I hit a rabbit the other day.
It was about 12:30 at night, and I was driving to the factory where my wife works. There are no street lights there; I couldn't see any farther than the edge of my headlights. Suddenly it was there, in the road directly in front of me. I hit the brakes hard and the rabbit darted first left, then back right. I couldn't stop, so I swerved, hoping to pass over it without crushing it under the wheels... but I heard a soft thump from beneath the car. I looked back in the mirror, but saw nothing in the street. I kept hoping that I hadn't hit it, but I knew that I had. I turned the car around in the middle of the street and drove back slowly.
The rabbit was laying in the middle of the other lane, motionless.
I pulled into a parking lot and got out of the car.
The rabbit's eyes were still open, but it wasn't moving. I put my hand down on its chest, but I couldn't feel anything. As gently as I could, I slipped my hand beneath its body and picked it up. There was no blood, and no visible scars. But when I lifted the rabbit up, it felt... broken. I can't describe it any other way. Warm, soft, beautiful... but limp and broken, like a rag doll.
I laid the rabbit down in the grass alongside the road. I felt terrible.
I walked back to my car. By now a string of traffic was passing by in the other direction, away from the factory. That meant that the shift had just ended; my wife would be waiting for me.
I drove over to the factory slowly. Srey was outside, sitting on a picnic table by the parking lot. She saw me pull up and walked over to the car, smiling.
"I'm sorry I'm late," I said. "I hit a rabbit."
The smile disappeared. "Oh..." she said quietly. "Did it die?"
"Yes," I said. I told her how I had picked it up, laid its body in the grass...
"Are you sure it's die? Because sometimes the animals..." she struggled for the word.
"Stunned," I said. "I know, sometimes they're stunned, and it looks like they're dead. But I'm pretty sure it really is dead."
"I think you should check again," she said.
I agreed, because I really didn't want it to be dead... I really wanted to go back and find the rabbit breathing again. We drove back down the street. I got out of the car, and it took me a minute to find it. I picked it up again, and I knew for certain... As I walked back to the car the same word kept echoing in my head:
Srey was still sitting in the car, with the window rolled down. I cradled the rabbit in my arms, not wanting to look up at her. And as I was looking down at the rabbit, this gentle, broken creature, I heard my wife's voice:
"I think now it's okay," she said.
I looked up, surprised, because I knew she was wrong... it was dead.
But when I looked at my wife, there were tears on her cheeks.
"Now it doesn't have to worry anymore," she said quietly. "It doesn't have to worry about, how can it find something to eat, where can it go to live, where to sleep..."
When I hear these words, I want to cry, too. I am looking at my wife, and the same word comes back to me again:
Suddenly I am bitter, angry, sad. I feel like a knife has been thrust into my chest.
I am holding the rabbit in my arms, and I am thinking: This is what they have done to her. This is what they have done to my wife. They have given her this view of life: Fear, and pain, and suffering. This is the gift given to her by Pol Pot, by Khieu Samphan, by Ieng Sary, by Norodom Sihanouk, by Richard Nixon, by Ho Chi Minh, by Hun Sen, by Heng Samrin, by a thousand other ideologues and fools and common murderers.
They have taken away her family and her childhood, and they have left her with this: The belief that death is the best thing we can hope for.
I put the rabbit in the car, and we drove to the forest preserve. I stopped the car and pressed my ear to the rabbit's chest for a long time. There was no sound.
In the darkness I walked into the woods and laid the rabbit's body under a tree.
I held my wife's hand as we drove home. Sometimes it's hard to let go... there is always the fear that the breaks haven't mended. Those of us who were fortunate, those of us who did not suffer these things, hold the survivors as though our embrace is all that binds the pieces of their shattered lives together.
I know that Srey is stronger than she seems. That is why she is still alive. Her scars are from long ago.
I think I am not as strong. I can still feel the weight of a small, soft animal, motionless in my hands, and I keep hearing those words:
"I think now it's okay..."