Necessary Things

By on Dec 2, 2013 in Essays

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Bunny, pink cleat and diamond earrings

Gray Bunny

Before Grace names it, the small stuffed bunny is pale pink with purple dots and wears a lavender bow around his neck. A cherished playmate for my littlest niece, he is clutched close at bedtime and in the car seat. Eventually she learns to introduce him, dangling him by an ear and announcing “Bunny,” giggling at her own ability to speak.  

With so much affection and milk lavished on him, the bunny makes regular trips through the washing machine. Soon the pink fur fades and the original ribbon frays and then falls off, only to be replaced with a rapid succession of other-colored ribbons, as Grace gets better and better at undoing the knots.  

Meanwhile Grace’s vocabulary grows, as does her collection of inanimate friends. She names them all, but the one she loves best is the one she calls “Gray Bunny.” For by now he truly is gray, with only the palest of dots flecking his thinning fur.    

Everyone in Grace’s world learns to take note of Gray Bunny’s whereabouts. In addition to Mommy and Daddy, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and neighborhood babysitters all learn to do Gray Bunny checks on a regular basis. Gray Bunny has to be in the car, beside the pillow, close to the bathtub, or near the kitchen table.  On the day Grace meets her baby brother, Gray Bunny goes along for moral support. Once when she visits cousins in another state, Gray Bunny inadvertently stays home, making bedtime nearly unbearable for the entire household.   

Sometimes Grace goes for an hour without mentioning Gray Bunny. Then she remembers, and her need is urgent. Whenever he re-appears, Grace greets him with “Oh, there you are,” as if they’d been playing hide-and-seek. 

Life without Gray Bunny is unimaginable, or so we all think, until he goes missing for good, left behind who-knows-where on an otherwise ordinary day. Grace’s mommy phones every place they have been on that day, but Gray Bunny is nowhere to be found. Grace is heartbroken at first, although once the initial shock wears off, she handles her loss stoically. For months she speaks wistfully of Gray Bunny, sometimes consoling herself and those around her by saying, “He’ll come back later.” A doll she has named “Fairy Princess Ballerina” steps in to fill the void. A revisionist at three, Grace fondly begins to recall her old friend as “White Bunny,” a hue he never achieved.   


Pink Cleats

One hot-pink soccer cleat, its scuffed toe poking out from under the rumpled bedclothes — all that remains after three satisfying but exhausting days of having my 16-year-old niece as a house guest. I’m left wondering what inspired Erin to bring her cleats on this trip, a visit from her home in California to look at East Coast colleges. It took both of us to wrestle her overstuffed suitcase up the stairs and into my guest room. For all I know she had a soccer ball and goal in there, too. What other clues to her growing-up self were tucked into that lumpy bag?  

When Erin was little we were together often, even though we sometimes lived on opposite sides of the country; I traveled a lot for work in those days, and any time I could stretch a business trip into a visit, I did. We shared family times and invented our own adventures, too — window shopping, tea at a café, stringing beads into jewelry. But then my brother and his family moved to Japan for three years. I’d seen Erin only twice since she became a teenager. Her life was so much bigger now, on the brink of expanding yet again as she made plans for college. How would we be with each other, I wondered before her visit. What would we talk about? I felt almost shy about seeing her again, having her stay in my house.

Within minutes of her arrival, I discover that soccer offers a window into her world. Erin’s sentences are peppered with references to camps, coaches, yellow cards and teammates. In my upstairs hallway, she dangles the bright pink cleats by their gray laces so I can admire them. “These are my favorites,” she announces. Are they talismans for her journey, I wonder, or the opening line to a story she wants to tell? Did she pick them up on her travels to Singapore, or perhaps Hong Kong? She doesn’t explain, she just goes back to the guest room and adds the cleats to the impressive assortment of belongings that has exploded out of her suitcase onto the bed and floor. I’m left to decipher the meaning behind the cleats, while Erin deftly swaps text messages with friends in other time zones.

At the end of our first full day together, Erin sprawls across my sofa, twisting and twirling her long, auburn hair as she describes school projects she’s led. Confidently, she tells me she’s the one her classmates rely on to write, re-write or otherwise polish team presentations. “Good for you,” I say.  (“Be careful,”  I want to say, “there’s a price to pay for being that girl.”) I tell her about my recent decision to leave the company where I’ve worked since before she was born. We talk about finding meaning in work, and in school.  She’s eager for us to watch her favorite movie, Newsies; she just happens to have the DVD in her suitcase. We compare our different ways of being in the world: Erin feels lucky to have lived in many places, but doesn’t really belong to any of them; I have always lived in the same place, give or take a few miles, but relish the opportunities I’ve had to travel for work and for pleasure. We talk until we’re both half-asleep.   

For three days, we look at college campuses, explore Philadelphia, window shop, share meals and visit with the nearby members of our clan. And then she’s gone, as suddenly as she appeared. I call California to let her know she left one of her favorite cleats behind, and to assure her that it’s already on its way to her in the mail. She hasn’t even missed it.   

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Eileen Cunniffe has been writing nonfiction for 30 years -- but the first 25 were without the benefit of a byline, as a medical writer, corporate communications manager and executive speechwriter. Her essays have appeared in journals such as Wild River Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Ascent, Superstition Review, Prime Number Magazine and Imitation Fruit; and in the anthologies A Woman's World Again (Travelers' Tales) and Prompted (P.S. Books). Her essay "Shifting Landscapes" was published in the 2013 Emrys Journal and received the 2013 Linda Julian Nonfiction Award. Read more at: