This morning my car wouldn’t start. The 2011 minivan, it wouldn’t turn over. Then as I sat, talking to my boyfriend on the phone about what it could be, I looked out the window to see a bunny had found his way into the garage. He sat there right outside my window, nestled between my bike, a stack of folding chairs and the ladders in the corner. We just stared at each other. My kids, they love rabbits. It started when Oz was nearly two and began twirling his hair while I nursed him to sleep. He was starting to develop a bald spot. So, that summer I buzzed his hair down too short to pull. From the bottom of the toy box, I pulled the little rabbit that had been in his Easter basket that spring. It had a fluffy white tail of synthetic fur. That night as I nursed Oz to sleep I put the tail into his hand. He twirled that instead. Six years later he still carries around ‘Rabbit,’ his tail nothing more than a limp little string. His once shiny, black eyes have been banged up, covered in cataracts. His fur, threadbare and matted. I’ve sewn his arms or legs back on many times, needle and thread in hand as I watch TV late at night. Oz is eight now, he’s past the age where he should need to carry a lovey around. He should be starting to realize that Rabbit isn’t real. He cannot truly protect him from harm.
Rabbit, had been an occasional obsession for years. One Oz would play with at home incessantly, then would suddenly lose interest in for months at a time. Once, when he was four, I was out running errands and received a text from the nanny. It was a picture of him holding Rabbit proudly in the air. We’d thought he was lost, but they’d found him, shoved into a doll house in the basement playroom. Oz’s affection for Rabbit was fickle.
Then the divorce happened.
My boy clung to his lovey the way his little sister had always loved her blanket. Rabbit now had to come with us everywhere. If he disappeared, even momentarily, panic and tears would ensue. I tried to enforce the old rule that “lovies don’t leave the house.” But we were in a different house now. I soon learned there would need to be different rules. When asked why Rabbit needed to come everywhere with us, my boy would answer sweetly, “because he calms me down.”
Oz is eight now. Rabbit is always crammed at the bottom of his dirty backpack or tucked into the pocket of his old leather coat, the expensive one I bought big when I still had money. It’s part of his signature look. The shaggy blonde hair, the sleepy blue eyes, the skull T-shirt, the second-grade angst, and the old, worn out bunny in the pocket of his “Rock N Roll” leather jacket. Oz tells me he’s sleeping in there. On the way home from school he pulls him out and he and Lids engage in secret childhood conversations with Rabbit. It seems he speaks a language only Oz understands. “Oz! Oz! Ask Rabbit if he wants to play with me when we get home,” she says to her brother. Oz whispers to Rabbit and then lets out a series of squeaks he claims is his language. “He says he wants to play with you upstairs,” he tells his little sister. Then he allows her the great privilege of holding the ratty, old, dirty toy. I see her in the rearview mirror. She beams.
Today they’re at their Dad’s house. The house he bought as the final nail in the coffin of our marriage. I was on a beach somewhere, having the 57th performance of my early mid-life crisis when my phone range and he coldly informed me, “I bought a house.” I asked what I was supposed to do. He said he’d continue to pay half the bills until I sold our home. I sold it four months later. I never should have. I, of all people, should have understood the magic a child’s mind imparts upon their first home. Mine was taken from me when I was five. At times I feel as if all I’ve ever been striving towards was just to get back there in some way, to get back home. Nothing’s ever felt quite right since. I remember when I bought my first house at twenty-two, my father asking me if we were settled in yet. “Does it feel like home?” he asked. I didn’t know how to answer.
My parents are divorced too.
Is there anything that ever really feels like home after divorce, other than the smell of your mother’s neck? I always tell my babies, “You are home when you’re with me, because I’m your Mama.” My children, they came from me. They are an extension of me. They are safe wherever I am. And yet, they are no longer physically with me 50% of the time.
Do you know how odd it feels to pick your children up from school and find them in clothing you’ve never seen before?
Or when after five days with their father they call you Dad instead of Mom, or at times, they call you by the name of their father’s fiancé. I never flinch when they do this. I never correct. I just reply, “Yes, baby?”
Or the time you had to take your daughter to ballet while her father was out of town. The instructor asked who you were, because ballet falls on Tuesdays, during Dad’s custody. You want to look at the woman and say, “Look at her face and then look at mine, and tell me who this child belongs to. I’m her mother!” But instead you smile and introduce yourself.
And your son, at times it feels like he’s slipping away from you. He’s nearing nine and has so much in common with his father. You can tell Dad’s house is more fun for him because they work on projects in the garage together, watch Marvel movies late at night while his sister sleeps, and play NERF guns.
I’m not jealous. I’m just sad that I’ll never get to watch the way his relationship with his father unfolds and matures. My handsome boy who looks just like me, but ended up with the same engineering brain as his Daddy. I’ll never get to watch that beautiful dance of father and son.
These are the things no one told me I’d sacrifice. I suppose I’d envisioned it differently, the divorce. Most my friends who are divorced, they thought it’d be different too. I remember when I told someone our divorce was amicable she snidely replied, “Good. Hopefully it stays that way.” It did stay that way, just not the amicable that I’d originally imagined.
Time marches forward. Wounds heal. Thick skin forms over where we used to bleed. We find new people to share our time with, ones who judge less and sympathize more. And when we’re ready we’ll allow the right person to run their hand over the scar as we lay there in bed together and they’ll say, “What happened here?” We’ll tell them the story and say, “It nearly killed me. I’d tell you I’m stronger for it, but that’s a bullshit lie. The truth is I can never survive that again.” They’ll pull you tighter and say, “I know. I don’t think I can either.” So, you’ll promise to continue forward together, and life will start to feel normal again, little by little. This isn’t to say that you couldn’t continue forward on your own, it’s just to say that you’ll come to see the hole in your heart is shaped like a family.
And then one cold winter morning, while he’s at work, you’ll find the car battery dead. He’ll call you having Googled all possible issues it could be besides just the battery. “Have you tried this?” he’ll ask kindly. It will feel good to not be alone. Then as you sit, the phone pressed to your ear, a little rabbit will hop into your garage to stay warm. Later, when you return to remove the battery you’ll find the rabbit sitting on top of the engine. You’ll also discover that the socket wrench your father gave you on your eighteenth birthday was one of the things you lost in the divorce. As you approach the car slowly, hand outstretched, the bunny will wiggle his way deeper into the engine unaware you’re only trying to help him. In his fear and confusion, he’ll only make his situation worse.
You smile knowing the kids are going to love this story, when they get back from their Dad’s.
*Oz is nine now. Sometime over the last six months Rabbit stopped coming home from Dad’s house. I’ve asked when we’ll see him again. Oz has informed us Rabbit is resting.