From my perch on a park bench I sit and watch my daughter age. We are at the playground near the farmers’ market and Pickle (her nickname) and a friend are taking turns at a baby swing. They are 10 years old, much too big for this swing, and are forcing their long legs into the holes and getting stuck. I walk over and dislodge them.

A small toddler looks on, his wordless wonder encapsulated in an outstretched pointer finger as if to say, “what gives, that is my swing.”

I tell Pickle and her friend to move on to the tire swing to give the little guy a chance. But the toddler follows them and looks eagerly at the big girls and their play. After asking his mother if it is okay, I lift him onto the tire swing and gently push the three of them. 

Pickle gives the little guy a pat and assures him that I am a good and responsible daddy and no harm will come to him, which pleases me. But it also gives me vertigo. In a manner of minutes, I have traveled in time, from Pickle’s years in the baby swing, to the more mature tire swing, and now to her actions as a compassionate 10-year-old. 

We moved to the Vineyard when she was a baby. Now, a decade of life on the Island is packed into her small body, the years both impossible to measure and vanishing as quickly as a lap around the playground. Once when she was six years old, I told her she was the perfect age and she should stop getting any older. It was a joke, I thought, delivered in a cavalier dad-loves-his-daughter tone. Later I found her burrowing into her mother’s lap, crying about disappointing me because I did not want her to grow up but she had no choice. 

Since then I have tried to keep my heart on pause with regard to her getting older. But in the park, my heart swells at her compassion. It also breaks a bit but not because I have begun to see glimpses of the woman my little girl will become, although that is true too. Rather it is because I have bad news to give her and I have been stalling. On the way to the park I found out the half-wild/half tame rabbit that had come to be our pet, albeit a pet unlike any other, had died.

The next chapter: Artichoke and Pickle at Lucy Vincent Beach. — Timothy Johnson

It is every parent’s nightmare, revealing the death of a furry loved one. In this case it is even more complicated, and easy to avoid, as the rabbit was not really ours. Often weeks would go by without us seeing Alex, our name for the bunny which also answered to Honey, Hey You and Sir Hides a Lot, names other neighbors gave her (or him as the sex was also debated among the neighborhood).

I could stall and stall some more and then when Pickle asked, I could say I guess Alex met a friend and moved on. It would be so easy, but I have learned the words easy and parenting can often be detrimental when paired together.


We first met Alex about two years ago when she burst forth from under a rhododendron bush on the perimeter of our yard and ran toward us as we emerged from our car. It must be rabid, I thought at the time, this overtly friendly bunny racing to, rather than away from, us. Then it sat patiently at our feet while we scratched it behind the ears and petted its large hind legs.

It had the markings of a domestic rabbit, orange with white spots unlike the pack of grayish brown bunnies who scattered when they saw us. And yet it survived out there in the woods, visiting us through the winter and the following spring.

Once a thoughtful neighbor caught the bunny and took it to the shelter, thinking it too tame to be wild, not knowing it had several owners in the community. The neighbor mentioned it to me, wanting to make sure it wasn’t Pickle’s.

“Not exactly, but sort of,” I said, then drove to the shelter to retrieve Alex and set her free in the neighborhood once again.

Another neighbor conducted morning meetings in his driveway, giving his construction crew their assignments for the day. Alex sat at his feet during these talks, sort of like an assistant manager making sure the message was heard.

All pets are loved but we in the neighborhood agreed there was something special about the one who comes and goes and requires no work or cleanup. Each visit was magical because we never knew when she would arrive and how long she would stay. I did find out eventually the true owner lived not far from us. She told me Alex had been purchased at the pet store but kept picking the lock on the outdoor pen. Then when the lock was fortified, she tunneled under the fence to freedom, at which point the family decided to let her come and go at will.


It is now a week later and still I have not told Pickle the news. I think she knows, like she knows the tooth fairy is really her delinquent dues-paying dad (tardiness to the pillow will do that) and Santa too is a construct, but one she plays along with because she knows it makes me happy. Perhaps, like me, she is stalling, not wanting to make me sad.

While I stall I sit in my basement office reading my wife Cathlin’s sermon. It is Saturday afternoon and she will have to deliver this the next day to her congregation, as she does every Sunday. Each week since we arrived on the Island it is part of our ritual. I take the kids out for the day and then return to read what she has written. Often I complain to myself. After all, what other spouse has to be so involved in his wife’s work. But then when I stop what I am doing and read her words and later go over them with her I realize how lucky we are, that no matter what has happened during the week, whether we have argued or simply forgotten each other in the business of caring for our children, we will have this moment of meaning together. 

I am not religious, having left the church as a teenager, never expecting to return. This usually comes as a surprise, to hear a minister’s husband admit to his difficulties with religion. But over the years I have learned being a minister’s husband is its own spiritual journey, one I am forever grateful for.

We moved to the Vineyard for Cathin’s job, her first gig as a solo pastor. The Island holds the roots of my family, going back to the whaling days, but it was Cathlin who completed the circle for my family, after my great-grandfather moved off the Island long ago to look for work. 

This week’s sermon is about the trials of Job, the good and pious man who loses everything, his health, wealth and family. It holds the foundation for theological discussions about why innocent people suffer or rather why no one is immune to suffering. It lurks around the corner for all of us, in large doses and small, from a young woman minister tending her Island flock while battling breast cancer to tame rabbits who have chosen to survive in the wild, to fathers trying to shield their little girls from bad news.

In late August, Alex showed up one day looking badly beat up. She had a scratch on her white nose, a bloody ear and a deep gash along her throat. Her legs appeared fine, able to run toward us without a limp, and her spirits, if anything, seemed more affectionate. She was thirsty.

I ran the outdoor shower until rivers of water appeared in the grass, which Alex lapped up for several minutes before getting her fill. Pickle plucked some choice clover and cut up a carrot into small pieces. Alex ate out of our hands as we inspected her wounds. Her neck looked bad but not fatal, a long scab already forming but not much else. She moved to a space beneath the porch where Pickle would place a bowl of water each morning before she left for school. I imagined she would be healthy again soon. But a few days later the cut on her neck worsened, her constant scratching digging deeper into the skin until we could see bone protruding. While we debated bringing Alex to a veterinarian she vanished.

The owner told me later Alex had returned home to die. They took her to a vet who said there was no hope and put her to sleep to stop her suffering. All this I knew and held tight against my chest waiting for the right moment to tell Pickle. And yet I kept stalling.


Another week has passed and I am in the basement working on this essay. Again the passage of time inserts itself, to my own journey. When we decided to move to the Vineyard from New York city I had no idea what I would do. I only knew I needed a change. I was a stay-at-home dad, so miserable at times I envied the French fry guy at the local McDonalds because he had a place to go each day.

I had chosen to stay home with my children so I could write, something I diligently worked on in private until it had become as essential to me as breathing, but that I rarely revealed in public. Moving to the Vineyard I thought might change this, although I had no idea how. Perhaps this place of my ancestors would speak to me, I hoped. Instead, the solitude began to devour me along with my son.

Hardy was four years old when we arrived, and in the early weeks and months of moving here his behavior became challenging. Eventually, Cathlin and I took him to see a specialist who agreed to observe him at preschool. Later, the specialist reported to us Hardy missed his old life in the city and was working through the stages of grief. Currently, he was stuck on anger.

This made a lot of sense to me as I too was working through my own issues, of moving, of a life that no longer made sense to me and had seemingly lost its purpose. But into this void I began to write about my children and the people of this Island, finally discovering what made my heart ache and what made it soar on the page.

Hardy is now 14, a freshman in high school. In the early morning I hear his alarm ring and then see the shimmer of light crawling from underneath his bedroom door. I listen to him rise, take a shower and make his breakfast. Then I join him in the kitchen and drive him to the bus stop. Sometimes we talk about the day ahead or the one left behind, but other mornings we don’t, just two guys content to chew on the beginning of a new day in silence.

At a loss for more, I walk upstairs where I see Pickle on the couch at the computer. I think she is watching a movie or playing a game and I am about to tell her enough screen time when she calls me over.

“Hey dad,” she says. “Will you read my story?”

“Of course,” I say and sit down next to her.

She places the computer in my lap and her first sentence shocks me and goes straight to my heart. Her story is about Alex the bunny, describing the first time they met, and how she and friend decided on a gender neutral name because they didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl.

If this were fiction this would not be a believable turn in the narrative, a father and daughter at work on the same story unbeknownst to each other. But real life so often does not make sense, nor does it need to in its unfolding, but in retrospect it almost always does.

“Pickle,” I ask. “Do you want to know what happened to Alex?”

“I think I already do,” she answers.

We talked on the couch for quite awhile, about Alex and what she meant to us, and what her dying also meant to us. We talked about the gray in my beard and the new muscles in her arms. We talked about Hardy’s shaving and mom’s breast cancer, so many years in the past but always present in the pills she takes each day and the checkups to her oncologist. We talked about writing and how hard it is. We talked about time and how much a decade might weigh if you could find a scale big enough.

And we also talked about getting a puppy.