I spent a lot of my life afraid. My mother, an alcoholic and belligerent drunk, abused my brother and I when she got going. It wasn’t always physical, of course, but being tormented by your mom is never a pleasant experience, and for the most part, “I’m sorry” or “I did the best I could” doesn’t really do a lot to heal the injuries and repair the psyche. On the other hand, I’m an adult and a product of my own making now. But then? Back then I became a jack rabbit.
Jack rabbits are kind of common where I grew up. I mean, not like dead raccoons here, of course, but you’d spot ‘em once in a while. Not too often or the turkey buzzards or hawks might dine fine, but once in a while, if you found a field which hadn’t been disturbed too often, you’d see one sitting on his haunches munching on the weeds growing in tiny, pathetic hassocks. The desert-hot summers ran nine months and eventually they’d come out looking for water and food and had to tough it out on the scrubby little patches of wild hardy things that made a living there.
The town is too busy for coyotes and has been for a while. Most the jack rabbit had to worry about were dogs, cars, and kids. Yeah, the hawks and buzzards too, but mostly kids and cars and the guy who thought it was funny when his dog went after a jack rabbit.
But they sat on their haunches in the yellow, gritty clay and stared so wide-eyed you could see the whites. The noses twitched hummingbird-heartbeat fast, the whiskers dancing and jerking in the air. They perked ears high and spun them, satellite dishes attuned to every sound, every snap of twig, every crunch of gravel, no matter how distant. Cars coming by on the busy road made them flatten, shrink their bellies tight to the dirt, bug-eyes darting. Slowly, so slowly, they’d rise up, ears working to and fro, nose jerking and whiskers whipping. Chewing the whole while.
Shadows cause them to bolt. A moving shadow is looming death for jack rabbits, and they tear faster than bullets in a cloud of dust at the slightest hint of motion.
Jack rabbits run from a lot, and they freeze for everything. It’s how they survive. Don’t move, don’t be seen, and run like hell if you have to. That’s a jack rabbit’s life. The only thing lower on the food chain than you is the field mice and insects, and they got a better chance of getting away than you do if the predator’s larger than a garter snake.
I became a jack rabbit for most of my childhood. Everything scared me, and I froze whenever I got scared. Then I’d bolt when I had to. I can’t remember even why I bolted, but I always bolted. But not before I froze. Maybe, if it just can’t see me…
For a brief time, as a young man, I left the jack rabbit behind. I became bold, brave, fearless. Relentless and confident, I carried myself like a predator instead of like prey. And other people knew it. They steered clear. They didn’t trifle with me because there oozed a sense of dangerousness, a sleeping rattler or a still crocodile. Even when they’re not large, they’re lethal. I got confident in my confidence and then I got lazy. And then…
Over the weekend, I learned some things about myself. I thought I outgrew the jack rabbit, and I thought I outgrew being frightened by every shadow, every whispering breeze, every face and shape and moving shadow. Truth is, I’m not. I’m not done being that jack rabbit little boy, intimidated and scared and feeling jittery, skittish, weak and afraid. I’m not through freezing at the first sign of fear, the heart palpitating, and ears attuned to the slightest of sounds. I can’t bolt like I used to anymore, and I guess somewhere inside I’m sure that makes me lunch for something bigger, stronger and faster soon.
I miss the time when I wasn’t a jack rabbit. I wonder if those tawny, tense rodents dream of being unafraid when they finally sleep the exhausted sleep of the fearful.
I certainly do.