Her nickname was Bunny but, she was neither soft nor fuzzy. In fact, she was missing any of the traits one might associate with a meek woodland creature. Unless, of course, bunnies smoked Marlboro reds and drank like fish. In which case, then her nickname was spot-on. If bunnies screamed hateful things at little girls and attempted to beat teenage boys with two-by-fours, then sure…she was a bunny.
I privately named her Boozy Floozy or simply, “her.” Sometimes, I even referred to her as “It.” As in, Here It comes, better disappear before It attacks.
Bunny was really only called Bunny during the moments when Happy Hour was still happy, that fleeting bit of time when she and my father neared the end of their first drink and their faces bloomed with smiles, their eyes brightened and everyone became funny. Even Bunny. But happy hour could turn ugly fast.
She hated me. She told me so once with her hand wrapped around my neck while she pressed me against the wall. Bunny leaned in so close that our noses nearly touched. Her mouth was surrounded in tiny creases and fine blonde hairs. The mole above her lip moved as she breathed booze-scented hate into my face through gritted teeth. She was baiting me. Waiting for me to push back, talk back or cry. I refused to give her what she wanted. I was smarter than her. Mostly because I wasn’t drunk.
Bunny wore shiny polyester shirts and colored her short shagged hair an unnatural shade of dark brown that faded into a brassy dull yellow. She spoke with cigarettes dangling from her lip, squinting through the ribbon of white smoke that moved past her eyes. The effect of that habit, paired with her use of profanity and clipped movements, gave Bunny a masculine air.
My hatred for her was just as big, but I was smarter than she was. I was quiet about my revenge. Once, I stood at the refrigerator lazily searching the contents for food a kid might like to eat. How long did it usually take her to get annoyed by this act? When she jumped up from her chair and began to lunge across the kitchen, I held out a jar of her pickled eggs.
“Want an egg?” I asked, “I’m not sure I’d like them.”
She eyed me suspiciously then pulled on a dry smile. “Haven’t you ever had a pickled egg?”
“No. My mother doesn’t make them.”
She turned her back to me and placed the jar on the counter, and I enjoyed watching her reach in and pluck a slippery egg from the juice. I watched her raise the egg to her mouth as she turned to face me again. She took a hearty bite, removing the top half of the egg and while she chewed, I watched her mole move up and down.
“So, what are they pickled in?” I asked.
“Vinegar and garlic,” she answered as she swallowed, “You have to let them sit for a month. I just opened this jar.”
“I like vinegar.”
“Are you going to eat one or not?” she was becoming impatient with my indecision.
“No, thank you.”
There was no way I was going to eat one of those eggs after I peed in the jar.
Bunny had a violent streak. She once locked my brother out of the house when he didn’t come home by 11:00 and, when he went into the barn to sleep in his car, Bunny attacked him in the dark with a 2×4, aiming for his head. Bunny was dangerous and mean and anything might have set her off.
One day I locked her in the pantry after she ranted about something like, I’d let the cat inside or I’d dipped a celery stalk in the mayonnaise after refusing to eat the liver and onions she cooked for dinner. She mostly ranted because my presence infuriated her. She ranted because it was nearing the hour that she’d pour herself the day’s first drink. She ranted because I was my father’s daughter.
I don’t remember now what it was that she drank, I just know that her violence gave birth to my own. Her hate fed my hate. I feared her and I wanted her dead. Or I wanted to die.
I moved in with my father in November, 1981, just hours after I’d run away and hid in a drainage pipe than ran under the Northway. As the day grew cooler and the late-autumn sun grew faint, I was forced out of hiding. I sat in the same room with my mother and father, a rare occurrence, and informed my mother that I hated her. An hour later I was in the passenger seat of my father’s State Police car with all of my worldly belongings. I chose him in the hope of finding a place where I fit or to recapture that beautiful solitary innocence that I had enjoyed on our farm. It didn’t take long to realize that Bunny had stolen all hope.
Now, Bunny stalked into the pantry with her cigarette dangling from her lips and began shuffling the mushy canned vegetables that she’d force me to eat at dinner. Suddenly, the thought of her taking pleasure in making me eat something that was purposely inedible, enraged me. Her back was turned when I shut the door and turned the lock. Nearly in unison, the lock moved into place with a loud click and Bunny quickly turned. Through the glass and a veil of smoke, she glared at me with narrowed eyes. “You’d better open that fucking door,” she spat.
My response was stony silence. Now that I’d turned that lock, I was forced to commit to my bad choice. She’d kill me if I let her out.
The cigarette was back between the fingers of her right hand and she used it to punctuate the jabbing motions she made while she growled, “Open…the…fucking…door.” Her eyes fixed on mine like an animal assessing its prey. Her upper lip began to quiver, causing the ugly mole that lived there to dance. I knew that I risked her punching through the glass to get out. She was crazy enough to throw her fist through a window in order to get me and it was a chance I was willing take for the sake of my own hatred. Knowing my chances for survival were better if she couldn’t see me, I slowly backed out of the kitchen. I returned her fury-filled stare with my own wordless challenge. If she escaped before my father returned home, she would do something to harm me. Suddenly, I realized my gamble was foolish since sometimes, my father didn’t come home at all.
The heel of my right foot met the threshold of the kitchen doorway and slowly, I closed the door on her rage-filled stare. I’d vowed I wouldn’t show fear in her presence but, when the silence was broken by the sharp click of another door closing, I jumped. Her spell was broken. I whirled and ran through the woodshed into the yard. Without slowing, I ran into the tall grass of the field and didn’t look back. I didn’t want to know if she was watching me. For hours I wandered the woods behind my father’s new house, waiting for the sun to dip low enough in the sky to tell me that he might be home.
It seemed running had become my most effective method of escape. I ran, hoping to block it all out and outrun Bunny. I was still holding out hope for a magical doorway to appear and some beautiful, loving creature to invite me to the other side. On the day that I locked that evil woman in the pantry, my innocence was waning. In less than one year my life had irrevocably changed. I’d come to understand that the people who were my parents were not the people I thought they were.
If you could have peered into the house on Coon Hill Road, you might have seen her sitting alone. A girl with long brown hair, too thin and serious and always holding a book in her lap. She had lived most of her short life that way, trying to feed her insatiable curiosity with words. The things she knew weren’t taught to her by her family, but by the characters in the books she read. She was surviving. If she thought too hard about the number of years she had to endure before she’d be able to leave, she cried. She didn’t know where she would go.