Friday, January 20, 2012

The Tortoise & The Hare

I took a couple of nights off to try to get some sleep.  It didn't work very well because I still found myself up too late, interrupted several times by waking, crying kids,  or on the couch because my husband snores.  Also, I think I forgot to take my meds last night. We were out of our nighttime routine and there was badly-timed caffeine intake.  In all, lots of operator error.  So I am pilfering my last story that I'd written in the past.  Now I'm going to have to think of something new each time.  Eek!

In the past two years I have become a bead collector, particularly of Trollbeads, although there are other varieties (Pandora, etc.).  This past week I added a new bead:  A crouched silver hare stands on the upturned feet of  a small silver tortoise.  The silver rope, or leather, bracelet is to penetrate the space left between their bellies.  The bead turns on the cord, sometimes showing the tortoise, and sometimes the hare.  For me, they symbolize more than the old fairy tale about the race won by slow, steady persistence.  They represent life and death.

Some years ago, my husband and I were returning home from somewhere on a highway when I saw a small golden dome, somewhat like half of a fastfood clamshell burger container, on the road.  “Pull over!” I yelled, “Now!  Now!”  “Okay!  Why?”  “Box turtle!”  Gravel crunched as we pulled to a stop on the shoulder.  I swung the passenger door open.  “Be careful---don’t get killed,” I received from a tense but amused husband humoring his treehugger-wife.  I checked for traffic and then hurried to the box turtle.  Remembering how we used to pick up painted turtles when I was a kid, one hand on each side between the front and back legs, thumbs on top, fingers underneath supporting the shell, I lifted the box turtle and walked him to the side of the road.  I put him down and nudged him with my feet into the vegetation on the side of the road.  He struck out on his own, headed away from the highway and into the brush.  This was the more pleasant side of the bead.

So I am driving home from the gym with the kids in the back in their carseats.  I am nursing a sliced index fingertip thanks to my poor manipulation of a tomato paste can while opening it to add to my crock pot of spaghetti sauce---which later turned out to have been unplugged and uncooked all afternoon.  But I didn't know that yet.  I am answering a yet another in the unending stream of questions from the back when something ba-bumps under my car.  I flick my eyes to the rearview mirror.  Something small is writhing on the street behind me.  "Christ, didn’t we just do this?" I curse in my head.  I’d hit and instantly killed a squirrel by accident that morning, which I still felt bad about.  Gritting my teeth, I make a u-turn and go back.

Someone else has stopped and is looking at the animal in the road.  It is a small brown cottontail rabbit.  Its eyes are huge, dark, wet and alive.  It is breathing so fast.  The exposed musculature of the rabbit’s back and thighs glistens in the sun.  There is much less blood than one might expect upon the live skinning of the side, back and hindquarters of a rabbit.  I think, "I did this," and feel cold in the summer sun.  “Someone hit it,” says the stranger.  “I know.  I did,” I say.  She observes, brilliantly, “It’s obviously in shock, it's got massive internal bleeding.”  I nod.  "Is this woman a vet tech?" I wonder, "Wait, she expects me to take it to a vet?  No vet’s going to take this."  She says there is no wildlife rescue nearby and that she can’t take it.  I say there’s a local vet but she counters,  "It’s after six, no one’ll be there."  We put it on a white t-shirt rag she just happened to have and move it onto grassy central island.  “I can’t kill it,” she says.  I am starting to see what is going to be required.  “I can,” I hear come out of my mouth.  “Okay.”  She leaves.  She can’t watch.  My kids are still in the car.  I go quickly to them and tell them that I hit a rabbit with the car and not to worry, I’ll be right back.  “Where are you going, Mommy?” There's not a lot of mystery in my house and I am truthful with them, “I have to kill it so it won’t suffer any more.”

