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

IMG_1659-1Four-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.)

158 thoughts on “Vanilla Ice Cream–Revisited

  1. Great re-write SocietyRed! You certainly have improved your writing skills since September 2011 (not that the first one was bad by any means). You impress me daily with your writing skills. I am very proud of you! Your lovely wife, Lisa!

    • Thank you L&L,
      That’s so nice to say.
      I remember having that story in my head for so long and then I started blogging and it forced it’s way out. Really interesting to re-write it again after 15 months and 48 other posts.
      Thanks for reading!

  2. You are an extraordinarily good soul, Red. I don’t know if I could handle being a volunteer with sick children, especially one who’s been through the sort of ordeal Emily did. Beautiful post.

  3. Oh my gosh. I want to take my first post down. This is amazing work my friend. So powerful. What a kind soul you must be for all those years of volunteering you did, and how fortunate for us that you have the talent to share your experiences with your readers in such a captivating way.

    • CD you are too nice,
      I have you to thank for suggesting the daily prompt–thank you! Also, you were my 500th like, wow!
      Those kids are the bravest people I’ll ever meet, I’m sure of it.
      Thank you for the very very nice comment.

      • Those daily challenges have become a big thing for me. They can really stir something very emotional, almost unbearable. But with your beautiful and stirring post from today, I’m sure you already knew that. Congrats on the 500 likes! Those challenges will really bring you many new readers, my friend, which you so richly deserve. :-)

          • That’s so nice to hear. Especially when my little blog is so silly! But the more I think about what I wrote today-the Romantic Monday post, about the pioneer newlyweds, maybe it’s not so silly after all. It does appear ridiculous on the surface, but how did young couples really live then, and have romance in their lives? Life was so brutal and dirty then. Art from Pouring my art out gave me a very nice comment about the romance of the era vs the romance of the people. That was really awesome of him to see my post that way

            . I just love to read what you write- it’s great stuff. All of it. So glad you have been able to find something helpful on my pages when I’m really trying to say something helpful–which isn’t often, is it? ;-)

  4. I had to stop and look away, because the writing was so powerful and real that I felt like I was there and it was hard to watch. That’s a gift SR. I came back because I couldn’t not finish reading it, and that’s another gift. I finished the piece and was so satisfied with the ending, just like taking the last bite of the perfect size serving of a bowl of vanilla ice cream. This piece was lovely and poignant. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. So glad this wonderful post was recognized. It’s an amazing piece of work, and I’m so proud to be one of your pals from your pre-pressed days. Always enjoy reading and conversing with you. I’ll let you alone for a day or two while you answer all of your fan mail. Good job, my friend, and many congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. :-)

  6. You are definitely going to heaven. I’m so glad this was Freshly Pressed, too often black and white photos of birds or gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches are recognized and this is a beautiful story, lovingly written.
    Bravo!

    • Thanks so much Kami!
      There were a few kids I worked with that I saw frequently but many, like Emily, I only met once.
      I’m full of stories…I look forward to checking out your blog!

  7. This is your first post? It is amazing. There is a lot to take from your “very first post” rewritten and the strength of Emily. I just read my first post and part laughed and felt embarrassed Yet, it was the starting line with the finish line nowhere in sight. We all have to start somewhere…and yes what a difference a year or months can make. I guess all us bloggers can say…”we’ve come a long way baby” Congrats on FP!

    • Thank you for the nice compliment TAS,
      I had that post written in my head a hundred different ways before I even knew about blogging, and then 15 months later I edited it even more. I just looked at your first post; I thought you said quite a bit with a nice picture and a few words. I look forward to reading more of your work.

  8. Absolutely beautiful and inspiring. I hope to have an experience that touches the soul lke that. Reading yours words had me in the room with you experiencing vanilla ice cream in a completely different way. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you so much!
      I met many kids that I only saw one time. Some went home, some did not. For me, I had to focus on the moment because if I thought about the future I couldn’t do the job. I guess the answer is I can’t let myself think about the now for them. Interesting question I hadn’t considered before. Thank you.

  9. Wow, that’s such a moving story, you are indeed a special person to want to and be able to do the volunteering that you did. It always makes me happy to be reminded that there are such people left in this world :) A big thumbs up for that and not just the writing!

  10. Oh wow, what a wonderful piece of writing. Sad and beautiful and totally absorbing. As so many of the comments before me have said, your words completely transported me so that I felt as though it were me there living it.

    • Le Clown,
      You are correct, that is funny.
      Since I have formally adopted you as my younger brother I feel I must explain the humor of it, lest readers misinterpret your comment and think you a dolt, resulting in me having to defend your honor.
      It was only two days ago that I made a cocky prediction to the magnificent Le Clown (and Adam) about a previous post, crafted specifically to slather praise on the mighty WordPress machine.
      Instead, this. Funny, yes?
      Thank you mighty WordPress.
      Red

  11. YOU DID IT!!! Hell yeah!! Congrats Red, well deserved. I didn’t realize this got Pressed! Now I don’t know what the fuck to say?! First, this was a really touching story, but now I’m jacked up knowing that you got your ticket punched.

