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Tuxedo and Charlene

Way back when in another iteration of me in my mid-20s, I was forever moving, rushing, late, stressed, freaked out by all that was on my plate, and adding more by the day. I was unaware then how agitated coffee made me, and drank it daily; I was unaware then how much of my life was on a hormonal roller coaster; and I was unaware then how much Anxiety with a capital A ruled my life. (It was just “my normal.”)

On one of my particularly stressed and rushed days where I’d rushed home from work and rushed to eat dinner and rushed to get out the door so I could rush to go pick up a few people at a couple different spots so we could rush to some evening activity we were doing, I rushed out of my house, fully ready to rush into my car and rush onward to the next things I needed to do when I saw something that made me stop in my tracks: a black-and-white rabbit sat quietly, a few yards from my car.

Long a resident of the Maryland area and intuitively and intellectually aware that black-and-white rabbits were not the natural inhabitants of this terrain, I knew it was someone’s pet. I also knew it could easily be something’s dinner if I didn’t do something, and quick.

So I grabbed the rabbit and put it in my bedroom, then I rushed around the house making “Found Rabbit” signs, along with the land line where I was hoping/assuming the rabbit’s owner would call and leave a message, and I rushed off to tape said signs to a half dozen or so community mailboxes near my home. Then, and only then, did I proceed to rush off to pick up my friends and head off to our evening activity.

A big storm was coming in and the winds whipped and the rains came; and I was ever-so-glad I had found the rabbit and put it inside the house and my bedroom.

But when I came home, there was no call. Nor was there one the next day.

In the meantime I did what I could to keep the rabbit fed and watered. It was clearly someone’s pet, and it was friendly enough. I remember my cat at the time Minnie, upon first seeing the rabbit on a towel on my bed, came up to the newcomer, sniffed a bit, then settled in a couple feet away and slept.

In my mind, I had thought “cats eat rabbits,” and was a bit concerned how Minnie might react to our refugee, but–and it makes sense–cats don’t eat rabbits half as large, or larger, as they are. Plus, Minnie was well fed, so if she wanted fresh herbivore meat, there were smaller, easier-to-kill options such as mice and moles and voles and baby rabbits in the wild. (She once killed a mouse and left on the basement steps a perfectly licked-clean set of lungs, the stomach and one back leg and claw of a mouse. I was impressed with her discernment!)

Perplexed by no phone calls inquiring about a lost rabbit, I went down to the mailbox to check on my sign, only to realize in the rains and the wind (and in an era long before sharpies and permanent markers were cheap and plentiful), I’d used a marker that ran when the paper got wet, and the wind had whipped away several of the not-securely-taped signs I’d hastily posted on the mailboxes.

I think it was my mom who eventually heard through the neighborhood grapevine that some people who lived on the street behind us had a rabbit, and that we might want to reach out to them to see if it was theirs. It was. That’s when I learned our here-just-for-a-bit hare had a name: Tuxedo is what they called him. He’d been a friendly little visitor, and one I was glad I could help for a brief moment in its domesticated life.

assuaged guilt?

Why Tuxedo? Why this story now? Why did this come up for me?

This morning, I was thinking back on my early, early days (to the extent I can remember them), and I was remembering Charlene, the albino guinea pig I “won” in a drawing. A kid in my first-grade class announced he had a guinea pig he was giving away and anyone who wanted it, per the teacher, had to bring in a note from their parents saying they could enter the drawing.

I was psyched. I was excited. I wanted a guinea pig. And I wanted to win.

My ever-so-clever mother wrote my permission slip on a nice piece of stationary with scalloped edges. Whether she said something specifically or my child’s mind figured it out, I knew the scalloped edges would distinguish my note from others written on regular paper. Of the two entrants, my note was picked, and I got to take the guinea pig home. She was a smooth-furred, white, albino guinea pig, and she made cute little sounds, liked to dig around in little crevices all around me, and pooped the not-terribly-offensive-smelling poops of an herbivore.

My parents made a larger cage for her (about a yard by about 2 feet high) with a latched screen opening. She had her wood chips, her water bottle, her food bowl and a little box in which she could sleep in more privacy. Her cage was in the basement. (She probably got a bit cold in the winter. IDK. But she had a warm cozy little area inside her cage, so maybe not.)

I remember one day (probably around age seven or eight, and probably when my parents had told me I had to take more responsibility for Charlene)–upon realizing I hadn’t fed or watered her for over a week–BOLTING out of my chair and downstairs, expecting to find her dead; only to find her, instead, and thankfully, chomping away on some food, alive and with water in her bottle. My child’s brain then appreciated very much that my parent’s brain (most likely my mom’s) was much more aware and responsible about things such as the care and feeding of little things, and for that I was incredibly grateful.

In the warmer months of the year when the grass was lush and green, we’d put Charlene (and later, Rusty, the boy guinea pig we brought in as companion) outside under overturned plastic clothes bins. There they would nibble on grass and weeds, pushing the clothes bin a few inches in different directions to get fresh grass.

I was supposed to watch them. I was supposed to only have them outside when we were outside, when we would sit or play near them. That’s what I was supposed to do.

But in whatever combinations of childhood irresponsibility or (completely undiagnosed) ADD and the distractions that pulled me elsewhere, I forgot. And by the time I remembered and went back out, there was no guinea pig under the clothes basket. (By then, Charlene had died, and we just had Rusty.) Rusty was gone. Whether escaped (and he was good at it) and hiding in a nearby bush, or attacked and gobbled up by something, we never saw Rusty again.

So maybe — and I don’t know — maybe when I saw Tuxedo alone, without his people, on my grass, I saw a way to assuage my guilt for having abandoned Rusty. Or not. Maybe I just saw a black-and-white rabbit–clearly a pet and not from the neighborhood warren–that needed help finding his way back to the people who’d given him a name and cared for him.

These are some of the things and memories on my mind today.




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