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A Tale of Third-Grade Blackmail

When hardened criminals are interviewed in A&E documentaries, the first question often asked is, “How did you get here?” Many say that they were introduced to a gateway drug,had a bad family life, or got in with the wrong crowd. My story is a little bit different.

Third grade was a great year for me. I had an awesome teacher, fun classmates, and was finally able to do fun things like have slumber parties and watch Lizzie McGuire. One day, I walked into Mrs. McQuillan’s class at 8 AM and was greeted by a beautiful orange rabbit sitting in a cage right at the classroom entrance. My teacher proceeded to explain that one of my classmates who bred rabbits (insert upstate New York stereotype here) had one to spare and decided to bring it to the class as a gift.

As the weeks went on, the rabbit became acclimated to the rowdy third-grade students and really started to fit in with the group. It would stare at us while we did work and eat grass while we ate overly-processed snacks. Yours truly was assigned to sit right next to its cage during story time. Life couldn’t get much better.

IMG_1779One day, though, I came upon a harsh realization: who took the rabbit home at night? Did it just sit there in the dark, cold classroom all alone? It took all I had in me not to burst into tears right there, so I decided that the only rational thing for me to do was take the situation into my own hands.

About two months into the school year, I decided to execute my master plan. I would wait at school until my teacher left for the day, take the rabbit and the cage out of the classroom, and run to my mom’s car to bring the rabbit to safety. For some reason which I don’t really understand, my mom agreed to this plan. I will never forget the rush of adrenaline I got sprinting down the school hallway toward my mom’s car while carrying with this huge cage holding my newest humanitarian effort. The next day, I came into school early, brought the rabbit back to the classroom, and nobody suspected a thing. I was happy, the rabbit (which I secretly named Sunshine) was probably happy, and it seemed like nothing could go wrong.

One cold winter day, though, something tragic happened. As Mom and I were about halfway to school, after yet another weekend with Sunshine, I looked in the backseat and shouted third-grade Caroline’s version of an expletive: I had somehow forgotten Sunshine at home. Unfortunately for me, I did not have time to go all the way back home or else I would have missed morning rosary, so it was then decided that Sunshine would not be joining the third-grade class of St. Patrick’s that day.

I walked into a classroom already reeling with shock. Nobody had any idea where the rabbit was, or how it (and its cage) had escaped the classroom. That day, I sat in the back of the classroom and acted as cool as I possibly could while sweating profusely through my plaid jumper.

I decided that since the rabbit was already missing for one day, it couldn’t just miraculously reappear without an explanation. This meant that I would have to keep the rabbit at home and never bring it back to school. I don’t know if I realized that this was technically stealing or if I just didn’t care, but the Lewis family now had a brand new addition.

Things did cool down after awhile; the teacher and students eventually stopped talking about the rabbit and life went on as usual. I thought I could go on living my double life as a philanthropist/convict and a typical third grader with no glitches. There was one catch in my plan, though. I had one friend (note: one) who I will call “She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” for the purposes of journalistic professionalism. This friend would come over to my house on occasion, and every time I would take special care to hide Sunshine and his cage in an inconspicuous spot to prevent blowing my cover.

One day, when I left her alone for just a few minutes, she rudely wandered around my house and found the cage. That was an awkward situation. She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named came up with the clever idea to use this secret of mine to her advantage. Every time I would do something even slightly annoying, as I often did at that age, she would threaten to tell the entire class about who really had the rabbit and that Sunshine didn’t somehow manage to escape from the classroom without assistance.

IMG_2446These next three months of third grade were the worst of my life. Living in constant fear, She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named held this secret over my head until the last day of school when I breathed a huge sigh of relief, knowing that I could finally live with Sunshine in peace.

Surprisingly, I ended up having this rabbit for seven years; my dad buried him in the backyard. R.I.P. Sunshine…you were a pretty good rabbit for all those years. Hope you’re doing okay up there in rabbit heaven.

Photos courtesy of the author. Photo One: posed with Sunshine the rabbit. Photo Two: a written statement of events by the author as a young girl.

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