Once upon a time, I was a pale, pale pink, and I had a little checkered bow tie.
I’m not really pink anymore. Now, I am the softest grey. I have zig-zags on my tummy and my tail has been re-attached twice. Some of my stuffing has fallen out, so I’m not as plump and round as I once was.
Someone gave me to a boy named Jack when he was just two weeks old. I was not the present itself, but I was tied to the box with a ribbon around my ear. The mom opened the present and she oohed and aaahed over what was inside, and later that day she sat me on the white rocking chair in the room with two cribs.
He named me Bunny.
Or rather, they named me Bunny. The mom and the dad and at the time, the bigger brother who was just toddling around on two skinny, unsteady legs.
They named me for him, because he couldn’t talk.
Jack, look! It’s Bunny! Do you want Bunny?
He never answered them, but he always reached out his chubby arms to hold me. He loved me from the very beginning, even if the world around him was confusing and loud and scary.
Or maybe he loved me from the beginning because the world around him was confusing and loud and scary.
When he still didn’t talk they took pictures of all of his favorite things; a bowl of Cheerios and a DVD he liked and me. This way, he could point to the pictures instead of screaming.
For a while the mom didn’t like me. Partly this was because I was the first sound she’d hear in the morning. I had a little jingly thing inside of me that made a sound when I moved.
Jack would stand in his crib at 4:00, 4:30, 5:00 in the morning and shake me until I rattled. When she heard me, she knew. She knew he was up and her longest morning followed by her longest afternoon and a terrible evening would begin all over again.
When Jack was in preschool, my tummy got a little hole in it. The thought maybe they should take me away at this point, and have Jack give me up—the way a child gives up a pacifier or a sippy cup.
They were still trying to decide when they had to go to a big meeting at the school, with teachers and therapists. The mom told everyone about Jack’s favorite bunny.
Then with a small smile, the mom admitted the real reason she wanted to take me away.
I can’t stand to hear the rattle, it drives me crazy.
And at the long table in the small room, one very smart teacher with yellow hair and a big smile made the smallest suggestion.
How about if you just take out the rattle part?
So that’s what they did. Before they stitched the hole in my tummy, they removed the small white disc that was covered in netting, the one that jingled if someone moved me.
The mom couldn’t bring herself to throw the jingle-disc away, so she put it in the top drawer of an armoire with a bunch of other random things; napkin rings and tea lights and permanent markers. And I stayed with Jack.
One time the mom and dad had a loud argument.
I was sitting inside of a suitcase because we were all going to something called a wedding. Nestled amongst the t-shirts and the socks, I could hear their voices rising and falling.
Why can’t you—
Let me finish!
Jack ran to the suitcase and opened the zipper with his clumsy four-year old fingers—the same fingers that practiced stringing beads on a string and molding play dough into long, skinny snakes so his fine motor skills could improve—and he dug around until he found me.
They stopped their loud words for a minute and looked over at their quiet child, clutching his pink Bunny in his arms. They felt bad.
For the longest time, I went wherever he went; to restaurants and the library for story hour and into the Post Office to buy stamps.
One time, the entire family spent almost two hours looking for me in the house. They looked in drawers, and in the bathtub, and behind the couch. The whole time Jack howled and shrieked.
The dad turned to the mom and said, “Did you ever imagine we’d spend our tenth wedding anniversary looking for a stuffed rabbit?”
They laughed and laughed but the laughter had an edge to it, like the blade of a skate on cold, smooth ice.
(I was in the hamper the entire time. The small round boy put me there by mistake when he scooped up his wet towel after his bath.)
After that the mom decided I should stay in the bedroom, on Jack’s bed, because she was afraid I would get lost. She even tried to find a back-up Bunny in case I got left somewhere, but Carter’s didn’t make me anymore.
I do go away on trips though. I have been to Disney and to Texas, to Turks and Caicos, and to water parks and one time, on a ski weekend in Vermont.
I don’t actually go on the rides or ski, of course. As soon as we all get to the hotel, Jack takes me from the suitcase or the carry-on bag and places me gently on the bed he’s chosen for himself. It is part of his routine, the same way he unwraps all the soap and tests to make sure the phone works.
Every night Jack curls up in his bed with six pillows—it must be six or he gets frantic—two blankets, and he holds me tightly. He rubs my little nubby tail between his thumb and his finger until he drifts off to sleep.
Jack’s Grandma has had to sew my tail back on twice. Her house smells like garlic and tomatoes and bread.
When he holds me after a long day at school, I feel the way fear and fight wrestle together within his beating heart.
See, he has anxiety, and it’s kind of like a spotlight at a Broadway musical. It is constantly roaming and moving and changing where it shines, harsh and bright.
When he was six he worried about the wind chill factor.
Then Brazilian spiders, and soap that was foamy, and orange detour signs on the road.
Lately it’s been me, Bunny.
He worries about me all the time now. He dreams up all kinds of scenarios in which I could get lost or hurt. He asked his mother to help him stop the worry.
Mom if I lose him. I am too scared to lose him. I want my brain for to stop this. I think all the time about losing Bunny.
About a week ago the mom opened the top drawer in the armoire. She was looking for a candle, and as she shuffled all the stuff around, she found my jingle-disc. It was wedged under a box of pencils.
She took it out and held it in her hand and rubbed it between her thumb and her forefinger, the same way Jack rubs my tail at night. She shook it gently to hear the small bell inside.
She considered how, looking back, it was really never about the jingle. It was about a small boy who would not talk, who did not point to the bird or sleep through the night or return her motherly hugs.
And how that small boy became a big boy who does not point to the bird and sleep through the night and rarely, so rarely, will he return her motherly hugs.
She thought about all the things she would do over again; all the mistakes she made and is still making.
All the times she didn’t go to him when she heard him rocking in the dark in his bed down the hall.
All the times she gritted her teeth so she wouldn’t scream, or walked out of the room in a barely restrained rage.
All the time she stood balanced on autism’s ceaseless teeter-totter, with one foot on progress and change, and the other on comfort and love.
All the times she turned her back to him, even though he needed her most.
I may be full of cottony-soft stuffing, and my eyes are embroidered on my face, but I am so much to this boy and his autism.
I am comfort in the moments she falters. I am safety when things are loud.
I am every sleepover he never had and every friend he can’t figure out how to make. I am his ear for secrets and his tissue for tears. I am the uncomplicated hug.
For him, I am home.
I am his Bunny. And maybe I wasn’t the actual present, but for nearly twelve years, I have been a gift.