This is Tana. He is our bunny, named after the great Tana Umaga, former All Black now Auckland Blues coach. Tana adopted us last September. The previous February, a kind stranger found him injured on the road and took him to the SPCA. His injuries left him a bit handicapped. When he gets excited, his head bobbles and his back legs don’t always work properly. And he’s missing the tip of one of his ears. But because he was so dependent on his marvellous caretakers at the Wellington SPCA, he is very cuddly and gives lovely Tana kisses. He loves parsley, carrots, and — of course — KALE. He won’t touch snow peas or any kind of fruit. He doesn’t trust other bunnies, but he trusts us.
Tana’s favourite way to spend the day is outside, in his Tana Tunnel. I don’t know exactly what he does there, but I think it involves a good deal of lounging and nose wiggling.
Tana’s rabbit hole — which is multicoloured and made of ripstop nylon — is his happy place.
I have spent much of the past two months down my own rabbit hole, which is not multicoloured and which is the opposite of my happy place. It is foggy, confusing, and lonely.
My slide down the rabbit hole started in October, with the death of my beloved friend, Kline Howell.
In November, there was the US presidential election, which didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. Enough said about that.
Later in November, we had to euthanise our stoic and much adored Shakespeare. He was nearly 17 — a good innings for a dog. Still, our hearts broke. I was far away, in Laos. I attended his passage via FaceTime, but I didn’t get to hug him goodbye. All the photographs I took that day were out of focus.
And then there was Christmas.
Christmas, for me, is an ordeal. I didn’t always feel this way. When I was a child, my Christmases were magical. My Father the Pumpkin Scrooge was, come December, Father Christmas. He made door decorations, hung lights indoors and out, and made me some of the most wonderful Christmas gifts a little girl could wish for. And Mom baked — cookies, Christmas stollen — and sewed — stuffed animals, Barbie clothes, and all manner of Christmas decorations.
When I grew up, Christmas might have been a bit less magical, but it was no less joyful. We three spent many a Christmas Eve listening to Tony Bennet and Mel Torme holiday CDs, watching the Atlanta Cathedral Midnight Mass, and opening Christmas presents. Dad and I opened ours carefully, with our pocket knives, so as not to tear any paper. It drove Mom right round the bend.
Dad didn’t build me Christmas presents anymore, but he found strange and wonderful ones, mostly from the Nature Company Christmas catalogue. There was the giant, inflatable Egyptian Mummy. And the collection of rubber wildlife noses — duck, rabbit, pig, shark, and wolf. And the silver dolphin earrings, which I still treasure.
I treasure the giant inflatable mummy, too. Sadly, it got bit by a dog and lost its inflatableness.
And then dementia came to our family. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, it pointed to a future without Merry Christmases. But, unlike Mr. Scrooge, I found there was absolutely nothing I could do to change that future. There was no happy ending. When my parents died, so, for me, did Christmas.
Of course, everyone knows that some people get sad at Christmas. But until I was one of those people, I didn’t really understand how painful and lonely it is when, at a time when everyone else is full of joy and love, all you can feel is pain and loss.
I started going down my own rabbit hole to keep the joy and merriment at arm’s length.
I expected that when I moved to New Zealand, where Christmas falls in summertime and hence lacks most of the environmental triggers that I’m used to — dark nights brightened by Christmas lights, cold weather, even, occasionally, snow — it would be easier. In some ways, it is. And Simon, like me, is inclined to ignore Christmas. But Christmas is still Christmas, even in the Antipodes.
And, it turns out, in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Hanoi has Black Friday sales and a whole street devoted to nothing but Christmas decorations. Who knew?
You can’t escape Christmas music: in hotel lobbies, TV commercials, at the grocery store, even on Jesse Mulligan’s Afternoons on Radio NZ. What’s my favourite Christmas album? The ones that are packed up until next year.
So I go down my rabbit hole where joy cannot reach. No Christmas joy. But also, no joy from playing music. No joy of cooking. No joy from blogging. No joy from playing with dogs or chickens. In the rabbit hole, it is foggy and blah. No joy. No pain.
Now that Epiphany is in the rearview mirror and the New Year’s sales are coming to an end, I’m starting to poke my nose out of the rabbit hole. And there are exciting times ahead.
I will pick up my accordion again.
I will sew Raggedy Anns.
I will start teaching cooking classes — watch this space.
I will keep drawing portraits, self and otherwise, to honour Kline.
I will train to run the Angkor Wat Half Marathon in December.
I will visit the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu with my Sweetheart.
I will return to Athens to celebrate my Dad’s life of teaching and scholarship.
I will let colour and joy back into my life, until next December.
Or maybe not. Maybe next December, I will learn from Tana and redecorate my rabbit hole to make it a safe, colourful, and happy place filled with music. Just not Christmas music.
Perhaps I will find a way to wish myself a very merry un-Christmas.