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Saturday, March 2, 2013

In the Beginning


I’m seven years old.

I sit down to write my first story:  How the John Rabbit Familys Lived in the Tall Grass.

The plural is important, as you will see.

Once upon a time in the wild wilderness in the tall grass a baby rabbit was born.  It was white with a little tail and a light pink nose.  Its mother was white and black and the father was gray.  Their eyes were red and they sparkled in the dark.

Colors are clearly important to me.  I add a baby brother rabbit, gray with a black nose.  The whole nuclear family thing makes me happy.  But …

Then in a year it was rabbit season and the mother and father had to leave the baby rabbits.

Next come words that I know never appeared in my school vocabulary list: scared, dangerous, rough, sad, hid, shot.  Phrases like there were few of them left. 

I don’t know the word “survivor” yet.

I do, however, have some idea how to survive.

…it was mateing time and they didn’t want to leave each other, so they chose mates and had their babies. 

And life is good again, especially if we overlook the incestuous nature necessitated by rabbit massacre.  They didn’t want to leave each other.  Who can blame them? 

I know one thing for sure: never let go of anyone.

The rabbit siblings become Father and Mother rabbit to a brood of four babies who learn early how to forage: when they were two months old they got their own food but their mother and father were still with them…they liked their home in the tall grass.

My seven-year-old self knows about seasons:  Then it started to hail and the rabbits started to look for food because when it hailed it would snow the next morning.

I know how to make grocery lists:  They had 8 carrots, 8 bushes of grapes, nine piles of grass and a tin can of water. 

I know about the importance of a home:  Father rabbit went to look for shelter…he found shelter in a nearby cave with hay on the bottom to sleep on.

I even seem to know that life is hard on parents.  My rabbit family waits out the heavy snow in their snug cave, and surprise!  the next day is Christmas Eve.  I was hoping you wouldn’t ask, Father rabbit tells the kids when they inquire about the holiday.  Clearly the guy is feeling the weight of responsibility. 

Still, the little rabbits receive decent, if sadly gendered, presents: “I got a sling shot.”  “I got a little dolly.”  “I got a toy gun.”  “Let’s play dolls.”  “Let’s play war.” 

Predictability ranks pretty high in my seven year old world.

I make certain that Mother rabbit is very resourceful.  She takes good care of Zelda when the little rabbit catches cold:  Mother gave her most of the food and some water.  Then she covered her up with hay to keep her warm.  Later, in the Christmas Eve scene, Mother made sure no one was hungry, thirsty or sick, then she went to get the tree. 

Mother rabbit also makes everyone go out to play when the snow melts, which makes the baby rabbits cry.  Father rabbit is very stern. Go outside or you can not have any food.  Since it is also little Dan’s birthday, Father rabbit wants to give Dan 1 swat and a pinch to grow an inch, but no presents because its too close to Christmas.  Now if youre going to cry get to bed, Father rabbit tells poor sniveling Dan.  Dan chooses to play outside. 

Good sport, says Father rabbit.  Evidently I have clear ideas about fathers and crying.

Then come more words a seven-year-old shouldn’t know so casually. 

Rabbit season again. 

They stayed together but five got wounded and soon died. 

And father rabbit was the only one left.

Like a good survivor, Father rabbit quickly remarries and raises up five more rabbit children.  Father rabbit told them he was the only one left in his family.  Alice, his new mate, asks, What did you name your other babys?  and Father rabbit reels off the names of the dead in a loving litany.  Then tells them, We better get to sleep, its going to be a rough day. 

Uh-oh.  Is it rabbit season again?

But no, I'm the writer of this story.  I may be only seven years old, but I’ve had it with this murderous universe these poor rabbits find themselves in.  I know how to fix things.   

When they awoke they were in a strange place.  “it's a house” said father rabbit. A little human girl arrives and gives them all the feed and water they wanted. 

They are saved!  No more living in the wild wilderness of the outside world.  No more rabbit season, guns, hunting.  No more dead, missing or wounded children and parents.

They were very happy to be with the little girl, I write on the last page, and they lived happily ever after.  THE END.

This story marks the first time I ever used written words to save myself.  This story marks the first time I wrote down what had happened to me, and how much I wanted to be rescued. 

Forty-four years later, I finger these yellowing pages, the faded pencil on blue lines, the bright green yarn stitching the pages into my first book.  I have to smile.  There is no manly prince galloping up on his horse.  Father rabbit does not slay the rabbit hunters or lead his family to safety.  Mother rabbit does not sacrifice herself for the sake of her children, or if she does, it doesn’t work. 

No. 

As the author of this story, I’m seven years old, but I already know about genocide, abandonment, disappeared parents, hunger, hiding, tough love and a deep craving for home.  I’m seven years old and already I know how to trade independence for domesticity, wildness for the assurance of food, water and a nice cage (a temporary solution that will give me some serious issues with men and marriage later in life).

I’m seven years old.  My father, descendent of indigenous peoples ruthlessly diminished from one million to a few thousand, lives in a distant place called San Quentin not far from the missions that incarcerated our ancestors.  My four sisters from his first marriage have dropped off the face of the earth, though I can recite all their names.  My mother-who-disappeared-for-a-year has eventually returned; I’m still watching her every move to make sure she doesn’t run off again.  My two older siblings from her first marriage have been left behind in a foster home in California.  Once a year, my mother sobs over photographs of the baby girl who died from neglect.  My step-father moves us from one ramshackle trailer to the next as he patches together part-time jobs.  We can’t always pay the electric bill or fill the propane tanks.  We eat a lot of rice, beans, and USDA commodity food from the food bank.  I bounce from school to school, always a little behind everyone else, never on the same page of the reader or arithmetic book.

Notice that my rabbits form and re-form nuclear families, name their babies, celebrate holidays and birthdays, yet the concept of formal education is never mentioned?  School is not a friendly force for good in my life.  Yet.

But I'm seven years old and I’ve just figured out something enormous:  the alphabet is my friend.  Spelling may be tricky, writing may cramp my hand and teachers insist that my pencil grip is all wrong, but the alphabet makes me powerful in ways nothing else can.  Pencil and paper are my tools.  Words are my weapons.

Looking back at this story, I see it:  that little girl is going to use this alphabet to write her own way out of civilization.


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