My dad and I have a history of rescuing rabbits. When we lived in Greensboro, North Carolina, a lot of land near our house was still undeveloped, and wild creatures thrived. We called the land simply “the woods,” and as a young child, the woods seemed something akin to heaven. Human influence on the woods became increasingly apparent, and the year before we moved to Kansas, a mother rabbit lost her life on the main road near our house. Her babies hopped frantically out into traffic, a horrific sight my dad spared me, but he came home with a sad, distant look on his face and left with a plastic bucket. A few minutes later, he returned with a bucketful of baby bunnies.
The young rabbits we cared for in North Carolina were like small versions of the adults— strong, slender, and covered in brown fur. Their ears stood at attention, and the insides were pink and soft. Many years and many state lines later, when my dad told me about another dead mother and the baby bunnies he’d found shivering by the road while walking his dog, I envisioned a repeat of my childhood adventure. As I stuffed a cardboard box with soft pillowcases, I imagined sneaking up on the foundlings and snatching them one by one until they were safely in my box and on their way to the wildlife sanctuary. I drove to the vacant lot where he said he’d hidden them in the tall grass. I wondered if I’d find them alive or dead.
I really didn’t have time to rescue rabbits— or anything else—which was a stark reminder of how shitty adulthood can be. As a kid, rescues were straight-forward. A baby animal alone, trembling near a busy road? Duh. I’d rush to help it, and whatever else was on my mind melted away until the little creature was safe. But as an adult, as I parked my truck along the curb, I thought about our taxes, climate change, an upcoming anthology deadline, and everything else that wasn’t furry and cute and helpless. I caught myself almost hoping the rabbits had hopped away to safety on their own. As I slammed the door of my truck, I shook my head in disgust at myself. When did saving a life become inconvenient?
I scanned the vacant lot for brown fur or movement or pink ears taught like antennae. I walked the property lines and pushed clumps of tall grass aside, waiting for a small rabbit to spring from its hiding place. Wind blew a few of the taller weeds, but otherwise I was surrounded by stillness. They aren’t here, I thought, suddenly very sad, like the kid I was when my dad first told me about the dead mother rabbit in North Carolina. I walked back to my truck and called him to ask for exact directions to the patch of grass he’d left the bunnies in, even though I was sure they were long gone. He told me to look in the tall grasses near the left front edge of the lot, in the shadow of a construction fence. I’d already looked there, but made one last go of it anyway.
I squatted, not my favorite thing to do because of a longtime back problem, but it was the only way to get a closer look. I thought I might at least see some pellets or another sign that the bunnies had been there and moved on. As I parted a tangled clump of grass, a tiny, dark gray head raised up toward my fingertips. I’d found them after miraculously not stepping on them, and they were tiny— nothing like the bunnies of my childhood. These three couldn’t even open their eyes yet. I heard myself say Holy Jesus aloud, then scooted my hands under the trembling bundle of fragile babies. They were so tiny that they couldn’t sit up, couldn’t hop, couldn’t really do anything on their own. I carefully put them on the pillowcases in the box I’d brought and cranked the truck to drive across town to the wildlife sanctuary. I wasn’t sure they’d survive the trip, and when I saw their box vibrating violently from the rough ride, I pushed down on its edges to steady it and apologized to the babies, hoping that I wasn’t wrong when I thought I saw them still breathing.
The rabbits and I made it to the sanctuary, and I carried their cardboard home through the door and softly laid it on the check-in counter while a vet tech took my information. He walked to the exam room with the bunnies before I could say goodbye, but it was absurd to say goodbye to barely-beyond-fetal wild animals anyway. He thanked me for rescuing them, I thanked him for doing what I knew was not an easy job, and then, as I was halfway out the door, I asked the question I wasn’t sure I wanted answered. Are they going to make it?
He said they had a good chance, since they were uninjured and I’d gotten them quickly, before the fire ants and glaring Florida sun found them. I walked outside into the increasingly stifling heat and thought again about taxes and climate change and deadlines. My back hurt from squatting and I felt old. The pillowcases looked boring and pointless inside the box without baby bunnies snuggling into the folds.
Good luck, guys, I said as I started the truck and steered it toward my accountant’s office. I couldn’t remember where my dad had taken the bunnies of my childhood after we’d fed them lettuce and offered them water, but I suddenly ached for that time again, to run my fingers along their soft brown fur while my dad made all the adult decisions. I pulled onto the interstate and readied an apology for my tardiness. Sorry I’m late, I’d say to the receptionist at the account’s office. I had to help some baby rabbits and when I held them against my chest and felt their tiny heartbeats, I forgot to give a damn about our taxes.