When I was a little girl, I received a bright pink book with beautiful illustrations, my own personalized copy of the velveteen rabbit. At the time, I didn't know the velveteen rabbit was a well known book.
I didn't even know the story existed outside of my personalized copy. I didn't know that in the original telling of the story the rabbit was in the possession of a little boy and not a girl named Alisha who played at the summer cottage with her cousins. I believed the story was just for me, and I soaked up every word.
I've been thinking about stories lately. Most days when I try to write, I sit in front of my keyboard and stare at an empty screen until enough time has passed and I walk away feeling defeated. That is if i try to write at all. Some days all of my stories feel too raw to even begin trying to put into words. I've been thinking about scars. How each scar tells a story, how each scar carries with it a rich kind of grief filled beauty. Scars point to a wound we survived. I had my 6 month post transplant follow up this week, and after I finished the appointment I was talking with a friend and I was crying and had no explanation for all these built up emotions and he just said "You're ok." And it hit me, because I was. I am. I've spent my entire life living in the fire, waiting for the next blow, and perhaps for the first time in my entire life I sat in an appointment with a doctor and there was no shoe to drop, no sense of urgency and impending doom hanging in the air. I am ok.
I was reminded of that story of the little rabbit, the one I didn't know existed to anyone other than me. The little rabbit of velveteen that was reborn and made real in the fire. This rabbit, thinking he had become a real rabbit, inquired of the skin horse how one becomes real. I imagined many times the curious young bunny bounding with energy, and the wise gentle skin horse speaking in the hushed, aged voice that only comes when you've seen some things. And the skin horse says "real isn't how you're made. It's something that happens to you... Sometimes it hurts, but when you are real you don't mind being hurt. You become. 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 because once you are real you can't be ugly except to people who don't understand."
Coming alive, becoming real, looked a lot like dying. The velveteen rabbit, by the end of the story, had been loved so much he had become shabby, but he didn't care much because the boy loved him. And then the fire which was meant to destroy him gave him new life. I've said it before, knowing that you're loved gives you a crazy kind of brave. The kind of brave that allows you to be changed and reborn in the fire instead of incinerated by it. All the marks and scars the rabbit wore, they were just proof of love, of life.
I've been thinking a lot about my donor, and this immense honour and privilege i now carry with me. Every time I look down at my scars, crossing nearly half of my body, I am reminded that I am only here because of love. A selfless sacrifice, first by my brother and then by another family across the country, the fire rebirthed me instead of destroying me, and I now am stepping into this new life as one made real. It was the love of my family, my husband, the love I have for them and for my kids, that gave me the drive and the fight to withstand even the hardest of nights. And Paris, how being his mama saved me. His life and death pushed me towards getting a transplant in the first place, and then I read that during pregnancy stem cells are created within the woman's body, and regardless of how long the pregnancy lasts those stem cells from that life become the body's first defence when the mother gets sick and needs strength. My beautiful baby, though I never got to hold him in my arms, was healing me in the fire.
Here's what I know: I am becoming real. My scars aren't ugly, and they could only ever be to those who don't understand. At the end of the day, if this is all that's left, I'm as real as real can be.
Just call me velveteen.