Some days I spend too much time daydreaming. I indulge in a little nostalgia, but not too much, or I get back to the tender part of my brain. The part where the memories are embedded in scar tissue and the gentlest prod will leave me reeling for days. Some of these badly healed memories are just blurs, a particular feeling or face I can't forget. But some of them are eternally preserved in immaculate detail, all the better to peruse when I lay sleepless at 3 in the morning. One such memory is particularly clear, from years ago when the summer days were endless and dripped with sun-warmed honey and sparkling creek water. I must have been six or seven.
It was just a dent in the ground, lined with grass and dandelions. Five tiny rabbits were nestled inside, one on top of the other, undeveloped eyes still closed off to the world. They felt warm and soft and wriggly in my hands. Nobody else in the world knew about my find yet, but that would soon change. After placing them carefully back into their den I sprinted back up the gravel tractor path on bare feet calloused from many long days of similar activity. Across the brick patio, up the steps, over the lawn, onto the porch, and I burst into the kitchen with a face beaming with the news I couldn't wait to pour out on my mother.
"I found some baby bunnies in the goat pen and they're really soft!"
She smiled absently and told me not to pet them. It was better, she said, to let them be. Wild animals were better off not bothered by my unforgivably human hands.
Of course I said I wouldn't pet them, and of course I did. The next few days were wonderful, a secret adventure of sneaking off to play with the tiny creatures nestled down in their mossy abode. I probably had names for each of them, but I can't remember them now. In any event, the idyllic fairy tale was soon shattered. And this is where it gets to the scar-tissue memories.
We'd gotten a puppy the year before. A German Short-Haired Pointer. When he wasn't rustling around in the woods of our extensive property, he was following people around, tongue lolling out in a ridiculous grin. He followed me to the goat pen that day, and I thought nothing of it, mind already lost in the tiny den of warm, furry bodies. I swung through the gate and flew over to the nest, where I scooped out the rabbits one by one. And then the dog noticed what I was doing. Ears perked up, eyes ablaze, tongue lolling delightedly, he bolted towards me with one obvious purpose. The bunnies scattered. They were just old enough to run for their tiny lives, but that would not be enough.
I have, in my life, had a few occasions where something went so horribly wrong that my limbs all seemed to belong on somebody else's body, because I'd certainly forgotten how to use them. It was in that state of complete shock that I watched every one of my little pets being snapped up and cracked in two, shedding blood and fur on the sun-warmed grass. To this day their pitiful squeaks are permanently etched into my eardrums.
I cried for hours after that. I remember my mother finding me on the steps and sitting beside me to expound upon how much I shouldn't play with wild animals, and I remember avoiding the goat pen for days. But somehow, the sharpest detail of the successive days and weeks in my mind is the throbbing realization that it was my fault. If I'd left them alone there would have been five more rabbits in the world, healthy and untouched by canine tooth. I suppose I grew up a little in those days. A new emotion was within my capabilities: guilt. But in the end it healed over, buried by much bigger problems and more recent scars, only to be revisited on a particularly nostalgic day.