Reject, abandon, release

  • Posted on August 9, 2014 at 11:49 am

Velveteen Rabbit in the sackOK, so I had a bad day. Bad night and day actually. I squeaked on Facebook before 5 a.m., probably because I hoped there would be a bit of comfort come my way to help me through. It did, so thank you to everyone who responded in any way at all. It doesn’t matter about the interpretation of the specific advice, being there really is all of it.

To be honest it had been brewing slowly, it was inevitable, and I guess I needed to pass through it. It wasn’t hormones, though maybe going back on oestrogen freed my emotions a bit. It wasn’t about surgery and recovery, though it did create a moment like a stone in a pond, that touched more than just me. It wasn’t about the ‘come down’ from a big event, because, to be horribly honest, this hasn’t felt like such a big event for me. No; it was about a wedding anniversary while I was in hospital. It was about what I still feel for my former wife. It was because it’s her birthday this next week and I can’t say what I really want to say; I can’t go round with a big bunch of flowers without it being misinterpreted or intrusive. I can’t share any of the events that used to bond us through our years. I am not allowed to love. It is not wanted. And I know that I cannot be just another remote occasional friend. Leastways, not until I lose all sense of loyalty, commitment, promise, and love.

About these things I have already written enough. The story is told, and I must stop retelling it. But another story revisited me, quite by chance, and made me think again …


My overwhelming feeling about myself is that I have never been more real, never more authentic, never more complete, than I am at this stage. I have weeks and months of further healing, but all the big stuff is over. This leaves me with an appreciation of self being the best I could be. How could anyone not join me in celebrating that?

Then I recall the Iris Murdoch analysis of love, being: ‘the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real’. So surely love should follow?

Many years ago, my former wife introduced me to a childhood book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. The part that is always quoted, and which I heard on the radio last week, is early on in the book, in a conversation between two nursery toys, the Skin Horse, and the Velveteen Rabbit:

‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. […] once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’

Right then I felt Real, because I felt loved; we had rubbed an awful lot off each other, and it felt permanent. It was a wonderfully-remembered book.

And so this week I fished the book off the shelf to remind myself, and to regret that it wasn’t actually true after all. Instead I came to the understand that this isn’t what the book is about at all. This is page 8, not page 32. No, it is actually a softened tragedy.

Shedding your skin

When I was 12, I contracted and self-diagnosed (yes! no Google in 1969!) scarlet fever. Highly contagious, the rule at the time was still that everything you touch must be sterilised, and everything you wear or play with with should be burnt. The end stage is that your entire skin peels away, and I still clearly remember the sheaths of the ends of my fingers coming away in one piece, unlike the gentle snow from everywhere else. We compromised, and a lot survived with me.

But not so Velveteen Rabbit. In the book, the boy contracts scarlet fever. The loved, the Real rabbit. And it goes into a sack with other toys, down the garden to the shed to be burnt. Velveteen Rabbit must be replaced by a new (not yet Real) rabbit. He is just a toy. Just an infected toy, to be burnt. How can the boy cope with that? Margery Williams knows how.

A few seasons pass, the boy is well again, and goes to play in the woods behind the house. There he sees two rabbits watching him. One is brown all over, the other has strange markings;

‘Why, he looks just like my old Bunny that was lost when I had scarlet fever!’

But he never knew that it really was his old bunny, come back to take a look at the child who had first helped him to be Real.

Somewhere between, the Velveteen Rabbit had met a fairy who had transformed him from a shabby (if Real) toy, into a real rabbit, with real fur, and most importantly of all, with real legs to run and jump with other rabbits ‘for ever and ever’.


The reason for my sudden deep grief this week was that I am the rabbit in the grass, desperate to be recognised as the same rabbit, not just loved, not just Real, but Really Real. With legs. And I am not. Maybe I can only speak Rabbit, and can never be understood, or there will only be a faint reminiscence in shape of my eyes or spots in my fur. What can I say? I’m here. I’m still here. I’m the one who felt Real because you said you loved me. Why can you not see?

The boy did not reject Velveteen Rabbit. Other people knew better than to let him stay. But like Velveteen Rabbit, I do still feel abandoned. It took a bereaved friend by chance to use the word ‘abandoned’ instead of ‘rejected’, for me to realise I feel both. Everyone will have explained to my former wife how right, how normal, how resolving and better it is, to have left me at the bottom of the garden, not even knowing that fairies exist. Infected. Unsafe. Not the same any more.

I guess I’ve had my fairy moment too though, and I just need to run and jump with the rabbits.

And that is the story of why I hit a wall of grief all over again this week. I wish that my reality had led to love, like Iris Murdoch’s observation. But then it is extremely difficult.


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