We had been living in our house for less than a month when we first saw him. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t imagining him. A big floppy eared, orange bunny rabbit, the color of a tabby cat, sprawled out in our back yard, lazily munching away on the clover. He seemed like a character from Alice in Wonderland come to life in our little suburban paradise, someone’s pet rabbit that had heard the call of the wild, and decided to go native. So I named him Buck, after the dog from Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”.
He became a constant presence on our street that summer, hopping through the bushes with the wild rabbits that overran the neighborhood. The little girl next door used to set out carrots and lettuce for him. I would sit on our patio in the evenings, and watch him as he lounged about our beds of clover. Back then, most of our “grass” was clover. He liked the white blossoms the best, and would move about chewing on them without a care in the world. I wondered what thoughts ran through his little brain. I wondered if he knew that he was in any way different from the other bunnies. If he knew he was somebody’s pet store Easter Bunny, now living in the wilds of suburbia.
Buck brought a fairy tale quality to that summer, as we went about taming the wilds of our overgrown yard, and settling into our new home. He became a comforting presence, a sort of omen that our life together was going to be nothing but rainbows and unicorns.
As summer slipped by, and fall loomed in the distance, we got busier and busier with our wedding planning. When there were wedding showers and parties to be hosted, Buck would always make an appearance. It was as if he loved the attention. I was always more than happy to tell the tale to friends and family as they marveled at the site of him hopping across the yard.
As summer, was ending, and fall was approaching I began to wonder how he would handle the winter. Would he snuggle into a den with the wild rabbits, and live the winter out in cozy, Beatrix Potter style warmth? I would never find out the answer to that question. One afternoon, we looked out our front window and saw him lying in the driveway, twitching. I ran out to see what was wrong. There was no sign of a wound, or of any injury. He just lay on his side with one eye looking up at me, wild with fear. I put my hand down onto his furry belly, and felt the quick beats of his heart.
I didn’t know what to do. He was shaking with fear, and his legs were twitching, I tried to lift him up onto his feet, but he couldn’t stand. I was distraught. He wasn’t a pet, he wasn’t my rabbit, but I could feel a knot in my throat. As he lay on the pavement, fleas began crawling out of his fur, like rats from a sinking ship. Nature knows the smell of death.
I put on a pair of work gloves, and carried him into the shade of the pine tree. He was dying, and there was nothing I could do. I knelt on the ground by him, watching, and waiting. I knew that he was suffering, and I knew that the humane thing to do would be to end it. But I couldn’t. It tore me up. I have never willingly killed another creature. It was ridiculous. I am a man. It is my job to be the killer. It is my role to be death when nature will not do the job.
I am ashamed to say it, but I couldn’t do it. I felt so sick I wanted to throw up. It gutted me to see him suffering, and yet I was helpless in my cowardice. In the end, a close friend who was visiting that night, took him out back, and ended it for me. I felt so emasculated. In the morning, as a misty rain fell, I took his lifeless body and buried it beneath a patch of clover in the yard. He lays there still, a reminder of my own mortality and domestication.