Follow the Velveteen Rabbit

By Wynn Wilkinson
April 27, 2024

I decided when I was young that I’d worship no grudge-holding god.

When I was six years old, my greatest fear was a house fire. My century-old home, wilting off its Victorian brick foundation like a drought-stricken primrose, seemed a prime candidate for such a disaster. At bedtime, I feared no closet monster, but I laid awake terrified of impenetrable, suffocating walls of smoke. I knew better than to concern myself with anything but my own survival. After all, anything lost — but a life — can be bought. Even the family dog was on his own.

But I knew, too, of a fate worse than death: the anguish of losing my Friend. I knew that my parents and dog could look after themselves. Instead, my allegiances lay with my Rabbit, the stuffed animal whose entire life had been dedicated to the beginning of mine. I held Him close to me in bed, hopeful that He’d somehow ward off the dangers of dry wood and outdated electrical wiring. Uneasy, I’d drift off only under His dutiful, unblinking watch.

I had learned only recently what death was, and I spent many nights in a tantrum over the unfairness of my parents’ mortality. Yet somehow, I was prepared to sacrifice life and limb for my Rabbit. He was old, yes; older than me, certainly, and perhaps older than my parents and our infirm house. He never told me. His mystique engendered within me feelings of apricity, a calming, comfortable warmth unsettled by the sharp wind, that is, the nagging feeling that I’d accrued a debt that could not be repaid. The corpse of immortality was still stiff in my mind, and the new understanding that my first Friend could be reduced to charred polyester — and I’d simply move across town — was too much to bear. No, if he burned, I was obliged to burn with Him.

There were other toys besides my Rabbit: action figures, trading cards, trucks and blocks galore. But I’m no good at pretending I don’t play favorites. My Rabbit always starred in the dramatic war games that would annex the floor of my room, a triumphant commando standing amidst the scattered forces of evil and Lego. Imagine that: my gentle Friend on the front lines! The supporting cast, had they possessed the same faculties as my Rabbit, doubtless felt overlooked. But their hard, plastic exteriors rendered them playthings, not playmates. At night, they laid strewn across the carpeted battlefield as my Rabbit and I took refuge under the covers, and they remained there until my parents scolded me or the war drums sounded up once more.

My Rabbit knew nothing if not how to humor His Child. Anxious to share my life with Him, I often took Him on backyard Adventures. Silent and attentive, He’d sit and listen as I showed Him the newest additions to my tree branch arsenal and demonstrated brewing potions from sow thistle sap. These Adventures brought me joy and Him comfort. Unaware of the subtle breeze He’d set at my back, I matured under the watchful gaze of His dark, reflective eyes which twinkled with the satisfaction of a job well done.

But kids grow up; this, too, He knew long before I did. Our Adventures gradually became less frequent, and I left my Rabbit in my room most mornings — sometimes intentionally, sometimes carelessly. One evening, I crawled into bed and realized He wasn’t there. A shameful sweep of the house yielded no results, and a moonlit search in the garden did no better. For the first time in ages, I slept without my Rabbit.


At the end of The House at Pooh Corner, Christopher Robin begs Pooh not to forget about him. He makes his Bear promise to be understanding when their friendship degrades with time. Pooh acquiesces, trustingly; he hasn’t the foresight, one might assess, to know that’s being abandoned. The story ends, simply and gracefully, before Pooh discovers this painful inevitability. Even so, it’s hard not to imagine an acidic sadness lingering just beneath spit-stained satin, and when I was younger, this chapter never failed to open a Very Deep Pit in my stomach.

After all, why shouldn’t he seethe? Why shouldn’t Pooh loathe the boy he’d loved so purely, the boy who abandoned their friendship to study knights and Brazil and factors? When after three months I happened upon my Rabbit wedged between a door and a draft stopper, I didn’t dare celebrate. The unforgiving Texas sun had bleached His fabric dye to a pitiable ochre, and even that was hardly visible beneath the dirt and grime coated on His crumpled frame. I bathed Him in the sink. Maybe I apologized. Does it matter? He returned my gaze, unfazed by the dish soap, as if to ask, like Pooh, “Understand what?” And like Christopher Robin, I didn’t have the heart to elaborate. That night, He laid silent alongside me in my bed. The next morning, I forgot Him there when I left for school.

Creatures like Pooh and my Rabbit devastate me because of their formidable patience, their willingness to accommodate our every plea for understanding. The knowledge that lures us from them, the enchanting intricacies of the socialized world, is far outstripped by the wisdom they already possess; try as we might to introduce them to the “real world”, there can never be parity. And yet, and yet — they refuse to leave until we do. The Child, consumed by guilt, fails even to scare the Friend off.

A cynic might conclude that friendships like these are merely delicate ventriloquist acts that falter once the Child sees through their own illusion. In some ways, they’d be correct; I grafted a personality onto my Rabbit — a voice, thoughts, desires, a knack for swordsmanship — out of necessity. There is much He never revealed. Yet even this conjecture was written in His lesson plan: He rightly saw fit that I practice imagination and creativity, so He assumed the role of a canvas and urged me to paint. Why would He feel anything but pride for his pupil? How could He grieve over gifts freely given?

After his rediscovery, my Rabbit stopped sleeping in bed with me. Whether I exiled Him to the toy chest or He chose, of His own volition, to migrate there Himself is up to one’s own perceptions of His autonomy. To assume the worst is to disparage the wisdom of the learned. My Rabbit, older than me and anything I knew, was anything but naive to life’s cycles. Surely He never expected me to, in the words of Christopher Robin, “do Nothing” forever, and there was nothing of consequence to be found in my classrooms that my Rabbit did not know.

I’ve consulted the authoritative literature: Milne, Freeman, Williams. The whole lot of them record that a Child’s love for their Friend weighs no more than a feather, that it is sustaining and reifying. They write that it satisfies the Friend’s desire to be cherished, to be company. The arborist waters the oak tree until it can subsist off rain alone, but doesn’t expect to rest in its shade forever. I never excluded my Rabbit from my fire escape plan, not even on the eve of banishing Him to the local Goodwill. That morning, I was too weak to even cry, and I dared not look in the plastic donation bag. If I had, I might have caught His eyes: pristine, dry, and glimmering with pride.


I decided when I was young that I’d worship no grudge-holding god. A harsh god is unworthy of my devotion and time; this, too, was a seed He planted in the ground of my soul. Even now, I wonder if He found another Child to rear, another unconditional love to dole out. The thought is comforting, if jealousy-inducing. When she scatters her toys across the floor, does she differentiate between polymer and velveteen? Does she brew potions, collect sticks, fear fire? And how old does she think You are?

Some weeks ago, I went jogging in my hometown. A startled bunny scurried across the trail and took shelter beneath a cleyera shrub. The curious creature watched me from a distance, taking in my presence as I paused to admire the strong legs, soft ears, active nose, and gleaming eyes in the underbrush. I blinked at Him and smiled. Then I turned tail and ran. After all, I had a pace to maintain. 

Layout: Gianina Faelnar
Photographer: Liesel Papenhausen
Stylists: Angel Peña & Jordyn Jackson
Set Stylist: Ziada Araya
HMUA: Angelynn Rivera
Models: Jordyn Jackson & Miu Nakata

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