Vanilla Ice Cream–Revisited
Today’s Daily Prompt Challenge is called Hindsight and is described as follows: Now that you’ve got some blogging experience under your belt, re-write your very first post.
I wrote this post in September of 2011. It’s amazing what 15 months will do to your perspective. I changed some sentences around and corrected some punctuation, hopefully making it more readable…
Vanilla Ice Cream
Four-year-old eyes peer out from the supportive mask and scan the area. Her face is a puzzle of scar tissue; her ears are shriveled and curled. Her arms and legs are bound, rigid, and hidden. Though the burns are not new, the healing process; slow and painful, has yet to allow what is left of her limbs to be exposed to the world. Her eyes lock on mine and examine me. There is no visible fear, no restless darting typical of a four-year-old, and no overwhelming curiosity. Instead there is serenity, an intensity, and a careful absorption of all in her immediate visual world. She does not speak or make noise at all. Perhaps she is refusing to announce her presence with any sound; acknowledging existence in what is gradually becoming her reality. Does she feel frightened and alone? How does the world sound to her?
She is eating vanilla ice cream. I watch her being fed by the nurse; the spoon is placed into the scarred, taut opening that is her mouth. Her pink undamaged tongue touches the cold spoon while her eyes are staring, locked on mine. “Would you like to share your ice cream with him?” asks the nurse. She nods and I open my mouth and pretend to eat. I watch her and I do everything I can to avoid thinking about her road to this place.
The boundaries of her pain, reestablished and extended beyond most human tolerance, seem to have cultivated within her a confidence; approaching life from a calmer vantage point. She experienced her past without knowing what it was or why she endured it. From a life naturally full of questions she now lives in silence. Observing. Learning patience. Her survival depends on patience. Her future will be built on endurance and tenacity.
The nurse is called away and I take her seat. With questioning eyes my new friend examines me in a different light. She seems unsure and perhaps no longer feels as safe as before. I pick up the spoon and softly speak her name. “Emily….Emmmilieee”. She takes a spoonful of ice cream in her mouth, never removing her gaze. She doesn’t blink. Questions form in her eyes. I am no longer an observer but an active participant. I realize I am much more comfortable to her as a sideshow and I begin to feel uncomfortable as I continue to talk softly to her. I would do anything to make her feel as safe as she felt two minutes ago. I look at her and push away the feelings of pity that want to take over, the feeling I have trained myself to suppress. In the quiet hospital twilight, I feel as if she can read my every thought. The nurse returns and Emily dismisses me with a look and a nod. She is visibly comfortable again, and looks back only once as I step away. She opens her mouth for another spoonful of vanilla ice cream. I walk away and imagine how it tastes.
(I spent several years as a volunteer at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. Among the many brave and amazing kids I met was “Emily”. Our relationship lasted all of five minutes; I will always remember it.)