Friday, October 21, 2016

Beam of the Rabbit

In Stephen King’s amazing Dark Tower series, the guardians of the beam comprise a sort of zodiac that helps Roland navigate his way through more worlds than this.

One knows one is close to a beam by the imagery, turtles and bears and what not. I’m personally on the beam of the Hare, which is not covered in the Dark Tower series, leaving me free to make it up as I go in fine trickster spirit.

I joined the beam of the rabbit when I acquired a rabbit. It was intended to be food for a boa constrictor I had at the time. Instead, the rabbit and I hit it off and I rehomed the snake.

And thus I became a rabbit person. A lot of people like to fetishize animals, I have noticed. Frogs, bears, cats, sloths, pandas and other beasts can be found decorating clothing and other personal artifacts. It would be cultural appropriation to term these spirit animals, since that’s a Native American concept which should be framed from their perspective and not the imperial one (appropriation rears its ugly head).

I named my rabbit Varmint. He was a gray and white minilop with velvety soft ears. Living with him took a lot of adjustment. For one thing, rabbits are destructive, and will eat your electrical cords if you let them, plus they’ll gnaw up clothes, shoes, books, whatever you left lying around on the floor. You can’t really housebreak them, but you can convince them to use a litterbox 90% of the time. I let Varm run free whenever I was home, and when I wasn’t I kept him locked up in a big indoor hutch with a litterbox and toys.

He earned his keep by being my own personal shredder. Rabbits constantly need to chew things because their teeth keep growing and need to be worn down, like fingernails. So I gave him novels I didn’t like. I called it “deconstructing texts.”  Varm took savage glee in destroying things, flinging his cute little head around and emitting breathy “rrr” sounds.
Rabbits don’t really vocalize, but they are eloquent at unspoken language, and far more socially adept than I am. They are very intelligent, but in a completely different way. There is a brain functioning inside a rabbit’s head that works very differently to that of a dog or cat or human or snake. A wild creature that lives in large colonies, with strict social rules. Filtered through centuries and centuries of domestication.

In fact, rabbits really don’t play by evolutionary rules. There are European/Asian rabbits, and there are North/South American rabbits – distinct species, can’t interbreed. (There are also hares, notably in Africa, but we’ll leave them out of it for now.) All domestic rabbits have European origins, and have been domestic for many generations, and if you see one with designer spots or lop ears running around loose, it’s domestic in origin – do it a favor and catch it and give it to animal control. American rabbits (e.g. cottontails, jackrabbits) have never been domesticated, so don’t catch them unless you’re going to eat them. And in fact, my chef friend informs me that you can actually starve to death eating nothing but rabbits, since they’re all lean muscle, so you might want to grab a salad instead, if the rabbits haven’t gotten there first.

The European rabbits (wild variety) are extinct in Europe due to a rabbit-specific plague. Meanwhile, some sporting individual in Spain imported North American cottontails so he’d have something to hunt, and now there are wild American rabbits in Europe. Wild European rabbits, meanwhile, survive on many islands in the South Pacific, where they were left by European sailors hoping to build up a food source. Most notably in Australia, where they introduced the same plague that had happened in Europe to eradicate a ferocious rabbit infestation.  As chronicaled in the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence – which is not actually about rabbits (it’s about cultural appropriation). 

Rabbits live in the moon. They defeated Napoleon and nearly got Jimmy Carter. One of them stars in the nerdiest film of all time. They are tricksters, storytellers and athletes. After befriending a rabbit and determining I was definitely on the beam of the rabbit, I decided to learn all I could about them.

When my rabbit was two he developed a big abscess on his face, and I had to decide whether to spend a thousand bucks fixing it. And a month doing wound flushing, on a vaguely domestic animal with large teeth. And antibiotic therapy for the remainder of his life – subcutaneous injections, at the back of his neck, every other day.

I bore it all, with a smile. He ended up being a friend to me during some dark times in my life. Every night he would come running into the bedroom, do a flying leap onto my chest and lick my nose until I fed him a raisin. He’d sit beside me at night, cuddled up against my hand. I fed him fresh cilantro and parsley, and spoiled him as much as I could.
He was a needy little guy but he didn’t like other rabbits. I tried pairing him up with a boy rabbit (Jack) and they were best buds for about a month – then they broke up, and they started fighting, and I couldn’t let them out at the same time. Varmint would obsessively prowl around the cage whenever he was free, startling Jack whenever he could. I had to rehome Jack for his own safety.

