|A dragon from Meridian Park|
As I said, I left Tutta Bella with but a taste awakened in me for ice cream. There was a simple and fast solution: just a few blocks away was one of the best ice cream places in the entirety of the world, Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. Molly Moon’s touts a lot of wonderful things. In addition to using only natural, organic ingredients in their ice cream, they also use only recycled, compostable materials in all of their bowls, cups AND spoons. I went to the original location in Wallingford (there are 4 in Seattle now), and waited in what is always a long line out the door of the tiny hole in the wall shop. Touting seasonal flavors such as huckleberry, they also had a chalkboard covered in their year round flavors which include not only stand-bys such as Vanilla Bean, Theo Chocolate and Strawberry, but also Starburst, Salted Caramel, Balsamic Strawberry, Honey Lavendar, and Ginger to name a few. My best friend had, instead of a wedding cake, an assortment of Molly Moon’s ice cream with a sundae bar. It’s THAT good. I opted for a large scoop of my favorite, Salted Caramel, and set out.
Several blocks away is a park I call the Storybook Park (it is actually called Meridian Park, and it was introduced to me by my friend Katie who I’ll speak about shortly. She was married there last summer). The playground area is themed with decorations from classic fairytales like Snow White, while also having quotes from books such as The Secret Garden and Where the Wild Things Are carved into walls here and there. It’s a sweet park with plenty of benches. The sun was beginning to set as I got there, so I found my bench, sat down with my ice cream and watched the sky begin to change colors. Despite the coming dark, there were a lot of children there still. It was still warm. I had been sitting quietly in my thoughts for about 10 minutes when a little girl came running up to my bench and stared at me. I smiled and said hello. She smiled back and just stared for a bit. I wasn’t uncomfortable, this is just what kids do. I stared back. She was wearing pink pajamas with white polka dots. They were the zippered, one-piece pajamas. They probably had feet on them, but I couldn’t see because she was wearing red galoshes with polka dots of all different colors. The pajamas were filthy from playing in the wood chips.
“Are you having ice cream?” she asked. I nodded.
“I am, this is my dessert.”
“Did you get it at Molly Moon?”
“I did, have you been there?”
“Yes, I get honey lavender.”
“That’s a very adventurous flavor. Do you get to go there a lot?”
She nodded. “In the summer we do, but not in the winter because then it’s cold.”
“Yes, winter is more for hot chocolate and warm cider, isn’t it?” She nodded again. “You must like polka dots. You have them on your outfit and your shoes.”
“They aren’t shoes, they’re galoshes.”
“That’s true, they are galoshes.”
“Why are you sitting here by yourself?”
I paused for a bit longer than I should have, but she seemed happy to wait. She was leaned against the bench very near to me now, wiggling a bit but not impatient. The answer I gave surprised me a little:
“Because sometimes it’s better to do things by yourself than to do them with someone you don’t want to be around just so you won’t be alone.”
I’m not really sure where that came from, I’ll be honest. If it sounds well thought out at all, let me assure you that it wasn’t.
She nodded, though I’m not sure she understood. I expected her to take off back to the playground after such a confusing, cryptic answer to a somewhat straight forward question, but she didn’t. She climbed up onto the bench and sat beside me. I looked around for her parent, caught the eye of her dad, who was pushing a sibling on a swing, and we nodded at one another in that parent language in which a single nod means “Is she bothering you?” and the returned nod means “No, she’s fine.” Her feet were dangling off the edge. We sat in silence for a bit, she and I. The sun set was turning the sky rich shades of orange and pink now. The sun itself was beneath the tree line now, but I imagined that could I see it it would have been that deep, hot pink color I love so much. I turned again to my temporary companion.
“Are you going to go to school in September?” She looked about right for Kindergarten. As I figured, she nodded. She had long, curly blonde hair. She pushed some of it out of her face, which was dirty from playing too. Everything about this kid made me smile.
“I’m going to be in Kindergarten.” She reiterated.
“Are you excited?” I asked. Again, she nodded. “Were you in pre-school last year?” She nodded again, then launched into a story about a boy in her class who was evidently quite rude as one time when she was on the playground with him she was playing with another girl and the boy came up and pushed her down for no reason at all and when she told the teacher the teacher did nothing, which seems really unfair to me. I communicated as much to her. She nodded, pleased with my empathy.
“I have to go slide down the slide now.” She said. I giggled a little and thanked her for her company as she ran away. I was finishing my ice cream now anyway. The dusk was casting a shadow over the grass and trees and people were beginning to leave. Soon I was alone and dusk was turning to dark. My empty cup sat beside me on the bench, my hands buried deep in the kangaroo pocket of my hoodie. I continued to watch where not long ago the sun had been setting the sky on fire.
A little over a year ago, it must have been about May, my friend Katie and I had sat on this bench together and had ice cream from Molly Moon’s. Ben and I were new, and Katie was a very old friend of ours from high school, and she was one of the first people I had told that we were beginning to see one another. Her reaction that day on the bench was a gasp of pleasure, not only that we were together, but because the story was such a romantic one. People said that a lot, how Ben and I had this epic love story, a fairytale with this happy ending lurking so close around the corner. Ships passing in the night, love lingering over decades, etc. A hundred years seems to have passed since that day here with Katie, and the fairytale is long since over. To my left, a wrought iron fence adorned with apples (perhaps poisoned?) and dragons. To my right, the iron likeness of a candy house perched atop a stone pillar. I, and people like Katie, had turned Ben into my knight on a white horse, whether he wanted to play that part or not. When the illusion shattered, I suffered not just the broken heart, but the shattering of an entire love story that I had allowed to be woven in my mind. When we’re young, we are all princesses waiting to be rescued. How wonderful it seemed to be living that as truth, to have someone who wants to carry you away from it all and protect you from the dragons of life.
I allowed myself to forget something very important: I’m not a princess, and this isn’t a fairy tale. I’m a 32 year old woman with two kids living in a duplex next to the highway, and this is real life with all its beautiful ugliness. No one is going to rescue me from anything, and I can’t even rescue myself. All we can do is live each day as it is, fight to succeed but learn to stand up and move on when we fail. I can live in the simple pleasure that while I spent that night alone, at least I didn’t spend it with someone I didn’t want to be with or who didn’t deserve to be with me. That is its own shining armor, I suppose. A heavy shield between myself and the lonely, distressed damsel I used to be.
That’s not to say that love stories don’t exist, that they don’t unravel before your very eyes and cast light onto a future that stretches far into the distance. It’s only to say that I will remain anchored in reality, anchored to what I truly am, so that come what may I will have my feet planted in a foundation in which I’ll always be okay. Charming princes may come and go, and I do hope for that happily ever after, but I will ever be aware that at a moment’s notice, by heartbreak or death, life could rob me of him. I should always be prepared to happily spend a long sunset at the park alone with my favorite ice cream.
Saying it like that, it doesn’t sound like such a terrible ending does it? “And she and the ice cream lived happily ever after”?
*Sigh* Now my mouth is watering.