    Keep up the great work. You’re endearing a lot of people to you and your words — include me in that group.

    P.S. Get ready to get ass-fucked by the hoard of people that are about to show up in the next couple of days. Good luck!

  12. What a beautiful story! I too am a volunteer in a hospital, but unfortunately do not get experiences like this to touch people’s lives, or myself be touched. I am more of an assistant to the nurse’s in getting prescriptions and running orders to the blood bank. I still enjoy giving my time and knowing that I am assisting people like the one in your story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you Jolene,
      I read your about page, I won’t sing but I do love your name. Volunteering is very rewarding; the world appreciates people like you.
      Thank you for reading, your blog makes me want to eat dinner again… :)

  13. Congratulations being Freshly Pressed, Red! Yay!! This is a powerful and beautiful piece. I’m not sure I could even look at my first post. I could feel you standing next to her as I read this. Well done!

  14. That’s a pretty amazing first blog topic and what a lovely rewrite. The vanilla ice cream is so touching. A universal flavour, an expected and anticipated taste… and the world that Emily inhabits. Great sentiments.
    Tania

  15. Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience. As a tough nurse myself, I still can’t quite imagine what it would take to work on a pediatric burn unit. Some people always will amaze me.

    • Thank you dmr!
      As a volunteer I found myself in awe of the nurses and their tireless and dedicated work ethic. It’s not something I could see myself doing; hats off to you!

  16. This is an outstanding piece, surely one of my favorites since I have been on WP! I cannot imagine dealing with such trauma to a child. The simple idea of children being neglected drives me to anger, and I can tell this was much worse. I was not around to read your first edition, but this one is certainly top notch.

  17. Red, extraordinarily wonderful to meet you.
    The eloquence and graceful style of your writing made yours and Emily’s story bearable to read.
    Lovely insights, too.

  18. Beautiful story, beautiful writing… Makes me feel stupid for blogging a craft tutorial yesterday. haha
    Blessings to you & to Emily,
    Sherri Ohler

  19. I find the line you say about ” to be an observer or active participant” is something that can be hard to decide. As an ECE there is a lot of times of the day when it is important to decide when the right time is to step in and be an active participant or be an observer. When working with children I feel it is important to make all the children feel comfortable. Sometimes it’s that little interaction that can make a big difference, and it is as little as a smile that helps you feel you are making a difference! Every child has the right to be happy!!

  20. I am more a fan of the chocolate honestly said, but your post really did have its influence over me haha :D
    Nice post :)

  21. Fantastic read! I was expecting something upbeat and happy since that’s how vanilla ice cream makes me feel. Though vanilla ice cream was bringing joy to young Emily, I loved the depth of your message behind said ice cream. Poignant and a bit haunting to be honest.

    • Ronald,
      My assignments at the hospital varied but I often worked with teenagers whose reason for being there required frequent visits and extended stays. With them I developed relationships. Other assignments involved brief encounters; holding an infant on one of its last days or playing with a sick but energetic toddler. My encounter with Emily occurred while I was walking to another child’s room and a nurse asked me step in for a moment while she attended someone else. I have wondered about the road that led her there but it is unlikely that I will ever know…
      Thanks for stopping in.

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  24. dear god how do you deal with this? A very poignant, and sad -yes uplifting as well- post.
    I could not even work as a veterinarian tech for over a year; too much pain and the knowledge of what a human being is capable of. The abuse, the ignorance, the disregard.
    Cheers to you for your work. Double cheers for your ability to write about your observations. A triple for being one of the few to deal with the pain of others on a daily basis.

    My 19 year old daughter was beaten, strangled and raped last August; on our yearly jaunt. To a safe place. Can barely get through this.Daughter is handling it far better than myself.
    How do the children do it?

    Your writing style brings out every emotion and an understanding.
    I’m an utter atheist, but it does not mean that blessings cannot be sent your way.

    • Rachael,
      I read your comment last night. I couldn’t come up with a response then and I struggle with it this morning. I volunteered at Children’s Hospital for five years and met kids there that were sick and dying, and some that suffered abuse similar to what you described. I can only imagine how difficult it is to find healing and some sort of peace in the aftermath of such an event. I never could, and I was only a witness. I could only push the thought processes aside and deal with the task at hand.
      Thankfully kids are resilient and in the very brief time I have known you, I sense that you are too.
      I’m so very sorry such a fucked up individual inflicted this pain on your daughter and you, and the world.
      One day we will meet, and hug.
      John

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