The moment I knew: I watched him nurse our pet rabbit to health – and I felt at peace

Aldin and I met in 2019 at the Exeter hotel in Adelaide. While we didn’t initially hit it off, a chance meeting at a book club changed that. We shared the same goofball humour, love for Ben Stiller movies and could spend hours talking about the NBA (him: the players; me: who the players were dating).

We very quickly realised we were inseparable. After a few dates, I showed him my tattoo, the title of a Jens Lekman song: “Kanske Är Jag Kär I Dig.” Swedish for: maybe I’m in love with you.

In 2022, I moved to Brisbane to complete my masters in creative writing, while Aldin stayed in Adelaide and looked after our pets – a cat called Archie and a rabbit named Fernando. (Rabbits are famously banned in Queensland.)

In August this year, Aldin called – Fernando was sick. Rabbits are precious creatures and require a lot of care, so when Fernando fell off the couch and broke his back, Aldin did what every good dad would do and drove him straight to the emergency room, without hesitation.

Aldin comforts Fernando the rabbit.
Aldin comforts Fernando the rabbit. Photograph: Olivia De Zilva

This was not the first time Aldin and I had a frantic call about a medical emergency. In July, I was diagnosed with stage-four endometriosis, meaning my ability to conceive or have children ranged from severely limited to impossible.

Being diagnosed with such a violent illness at just 27 came as a major shock. Though I hadn’t planned on starting a family, the endometriosis diagnosis left me feeling that a major life choice had been taken away from me.

So in an unexpected way, my pets have become my children.

While I was frantically trying to book a hyperinflated ticket back to Adelaide, Aldin spent the early hours of the morning bottle-feeding Fernando until he could eat for himself. I did not expect this person, who previously had no idea you could keep rabbits as indoor pets, to give so much love and care to this tiny creature I had bought for $20 at the Lonsdale RSPCA.

There is a moment that sticks in my mind. I’m resigned to the couch after a bout of severe pain from endometriosis. Aldin is serene and bathed in the warm light of our living room; he’s holding Fernando close to his chest, telling him that everything is going to be alright. Through the pain blazing through my body, I feel at peace.

There and then, I realised this was how I wanted it to be forever. After my diagnosis, I had worried I would be limiting Aldin’s ability to start a family. But after seeing him nurse Fernando back to health, I knew that no matter what, Aldin would stick beside me and the life we had built together.

Aldin and Olivia at North Stradbroke Island.
Aldin and Olivia at North Stradbroke Island

After Aldin’s tireless and selfless care, Fernando returned to health in less than a month. We knew he was better when he had reclaimed his favourite spot on the couch and restarted his favourite activity – chasing Archie around the house.

I know my life will move in ways I don’t expect. But whenever I prepare to fly back to Adelaide, I am comforted by the fact the final boarding call will always bring me home to Aldin.

Olivia De Zilva is a Brisbane-based writer. She was recently shortlisted for the 2023 Richell prize for emerging writers.

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