August 22, 2011 – this needs revising, have figured out this happened around mid-September (perhaps a little earlier) just after we had again moved off of the homestead into an apartment on Government Hill near Anchorage — just after my ninth birthday.
We had been living on the homestead the whole summer of 1960 before my 9th birthday. At the beginning of August my mother had given my sisters and I each a young rabbit. Mine was black, Cindy’s was white and Sharon’s was brown. I named mine Peter after Peter Cottontail.
My father built a rabbit hutch with three separated sections, each with its own door so we could take our rabbits out without the other ones escaping. He also built a portable wire pen that we could move around in the grass so the rabbits could hop around safely and eat grass.
Peter was sweet and tame. I loved to carry him around. He never wiggled around when I held him. His eyes and his nose moved, his whiskers twitched, his ears shifted around but the rest of his body stayed still as I cradled him in my arms. He felt like a warm, smooth, soft part of my body.
I talked to him and stroked him. I picked every different kind of leaf, plant, grass and flower I could find to make Peter beautiful salads. He always ate them eagerly until they were gone.
Late in August we had been gone all day and returned up the mountain when I was nearly dark. I ran to feed Peter as soon as we got home but I found that he had broke open the door of his cage. He was gone. It was raining as I frantically searched for him in the tall wet grass in the field. I called and searched for him until it was too dark to be able to see a black rabbit.
I was crying and dripping wet when I walked into the house. My mother turned toward me, angry.
“Where have you been, Linda? It’s time for supper and you’re supposed to be setting the table! Look at you! You are dripping water all over the floor. You’re making a mess! You don’t have the sense a dog does to come in out of the rain!”
I didn’t care she was mad at me. I didn’t care about setting the table. I didn’t care I was soaking wet from the rain. I only cared about Peter. I tried to tell her that Peter was lost, that he had broken out of his cage and run away. I tried to tell her that I had looked as hard as I could but I couldn’t find him anywhere and it was dark now. But as I stood there drenched, pitiful and sobbing, my mother just yelled at me some more.
“I don’t care about your bad rabbit! He’s a bad rabbit for running away, just like Peter in Farmer MacGregor’s garden was. That rabbit got just what he deserved and so will yours, just like you will. Go get out of those wet clothes and put your pajamas on. Hurry up now! Get out of my sight. Go to bed without your supper!”
She put her hands on my shoulders, turned me around and shoved me toward the back of the Jamesway. The wick of the only kerosene lamp in the back of the house was turned low, but I could easily find my bed in the dimness. I did not undress. I sat down on the edge of my bed, still crying.
I could hear the wind outside the padded canvas wall that curved up over my head. Pouring rain pounded on the canvas roof. Everything else in my world disappeared. I was engulfed in pain, wracking sobs of sadness and thundering rain.
I did not hear my father’s footsteps as he approached me. I only knew he was there when I opened my eyes and saw his black galoshes with the buckles done up tight and his pant legs tucked into them. He had a flashlight in his hand.
“Linda,” he said to me as he gently laid his other hand on my shoulder. “I’m going out to find Peter. I’ll take Smokey with me. She can help.” He turned and he was gone.
I could not stop crying, but at least at that moment I didn’t feel so alone. I knew my father and Smokey were on the outside of the canvas walls, moving around in the pouring rain and darkness, searching, calling, looking for Peter.
My father was gone for a long time. More than once my mother appeared looming above me, screaming and saying terrible things.
“Look what you’ve made your poor father do! He’s outside getting wet in the dark because of you! You are a bad, bad girl just like your rabbit! How could I have ever thought you would take care of your rabbit? You don’t take care of anything anyone ever gives you! You don’t appreciate anything I do for you! I hope that rabbit is dead! He needs to get what he deserves and so do you!”
She would stand there screaming, then stop, turn around and walk away. I sat on the edge of my bed crying and I did not stop, no matter what she said to me. She would come back and repeat all her screaming, leave and come back again. She did that all the time my father was gone.
Finally I heard my father’s voice again, and I could see his feet in slippers as he stood in front of me. “Linda…..” he said, and I looked up at his face. In 50 years I’ve never forgotten the pain in his eyes. His hair was wet. He looked tired and sad as he stood with his hands clasped behind him below his waist.
I spoke the only possible words that I could have. “Did you find Peter?”
“No, I didn’t find him,” my father told me quietly. “Smokey did. She caught him and she was bringing him to me, but her jaws were too strong and she broke Peter’s neck. When I got him out of her mouth he was already dead. She didn’t mean to hurt him.”
The single word “NO-O-O-O!” erupted in a shriek from the center of my soul. I knew about Smokey’s strong jaws. I knew she was half malamute husky and half Labrador retriever. I knew she had the instinct to retrieve things and too strong a mouth not to kill them. She had retrieved a wounded sea gull from Meadow Creek once. She didn’t mean to, but she did kill it. I knew she didn’t mean to kill Peter!
I collapsed on my bed, turned my face to the cold canvas wall, and curled my body up as tightly and as small as I possibly could. I did not cry now. I did not move. I did not make a sound. Not even when my mother stormed back to my bedside and demanded that I sit up and look at her when she was talking to me.
“I told you that rabbit would get what he deserved! I told you he deserved to die. Just like you do! He was a bad, bad rabbit. That’s why he was black! I wish the same thing would happen to you!”
A few days later I was sitting in the back seat of the jeep beside my sister, Cindy, who had just turned seven. We were passing Pollard’s house on the jeep road as we drove out of the valley. I told her I was so sad that Peter was dead that I knew I would never smile again. She comforted me, saying, “Sure you will, Linda! Mommy will let you have another rabbit. Then you can be happy again. It will be OK.”
I did eventually get another rabbit, but nothing was ever OK.
I realize as I write this story that this was the only time in my entire childhood that my father intervened on my behalf.
This is the link to my comment on this writing of My Black Rabbit Peter
and to this November 12, 2009 post +THE HEALING OF DISSOCIATONS – A 50-YEAR MISSING PIECE OF ME HAS RETURNED