratory mood for the graduation ceremony, and it was beautiful weather for being outside and marking the end of Walker’s free public schooling. My brother, like my father at Eleanor’s graduation two years before, was the only man there wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt and tie, and the resemblance was mildly comforting. We took photos with various groups of graduates and one short movie. The movie is a tradition because I accidentally took what we now call “Hogwarts photos” when Eleanor graduated; I took some short movies, rather than snapshots, on my phone, as I didn’t see that I’d hit the button to switch. Now I can add one of Walker and Eleanor and his friends laughing and talking about who was going to photobomb and who could be in the picture to the one of Eleanor saying “take the picture already, mom, what’s taking so long?” while posing with her friends.  photo-52

After the ceremony, the beautiful, warm weather continued so we could have Walker’s (and Stephanie’s; they took advantage of the local tradition of doubling up to host a party) graduation party inside and outside. We have five doors to our house, two in front and three in back, so there’s a lot of flow, and I think we might have had sixty people at the height of the party—about twenty in the front, twenty in the house, and twenty out back on the deck. The party was a complete success until the toilet got stopped up and someone left it to overflow onto the bathroom floor and nobody discovered this until my brother went downstairs to get something from his luggage and discovered there was a waterfall coming through the ceiling panels.

The evening ended with all of us drying books and photos and my brother using the wetvac on the carpet until about 12:30 the next morning, when we called a halt and went to bed. Monday everybody got up and went to work or the dentist and my brother started his long drive home. I don’t think we showed him a very good time.

Can you imagine staying with a family on the day they discover that one of their own has gone, suddenly and forever? (Has this ever happened to you?) We will have a funeral later this week, but until then, we do not like to look at the hutch. We see only shadow, where there used to be sunlight on white fur in the late afternoon. I am thinking of this Wallace Stevens poem:

A Rabbit As King of the Ghosts

The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur?

There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.

To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten on the moon;

And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;

Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full

And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,

You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,

You are humped higher and higher, black as stone?
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.

I never heard our rabbit make a noise. He was silent and that felt peaceful, and it did always seem to me, listening out the window, alert for his comfort, that he filled the four corners of night. Last night the darkness outside my bedroom window seemed emptier once Walker got home safely (unlike two of our friends who came late to the party after hitting a deer).

The childhood pet is gone, and so is the childhood. I no longer have to wake up so frequently in the night, or worry about whether the wind is whistling through the hutch when a warm, breezy day is followed by a night of loud thunderstorms. I no longer have to prop the door to the garage so it doesn’t slam and disturb anyone’s sensitive ears. I won’t be a “hayseed” any more from going out to give Snowbell carrot and apple in the morning and getting alfalfa on the sleeve of my sweater, or worry about having to get home in the evening in time to see that he gets a hop around the yard. The nest box is empty. The nest is emptying soon. No one is scared of thunderstorms anymore, except the other homeowners down our broken storm sewer line.

I think the darkness will not continue to feel empty. I think my perception of its dangers will continue to expand as my ability to protect anyone from it diminishes. We laugh about why my brother only has to call to say he’s gotten safely home when he’s been to see us, as if all the other travel he does is not our responsibility, as if the way Walker used to hold his breath when we passed a graveyard never really kept him safe from anything.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2013 10:45 pm

    And yet he’s still safe. This was a lovely post. I’m so sorry about the rabbit. This reminded me too that on the day I got accepted to my two first choice colleges we also had to put down our much beloved family dog, who was dying a slow and painful death from bone cancer. I felt the drama of the day the way a teenager does, but I think my mother was where you are now. Things end, things begin. It’s harder to watch things end when you can’t see what’s beginning, but it will begin just the same.

    • Gwen Bailey permalink
      June 3, 2013 11:26 pm

      We prepare our children to be ready to boldly go off on their own. In doing so, we neglect to prepare ourselves.

      • June 6, 2013 3:20 pm

        I don’t think I’ve neglected anything; rather than feeling like the my protection is shrinking to just the house, which is momentary, I’m looking ahead to having to envelop more of the world with it (all the way over to London, in the fall, when Eleanor goes for her junior year abroad).

  2. Gwen Bailey permalink
    June 3, 2013 11:00 pm

    It is the essence of responsibility, I think, to allow us to experience joy and sorrow. We sign on for all of it. The phases of our lives allow us to experience the gamut of responsibility. This experiences bind us to our responsibilities, and the whole thing mixes up within us and our lives. I am sorry about your rabbit, but that nest is far from empty. It is full of memories of ten years and one month of love and sorrow.

  3. June 4, 2013 1:58 pm

    Sorry to hear this Jeanne, it’s never easy. He was obviously well loved, ten years is indeed long for a rabbit and surely had much to do with the care you gave him. This is a lovely tribute.

    • June 6, 2013 3:22 pm

      He was well loved. He was Eleanor’s pet, but Walker and I had taken over much of his care in the last two years while she has been off at college.

  4. June 4, 2013 8:09 pm

    I got a bit sniffly reading this. Losing a pet is hard — I’ve never been the one visiting when there’s a death, but I’ve been visited when there’s a death. It only makes me feel guilty, like I should real quick figure out how to save the trip for the guest even though that is plainly impossible.

    I’m sorry for you all, losing Snowball! Hugs to the family, and congrats on the graduation!

    • June 6, 2013 3:16 pm

      Yes, I kept wanting to save the trip for the guest although that started out impossible and got ridiculous.

  5. June 5, 2013 4:47 am

    Sniffly over here as well. Especially when I got to “The childhood pet is gone, and so is the childhood.” Hugs to you all.

  6. June 5, 2013 8:58 am

    Your brother will surely remember that visit forever! Congratulations to Walker!

  7. June 5, 2013 12:00 pm

    Congratulations to Walker as he moves on to his next challenge. My condolences on the loss of Snowbell; the poem is wonderful & fitting. Well loved pets leave behind tiny holes in our hearts when they’re gone, and I must admit to becoming a bit misty eyed at the memories your lovely post revived in me as well.

    • June 6, 2013 3:26 pm

      “next challenge” I think that’s part of what I was trying to say, that the kids’ challenges are laid out for them, whereas my life seems to be getting “easier.”

  8. June 5, 2013 3:36 pm

    Lovely, Jeanne —

  9. June 6, 2013 1:59 pm

    Sorry for your loss. And I’m sure your brother may not think of it as a ‘fun’ weekend but a chance to be with family and make bittersweet memories to be cherished.
    Congrats to Walker!

    • June 6, 2013 3:29 pm

      If nothing else, I guess my brother was glad to get out of here and back to his own routine troubles!

  10. Jenny permalink
    June 11, 2013 10:16 pm

    This spring, when I was in France, one of my students was in a homestay situation where the parents suddenly announced they were getting a divorce. I suppose that’s a kind of death. My student didn’t tell me; I think she was trying to save the situation for the family and for herself. Impossible, except with time, when the mess and pain eventually feed the transformation, one hopes.

  11. June 18, 2013 10:16 am

    what a lovely post – full of love and sadness.

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