I decided to get Varmint a cat, and I did a lot of research into types of cats that lack prey drive. I stumbled upon the Ragdoll.

Ragdolls are a breed of cat invented/developed/originated in the sixties, in Southern California, when a purebred Burmese named Daddy Warbucks got out and impregnated a large stray named Josephine. Josephine was subsequently involved in an auto accident, and when she came out, she had a litter of big fluffy kittens that acted weird – no prey drive, excessive friendliness (kind of like Williams syndrome in humans), they go limp when they’re frightened instead of attacking.

I found a breeder and purchased a Ragdoll kitten. Something I’d never done before, all my prior cats had been former ferals. My rabbit deserved the best, however, and I presented him with Tallulah. They became good friends. They’d tease and vex each other, but they’d also occasionally curl up with their backs touching.  Most importantly, they kept each other company when I was sleeping and working. Varmint was very social and needy, and Tallulah was too.

She even learned several phrases in rabbit – such as the one where they come over and nudge you to get your attention, then dramatically turn their back on you, which is sort of equivalent to having an animal flip you the bird.  Varmint had an even worse insult in fact – the one where he’d run rapidly past a person while spraying them with pee. He used to do that to my last boyfriend.

Toward the end, Varm developed spine trouble and became increasingly more paralyzed. I kept him in a cage, on a stack of puppy training pads, carefully cleaning and drying him every day, waiting for him to let me know it was time. Tallulah was very unhappy during this period because her buddy was in a cage and she missed him, and she did a lot of pacing and yowling. She couldn’t handle being alone.

Part of the reason Varmint was on antibiotic therapy was that he had a bacterial infection specific to rabbits, and the meds kept it in check. I needed to get another pet ASAP to keep Lula company, but I couldn’t get a rabbit or it would just pick up the infection.

The obvious answer was another cat. However. Lula was a Ragdoll who had been raised by a rabbit. She was strangely socialized. She needed a gentle cat companion that would tolerate her awkwardness. A boy cat (I was the only female Lula liked -- whenever male guests came over, Lula would run out to beg for attention, whenever women visited she would hide and sulk). 

So I got on the internet and searched for a male Ragdoll. I found the big Kahuna (except I didn’t know how monstrously big he was yet).  I learned he had grown up with a sister, and had been separated because the family dog had been picking fights with him, and that he was declawed. And not only that, he was the same color as my rabbit.

Varm lived eight years after I decided his life was worth saving, and during those eight years he was fussy and messy and high maintenance and destroyed lots of my stuff. I couldn’t go out of town without boarding him at the vet, and there would probably be a charge for running an IV since he tended to stop eating whenever he was without me and/or his cat. So I took up hobbies that didn’t require leaving town, such as video games. I started giving all my characters rabbit names, in his honor.

After he died I had a picture of him tattooed on my shoulder. He taught me a lot of things – about neurodiversity, for one thing, and about how there are plenty of truly alien intelligences to study right here in front of our faces. He had a huge personality for such a tiny animal. I still think about him all the time.

I’d get another rabbit but now I’ve got this 30 pound cat. Who is not aggressive in the least, but he’s big and clumsy and seems to really like being an only pet. Lula passed away a couple years after Varmint, from a kidney defect I didn’t know existed until she threw a stone. I miss her too. Not enough to tattoo her picture on my skin, or walk on the beam of the cat. I don’t remember whether there is a beam of the cat, in fact. But she was a good cat, and I loved her.

I still surround myself with rabbit iconography too. I’ll only allow myself to buy convention shirts that have rabbits on them, which has saved me a lot of money. If I’m playing a public video game or otherwise using a handle, it will be rabbit related.

I’m on the beam with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. With Hazel-rah and Bigwig and Fiver. With Roger and Jessica, with Binky and Sheba. Playing basketball with Bugs and Lola. Chilling with Harvey the pooka. Causing knights to soil their armor. Rabbiting on. 

No comments:

Post a Comment