[I wrote this for a Story Slam for my local writers group recently]
I have seen my dad cry only once in my life. He never cried when he stopped drinking, or before that, when my mom threatened to take us and leave him if he couldn’t stop. He didn’t cry when my mom went into a psychiatric hospital because she was suicidal. He showed no obvious emotion when he’d tell us about his “real mom” who died of a brain tumor when he was ten years old. There were no tears from this man at my brother’s wedding, at my sister’s elopement party, when any of his grandchildren were born, or when we threw he and my mom a surprise 40th anniversary party. He didn’t cry at his father’s funeral.
I have seen my father cry only once, and it was when the neighbor’s dog killed our bunny.
My dad was not a fan of adopting this bunny. At the time, my parents had three children that my father never seemed quite used to, sometimes looking surprised to see us there, or to be addressed as “Dad.” In addition, our family already had two dogs, two cats, four ducks, a parakeet, two guinea pigs, and an opossum. So, it’s understandable that he didn’t want one more creature to take care of, but he agreed to let us keep the bunny when a friend needed to give it up.
For some reason, I had always wanted a pet rabbit. I imagined it snuggling up in my lap while I read, which my cats never seemed to want to do (possibly because I had dressed them up in doll clothes on a fairly regular basis). Instead, the rabbit turned out to be a biter; it never got along with any person or animal in the family. It was relegated to an outdoor hutch, and was essentially forgotten. I can’t remember if it had a name, or if it was male or female; we lost all interest in it. The rabbit was probably much happier living its little bunny life outside, away from kids who wanted to hug it or shove lettuce down its throat.
This rabbit would have been the most forgettable pet I’ve ever had, were it not for the way it met its end. Our neighbor’s dog managed to find a weak spot in the chicken wire of the rabbit hutch, and then found its prey. The rabbit didn’t look like it had suffered, and in fact, its lifeless body actually just looked like it was sleeping. It was surprisingly untraumatic.
By the time I was ten, our family was already used to having pet funerals, and had a section of the garden dedicated to burying various animals. Someday in the future, an archaeologist will be greatly interested in the variety of animal skeletons in this garden. We usually took turns saying nice things about the dearly departed pet, my mom would read a Bible verse, my dad would say a prayer, and we’d bury the pet with a homemade grave marker.
This time, though, everything was different. My dad started crying as soon as he laid eyes on the rabbit. None of us knew what to do. Dads didn’t cry–at least mine didn’t.
He couldn’t stop crying either. It wasn’t loud or dramatic, and he didn’t seem to see any of us. There was no embarrassment, just silent tears. I had no idea what was going on, and we eventually all left him alone. The rabbit was buried, none of us ever mentioned the tears, and we moved on.
As an adult, I’ve learned just how many tears my father probably had stored up; how many regrets he had, and how much pain was never acknowledged. I don’t know what it was about this one rabbit that unleashed these tears, but clearly there was a reservoir of pain that was waiting inside of him.
I’ve wanted to ask my dad about this, but there’s a barrier that has always been there. He treats emotions as a joke, talking about how feelings get in the way. Somewhere in there is the man who broke down, weeping over a rabbit without a name, but I’ve never seen him again. I’m not sure I ever will.