When Bunnies Go Bad
I felt safe with my little clique of girls. We were (mostly) quiet, each of us scary good at one thing or another, and just intense enough about it that we frightened off the advances of burgeoning boyhood puberty. Not that we were all that interested in them yet, but we had our small crushes that we kept safe within the confines of a cabal fortified by thick books and smarts.
Like most girls of our ilk, we’d read the odd Judy Blume puberty novel if it got a lot of buzz, but we preferred the classics and pre-1980s animal novels like “Lad, a Dog” and “My Friend, Flicka”. It was a book in the latter genre that showed up in C’s book stack first, with its cover showing a peaceful looking rabbit, illustrated in autumnal colors. The illustration impressed me so much that when the teacher yelled at the class I would imagine I was that bunny and tear all over the field beyond, kicking my heels up in joyous freedom.
The book soon moved to M’s books, then to L’s, and finally we were acting out a version of this lapin fantasy every day under the big oak tree during recess. The names sounded so familiar and yet so exotic: Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, Blackberry, Pipkin, Dandelion, Silver, Violet. The game went on forever, and we were always looking for a new place to light because of any little thing: the wind, girls outside our clique getting too close, boys running past, and definitely older kids.
For some reason I didn’t care to read the book, but I was aware that what started as cute little air sniffs and lolling on the grass in the sun slowly evolved into decidedly us-against-them physical play. Eventually I wound up being the same character over and over, and was getting frustrated with playing a game where the same three people came out on top each time (I was not one of those three). One day, someone said something cutting about why they thought I was a good so-and-so, including examples from the book, and I am not proud to remember how bad I was at hiding my hurt feelings.
It was about this time that we got cable and I discovered that the book had been made into an animated movie. I vaguely remember being extra secretive about watching it one day after school before my parents got home, so I can only assume that I’d been told I wasn’t allowed. I had no idea what I was taking on by disobeying them.
Let me just call out my uber square prepubescent self by saying that while I laughed at the Cheech and Chong records my classmates played during art class (still can’t believe our teacher allowed that!), I was terrified by the psychedelic aspects of the movie. Art Garfunkel singing “Bright Eyes” still makes me involuntarily squirm, but as a child with absolutely no personal or artistic frame of reference for what I was seeing, it was ultimately enough to drive me from the room. Add some shocking bunny-on-bunny violence and you have the perfect anxiety storm.
Then again, to blame the level of heebee jeebees I got while watching the movie entirely on the psychedelic gore wouldn’t be honest. What got me was that we six or seven girls played this out over and over again, with nearly the same consequences. I don’t mean that anyone was scarred, blinded, or left for dead during recess, but that the tension I felt in watching that movie was nearly the same as that I felt on the playground with my friends. Forget it being a parable about appeasement and fascism—for me, Watership Down was all about girls working through their aggressions, and learning firsthand how qualified I really was to be a good so-and-so plunged me into a pubescent funk.
I couldn’t talk to my parents about this movie because they’d know I’d disobeyed. I don’t remember talking to my friends about it either. Instead, we began to play basketball but were thwarted when the boys said we weren’t allowed to use the court. I got into a physical altercation with one of them, which, didn’t end well. For him. But that’s a story for a different day.