The first time I knew for sure that Zoe was a real animal, and not just a cute puppy, was when she killed and ate the bunny.
That June there were so many of them running around the yard, it was like they were having a convention. She liked to chase them, but even though she was fast, I thought she would never catch one.
And then she did. Before I knew what was happening, she had one about the size of her head in her mouth. She was mercifully fast. I heard it scream, but then it was dead. Down it went, down her gullet. She ate that thing, whole.
I gaped in horror, crying her name, but unable to move. It was like I was watching The Exorcist.
Later she found a little warren of them underneath the iris patch. I tried to stop her, but that would mean not letting her off the lead in our yard. She pulled them out when they were the size of mice and ate them, one by one.
I used to love rabbits as a child and I wanted to keep one as a pet. It made me sad to see those bunnies die.
In time, I got over my horror. Knowing about Zoe's taste for bunny meat helps me remember where she came from. I call myself her "mommy" because I'm over the top in love and love makes us do crazy things, like anthropomorphize our pets. But she reminds me when she can that she is the descendant of wolves.
And she reminds me that dogs are predators, not prey, just like we are, but with different dining habits.
Although when she was very small, she would look up at the sky at circling turkey buzzards and pull at the lead hard, asking to go home and into the house where she felt big.
The first diet I ever went on was at the end of a giant feast on Easter Sunday at my grandparents' house.
We had just moved in, and it was awful. Our mother had lost her job as a secretary and I was trying to get her diagnosed at the public hospital. My sister and I liked the back yard of the house, but we missed our freedom. Our grandfather yelled at us all the time, and we never knew what would set him off. Our grandmother would cheer us up by taking us downtown to Cleveland's shiny department stores to buy us cute outfits.
The message: some people you just can't do anything about. The mentally ill mother. The bullying grandfather. But a cute outfit will do wonders to lift your spirits, especially if you are slim and pretty and look good in everything, as our grandmother told us we did.
Grandma was Jewish, but we weren't allowed to observe Passover. She was an atheist, and Grandpa was Greek Orthodox. He went to St. Theodosious church, near the Cleveland West Side Market, and we celebrated Easter by coloring eggs, getting baskets filled with chocolate eggs and a bunny and jelly beans, and then we would all sit down to a roast lamb dinner that he would cook with garlic and potatoes, with green beans on the side.
I was 13 and I weighed 108 pounds. I decided that Easter that I was fat. I decided that those eight pounds had to go, that 100 had a better ring to it.
I didn't starve myself, but I started counting calories. If I managed to get through three meals that added up to no more than 1,000 calories, I was "allowed" to have some of the chocolate Easter rabbit that had been in my basket that year. I made that thing last for weeks.
In the end, I only lost about three or four pounds. There really wasn't much to lose.
The best part of this period in my life was that I taught myself how to do yoga in one of those 30-days-of-yoga books that made the rounds in the seventies, and I stopped drinking soda for life,(which we Midwesterners called "pop"), and I learned that the thing to do when you are anxiety-ridden from your dysfunctional family and you can't just go in the living room and kick everybody out so you can do yoga is to take your dog on a long walk.
Ginger, the collie/shepherd mix, was my best friend. I told her all my secrets, every one of them, including the names of the boys I had crushes on, and the kind of TV family I wished I could bring her up in.
We would walk up Grapeland Avenue, and then over to the elementary school. On the way there, during the era of the diet, I would stop and flirt with a boy named Phil Lowell.
I was with my friends from Cleveland last summer and we found a picture someone took--who had a camera then? and why would they take our picture?--of me talking to Phil Lowell. I was struck with three realizations. One, that he was a very handsome boy, who looked more like a man than a boy at fourteen: tall, dark, and handsome, with a strong jaw, he was probably shaving already. Two, that I was just right, not fat at all, and not too thin, and I looked more Russian than I remember, because back then I was trying to look like Marcia Brady from The Brady Bunch. I looked a lot like my grandmother, whom I loved, but who couldn't protect my sister and me from all the chaos in our lives. And three, I was sad, very sad, that whoever took the picture didn't include the dog.
I was a textbook case of a girl who needs something, just one thing, in her life she can control, but I'm glad now that I didn't lose too much weight.
What saved me was that chocolate bunny.
Yesterday I went to the grocery store and bought a white plush bunny for Zoe to play with and a chocolate bunny for my husband and me. For Sunday lunch we're having roast lamb. It's not that I'm capitulating and returning to my grandfather's traditions, which were heavy on the meat and fats, but more that my husband has made me appreciate his, and the smell of a lamb cooking no longer makes my stomach turn.
Dr. Thompson, the vet in Vermont who does acupuncture, told me that in addition to eating more turkey and fish, Zoe should eat rabbit.
I laughed when he told me that. And I told him the story about Zoe's killing spree.
When we lived in France, my husband and I ate rabbit every week for Sunday lunch. It was our favorite meal. We'd cook it with cabbage and white beans and pancetta and mustard sauce. I've heard it's also good with olives and pinot noir.
If they sold it here in the North Country, I would buy one and my husband and I would split it with Zoe today.
Maybe we can send Zoe out to hunt for us, but I doubt she would share.
Zoe sees the white bunny on the carpet and gets very excited. She loves plush toys wildly. I take many pictures of her chewing it, trying to dismantle it, but it doesn't have a squeaker so she loses interest soon and wants to go outside. Out into the yard, where animals that run and hide and make noises live.
At this stage of my life, I'm very grateful for all my appetites. I hope they never fade.
And I'm grateful for Zoe's too.
Namaste, gentle readers. And may you feast on many tasty things today, whatever your traditions tell you are good to eat.