The grass on the island in the road is strewn with sawdust and some large logs left behind from cutting down the Bradford Pear trees that were damaged in last winter’s massive snowstorm.  I  look for a weapon I could use to swing and bash its skull, having assumed with all the wood that there would be something useable.... Nothing.  All the pieces are unmanageably large.  Dammit!  I need to do this and do it quickly before I thought too much.  Two "tween" boys ride up on their dirt bikes and are staring at the rabbit.  “Maaaannn...”  The are awestruck.  I look them in the eyes and say,”I’m going to kill it so it doesn’t suffer any more.  You’re probably not going to want to watch.”  “How you gonna kill it?”  I hear myself say,“I’m going to break its neck.”  They are somewhere between awe and revulsion.  I hope they leave but don’t look to watch them go.

Instead, I turn and focus on the deed.  The rabbit seems to be hyperventilating, though that may be just regular breathing for a rabbit, not that I'd blame it.  I reach to grasp the rabbit’s head with my right hand, rotating my forearm counter-clockwise before making contact.  The fur is so soft and warm.  The ears protrude between my thumb and index finger.  My other hand (bandaged finger held up and away) braces the rabbit’s body at the shoulders.  I’ve never done this before.  I don't want to do it now but I can't think about that.  I make a quick movement with my right hand, mimicking the quick neck-breaks one sees in movies.  Nothing happens.  Damn.  OK, I’m going to have to “wring it’s neck” like we've all heard is done to chickens.  I twist the rabbit’s head almost 360 degrees, which to me seemed a lot and though I did not feel any cracking, I thought this must be enough.  I held it for several seconds.  I let go, and in so doing realize I’d botched the job.  The rabbit screams.  For the record, a rabbit’s scream is surprisingly similar to the scream of a human infant,  and, as such, is completely gut-wrenching.  Oh God.  OK.  Again.  Grasping.  Twisting.  Much further than last time until yes, there it is, a crunching and popping.  I hold it.  The heart is beating, pulsing under my left hand.  I wait.  It stops.  I let go.  It kicks, but just a reflex.  It is only newly dead and the body takes a few moments to start shutting down.  I am shocked and repulsed by what I’ve just done.  I carry the body to the car and place it on the floor mat under my feet.  I drive home, explaining to myself and my little ones that killing the rabbit was the right thing to do so that it did not suffer any more.  I fervently wish it hadn't suffered the additional terror it had at my hand in my effort to quickly release it from its suffering.

We get home.  I get a shovel.  My daughter wants to see it.  Now, please understand that I used to teach vertebrate biology and somehow I felt that if my kids could learn from this waste of life, that would at least be something.  So my daughter and I examine the rabbit and I point out to her the muscles and blood vessels and how the skin just covered the body and came so easily away.  She is fascinated.  I dig a hole in our front flower garden.  A neighbor boy rides up on his bike and wants to know all about what we were doing.  I tell him what happened and he seems a bit afraid that I really killed the animal with my own hands.  The kids and the neighbor boy and I lay the rabbit to rest in the hole.  "Shouldn't we pray or something?" asks the neighbor boy.  I sigh.  Why can this not just END?  "OK, " I say.  "Is there something you want to say?"  The boy fidgets.  "I don't know."  So I tell the kids that this was a good rabbit that died and that I am very sorry that I hit it with the car and had to kill it, that it hadn't done anything wrong.  I thank God and the earth for the rabbit and say that I hope  there is a bunny heaven and that our bunny is happily bouncing around up there.  I am not insincere.  I do wish this were true even if I don't believe it is.  They seem satisfied and run off to play as I fill the hole.  I stop the neighbor boy and tell him I think his folks would be proud of him for speaking up about praying for the rabbit.  He says, "Nah, I ain't no fool.  I go to church every Sunday.  That was Jesus' rabbit."


  1. When I lived in a townhouse, my roommates put out glue traps. I found the poor little mouse and had to take it out back to kill it humanely. So sad to do. Ugh.

  2. UGH. I hate glue traps. I think PETA is working to get rid of them. I'm having this strange deja vu feeling that I was talking to someone about this in a dream or something... Weird. People like that they're nontoxic, unlike baits, but EW. Suffocation is a nasty way to go.