I LIKE TO THINK OF MYSELF as the brake pedal in our family, while my wife and three daughters are the gas. I am as slow as a glacier, while they are speed demons, racing into whatever idea piques their interest. And so, when I started to hear talk of getting new pets, I applied my brake because I didn’t want any pets. We have had some bad experiences in recent years. Our last two cats ran away — twice! I expelled another feline from our home because it threw up next to our baby’s head. So I decided that I would try and delay the procurement of any animals for as long as possible, with the hope that if I drew the process out long enough, my wife and children would abandon the idea and move on to some other plan.
But, as you know, one brake pedal isn’t enough to slow four gas pedals, and Epp is the fastest one. She has a memory of her mother spontaneously getting her a hamster one day about 30 years ago, and she is keen to relive it with her own children. One night, I found myself driving to a house in the countryside to purchase two baby rabbits. One of the rabbits was white, the other black. The girls named them Bunny and Blacky. They cost €5 apiece.
Rabbits! Of all animals! I had been trying to stall the pet-acquisition process by telling our eldest daughter that rabbits were boring, dull animals that were only interested in eating and excreting. The truth was that I had my own pet rabbit as a child. This rabbit’s name was Flower. We called her Flower because we couldn’t agree if her name should be Lily or Rose or Daisy. For three years, she was mine. I can’t say she was the most exciting creature, but she was fluffy and liked to eat straw, and was an all around pleasant pet. I took care of her as best I could. At one point, my friend wanted to breed her with his with his guinea pig to create some kind of new hybrid animal, but I said no, though it sounded kind of interesting.
For three years, everything was fine until one spring day when left Flower outside in the sun and we went to go visit my grandparents. It was early June. The day was cool in the morning but grew hotter in the afternoon, so we placed a call to my older brother, who had stayed home, and told him to go and move Flower into the shade. Unfortunately, he was napping when we called and he went right back to sleep afterward. And when we got home, the rabbit was there in the cage. Dead.
I could only stand to look at her corpse for a second because it was an ugly sight. We buried the little rabbit in the back yard and put a stone over the spot. My mother painted a flower on the stone. It was an experience that I wanted to spare my daughters. Sooner or later little Bunny and Blacky would chew through an electrical cable or choke on a carrot. It was inevitable. And then I would have to watch my children get their hearts crushed and get out the shovel and bury the rabbits in the backyard.
The first few days that Bunny and Blacky were in the house, I did my best to ignore them. I just kept waiting for one or the other to kill itself. Secretly, I didn’t want to get attached to them. I have this tendency to try and protect myself from emotional pain, because I know how terrible it feels to lose someone – even an animal – that is precious to you. When I was a boy, long before we acquired Flower the Rabbit, my dog Leroy was my best friend. The mutt was a year older than me, had endured many childlike experiments, such as when I tried to ride him like a horse. Sometimes I tell my girls stories about Leroy, how he was big, black on top, gold underneath, how he would go to nearby restaurants and position himself by the backdoor to eat the scraps, or how we once got lost in a snowstorm together and he helped me find my way back home. I never tell them of how he got cancer and we decided to “put him to sleep” though. I keep that memory for myself.
That’s just how it is with animals. Every single one of them I have known has eventually died or will die. Some overheat, others get cancer, others get hit by cars. They come and they go, so why bother bringing another one into your life, just so you can bury it a few years later? I confessed these thoughts to Epp, but she just shrugged and said, “That’s life.” “I know,” I said. “I know that’s life.”
But what I have learned is that you cannot protect your children from life. They must experience its ups and downs too. And, mysteriously, Bunny and Blacky have grown on me. These rabbits are quite adventurous. I had to touch them when they escaped from their cage one night. I came into the room and saw tiny dark shapes hopping around my feet. I thought I was hallucinating. When I turned on the light, I saw that the bunnies had freed themselves. So I scooped them up in my arms and returned them to the cage. They continue to break free. I come across these liberated bunnies all the time now in the most unlikely of places, and I have actually started to like them, if only because they have made my life so much more ridiculous. Imagine, there you are, making yourself a cup of coffee in the early morning, when you notice a white rabbit sitting there on the kitchen floor. Thanks to Bunny and Blacky, our house has become just a little but more like Alice in Wonderland. You can say that I too have fallen down the rabbit hole.
* This column first appeared in the June 2012 edition of Anne ja Stiil, as “Jänks ja Mustik”