Rebekah, known in those days by Bek Bek, reached forward with a tiny hand. Her sweet lisp lengthened the adopted rabbit’s name. From that moment, three girls would be forever changed by “Bunny Socks.” As the oldest sister, I had the privilege of riding along to pick up Socks. The olive green minivan plucked down the neighborhood road. We went to the house of my preschool friend who was selling her rabbit. Abby handed over the rabbit they’d named Socks. The bunny’s feet were not a different color than the rest of him. No, he was a complete creamy white except for one brown spot on his back. In later years, I wondered if they had named him “Socks” because he looked like a dirty sock with a hole in it, fit only for the trash. Well, Bunny Socks was not meant for the trash in our home.
From the start, I was afraid of our sweet bunny. Just a ten year old girl, I had anxieties I could not begin to name, much less explain. Animals and fire particularly terrified me. Would the animal attack? Bite me? I did not even want to be licked, be smiled at, by any animal. For one so young, I had read too many facts about rabies. Despite all the fears, as Bunny Socks made his home in the playroom, trepidation warred with excitement. Over the next several years, he made his home in my timid heart as well.
Birthday balloons made him thump with fright. Even when the only male other than our dad had free reign over the entire home, when the lock was loosed, the hardwood made Bunny Socks shake. So he stayed in the playroom. To my great astonishment, he was more afraid of us than we were of him. I have yet to meet an animal more perpetually scared than Socks.
In the fall and spring, when perfect Georgia sunlight streamed through at just the right temperature, Daddy moved the bunny’s pen outside, just beside our playground. In his younger years, Bunny Socks dug amazing holes around the fence. He was too afraid to escape, but he moved dirt for the beauty of the work. After digging for hours, he’d burrow down to rest, content just to sit in the grass and watch three sisters swing. As I look back, I wonder if it was really fear that kept him in his cage. Maybe he chose not to escape out of love.
Somehow, smoothing down the ears of Bunny Socks seemed to smooth away worries in my little heart. And I did have worries then, worries of more than just animals and fire. One day, I woke up excited to wear my new sparkly pink belt. In fourth grade, I wore my shirt tucked in so everyone could share in my excitement for this beautiful treasured accessory. As we stood in line, lunchbox dangling in my hand, the girl in front of me pointed, laughed and said hurtful words that lodged deep in my heart. My teacher did not help because my teacher was a bully herself. She made us read our failures in front of the class. Suddenly, ashamed to be wearing such a horrendous belt, I had to stand before the class who had laughed at me and repeat the words I had gotten wrong on the spelling test.
It was that day that I began to worry about what other people thought of me. I realized that I didn’t have very many friends. One of the few friends that I did have had just lost her mom to cancer. Death suddenly terrified me. Every time I hugged my grandmother goodbye, I was sure it would be the last time that I would see her. Worries, big and small, crowded this little girl’s light with darkness. I rode the bus home. It was my day to change Bunny Sock’s litter box, so I sat in the garage, thinking that the litter smelled and muttering over the little troubles in my life. I wanted it to all just disappear. I wished years away as I cleaned up after my furry friend.
The years did pass, not necessarily because I wished them to, but because life shifts. The years flew with surprising speed. And Bunny Socks grew old. One day, I returned home from middle school, bubbly, bouncing, and full of junior high drama to unload as I stroked Bunny Socks. But something was different. Both of my parents were home early. They sat at the kitchen table quietly, the usual laughter absent. Mommy had the same look in her eyes that she had when she told me my grandfather had been in a car wreck, had died. I knew they had to tell me something and I knew it was not going to be good.
I sat down slowly, glancing toward the playroom. There was no longer a purple pen. There was no longer a bunny. They’d cleaned the cage gracefully and quietly, but the pain was not so easily wiped away. Daddy told me that they took Bunny Socks to the vet. Sure, he was no longer excited to eat strawberries, but I hadn’t realized he was sick.
I have only seen my mom cry a few times in my life. Her tears are usually happy drops of emotion over one of her daughter’s accomplishments. On the day they put Bunny Socks to sleep, her tears were sad. In that moment, I realized for the first time that she had loved the bunny she always referred to as “rat.” I cried with her.
Even in his death, Socks helped me overcome fear that had rooted deep in the corners of my heart. We learned about death, and we learned about moving on. A bunny who was scared of people and a girl who was afraid of animals became the unlikeliest of friends, and in the friendship, we learned to love. I will never be a girl who gallops across a field with her horse, and though I went through a cat stage, I still don’t really love those feline friends. I will never be good at owning fish, and I will never have a dog story like every American girl. My pet story is better. I had a fat, scared, sweet bunny that I adored.