Bunny Goes to College August 1990
Her eyes widened as she squealed with delight while tearing cellophane off the Easter basket. In the middle of Reese’s chocolate eggs, and pink and green jelly-beans, a nest of yellow straw held a large stuffed bunny. Silky white fur covered a body, wearing a pink gingham apron matching the inside of its long ears. Shiny black button eyes filled a face enhanced with puffy pink cheeks, nose, and a comical grinning mouth. Kim was entranced. Ignoring her favorite treats in the basket, she grabbed the bunny and hugged it to her three- year-old body, swaying back and forth with her eyes closed—the perfect picture of contentment. The basket was a gift from “Miki,” her favorite babysitter.
Miki cared for her from the time Kim was a baby. Miki had eight children of her own, and when the last one went off to school, she was at a loss for what to do with her days until Kim became her “ninth child.” She received invitations to all Miki’s family’s birthdays, holiday parties, picnics, and other special times. Likewise, Miki’s family belonged to Kim as much as her own family did. The gift of the bunny solidified that tie.
Bunny never left Kim’s side after that Easter. It always sat nearby in a doll’s highchair during meals, on the sink at bath time, in Kim’s lap in the car, in its own chair at piano lessons and gymnastics, and on the edge of the sandbox when Kim played with friends in the backyard. The rabbit traveled from one of Kim’s venues to the next, carefully tucked under her arm with head in front, ears flopped down, and the rest of its body dangling in back.
The eminent bunny went in a backpack with Kim to first grade. The classroom was equipped with “cubbies” for each child. The teacher knew that some children needed a nearby reminder of home. Each day when Mom picked her up from school, there was Bunny, neatly tucked into the cubby so that its head and eyes had a perfect view of the room—and of course, Kim could see Bunny. The teacher told Mom that Kim did not seem to need to have the bunny under her arm, just in view.
First grade was a great year for Kim and Bunny. They learned to do homework together. Bunny perched on a chair to watch a beginning ballerina’s lessons and rested on the porch while Kim and her brother learned to ride bicycles in the driveway. Bunny even went on a summer-long family camping trip to the west from their Pennsylvania home. Kim tucked it into her sleeping bag every night, and it rode in a little backpack on Kim’s back every day on hikes to mountain lakes and streams. Its white silky body with the crisp gingham apron, became a bit grungy on this trip as rain mixed with trail dust formed a grey film in the fur, matted and disheveled. Kim was not deterred. In Rocky Mountain Park, Bunny, with its label reading, “To clean, wipe with a damp cloth,” had its first bath in a campground sink with dishwashing detergent and cold water. Bunny, now clean, was transformed: more of a floppy body, snarled beige fur, and a muted-pink shapeless apron. Kim was not put off by the wet soggy mass and tucked Bunny into her sleeping bag as usual despite protests from her parents. Maybe her quivering lip, eyes filling with tears, and her firm grasp of Bunny under her arm let Mom know that it was useless to insist that Bunny be left outside to dry.
Bunny survived elementary school, each year becoming a little more bedraggled, but still traveling to most of Kim’s locations. Bunny went to slumber parties, birthday parties, and Christmas at Grandma’s. When Kim was in fifth grade, a tragedy of immense proportions almost occurred when Kim and family were at Grandma’s during Christmas week. On Christmas morning, Kim awakened to find that Bunny was not in her bed. Frantically, she searched all the bedcovers, under the bed, and in her suitcase. No Bunny. Reaching a state of fearful panic, she rushed to the room where her parents were sleeping. Choking on her words through trembling and tears, she cried, “Bunny’s gone! Where’s Bunny? Help me find Bunny.” Mom slipped on her robe and slippers and began to hunt with Kim. Dad joined in. Even though Santa Claus had come, there was no interest in stockings filled with gifts, only in the desperate search for Bunny. The commotion awakened the rest of the family: brother, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, until finally Grandma poked her head out of her bedroom.
“What’s all the ruckus about? It’s only six AM!”
“Kim’s bunny’s missing,” said Mom with a tone of alarm.
“Last night when I checked on Kim, I found a dirty old blob of a stuffed animal in her bed and I threw it out in the trash. I thought it got in the bed by accident as it was so disgusting,” said Grandma turning up her nose as if she smelled something bad. I will buy a new bunny for you, Kim.”
“Nooooooo. I want MY bunny.”
Dad sprinted to the garage trash can to rescue Bunny. “What a close call,” he mumbled to himself.
Another narrow escape came during a family vacation when Kim was in high school. Bunny was accidently left in a hotel room and was not discovered to be missing until the family arrived at the airport and they were about to board the plane. Kim was inconsolable for the three-hour plane ride. Would the hotel staff find Bunny? Would they keep it for her? After all, it had lost most of its “fur,” both eyes, one ear, the apron, and one leg had been repaired so many times that it was one-half the size of the other. Maybe the cleaning staff would think it had been left behind on purpose. At the first pay phone she came to on the concourse, Kim called the hotel and found that Bunny had been saved and was awaiting a call from the parents of a frantic child. Little did the staff know that the “child” was calling. The hotel agreed to send Bunny by certified mail. When Kim, now seventeen, opened that box, it was as if the greatest treasure in the world was discovered. Like the three-year-old with her Easter basket, she hugged Bunny and swayed back and forth with her eyes closed.
Bunny, unrecognizable as the animal it once was, left home with Kim for the last time when she left for college. It was a bright, blue-sky August day when Kim packed her car with all her belongings as she prepared to drive from Colorado to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. She had shopped for days for all the accoutrements she would need for a dorm room, for new clothes, shoes, music; and she had partied one last time with every friend she had in high school. The car was packed to the ceiling. She flung her backpack over her shoulder and hugged her Mom and Dad good-bye. As Kim turned to step into the car, Mom saw Bunny, worn out and drab, with no eyes, its tired head with one ear, poking out of the corner of the overfull backpack. Kim had grown into a capable, confident young woman, ready for whatever life would bring, yet was still holding on to Bunny, representing, family, comfort, and love.