“This was us,” she said as she handed me a comic that she had cut out of the paper and saved for me, un-creased like it had come from today’s paper but she had kept it for weeks. When I took it from my mom’s cracked and bloodied fingers I had already begun to put crinkles on the edges that she had kept straight. “Put it on your refrigerator,” she said. “I have one up on our fridge from the same comic.” That day we sat together in my parents’ bed for eight hours.
My mom has taken to reading the newspaper again since most of her time is spent in bed. When I was little she would get The New York Times on the weekends and not have time to read it so it would pile up until she would sit herself down one day with a giant stack and go through it all. That was too overwhelming. Now she gets The Daily News, which is much more manageable. Every day she sends me a text message with my horoscope from the paper. “This lady is really good,” she always says. I wait for the text to appear with capital letters “YOUR HORISCOPE!!!!” and tons of the red exclamation point emojis that no one uses because they are on the last page.
As I looked at the simple comic, a little boy and his dog, called “Red & Rover,” I didn’t quite see what she meant. The first frame of the comic showed the little boy and the dog sitting on the curb, the boy’s hand to his own ear and the dog’s ear standing at attention. In the corner of the box were musical notes. The next frame showed two clouds racing in the direction of the music (which must have been coming from an ice cream truck) and then the boy and dog strolling back both licking popsicles. As my mom watched my eyes finish scanning the paper she repeated, “that was us.” I stopped for a second, looked to the right, towards her bedroom window and it hit me. Yes! This was us.
As I glanced out the window I recalled hearing the ice cream truck’s song after school making its way up 10th Avenue. I reacted like Pavlov’s Dog when I heard that melody, those tinny, off-tune, bells that sounded like a toy running out of batteries.
My mom and I had our routine down to a science. As we both heard the bells we immediately dropped everything and began the mad dash. We grabbed our shoes, fumbling to put them on, scrambled to grab keys and a wallet, and sprinted to the elevator. This had to be done with precision and speed. Waiting at the elevator on the 27th floor in our 400-unit apartment building, at prime afternoon riding time, the stress built fast. Would we make it today? Would the truck be gone by the time we got down? Would the elevator EVER come? I worried as we continually jabbed at the elevator button (as if that would make it come any faster), feeling time slipping out of our hands my heart throbbed in my chest.
When we finally got on the elevator we hoped that it was an express ride. If the red numbers stopped counting down to let another passenger on, my pulse would race faster. All I could think about was my King Cone or Chipwich being handed to me through the window that I was not quite tall enough to reach. The elevator doors would finally open to the glorious first floor and we ran out the lobby doors, some days to breath a huge sigh of relief to see that the truck was still parked in front of our building. On other days we weren’t so lucky, exiting to find a wide-open space that the ice cream truck had just vacated. I was seven. There were tears.
This was not the suburban movie scene ice cream truck experience where kids prance out the front door to find the ice cream truck waiting for them in front of their house. This was an adrenaline rush. There was something exhilarating about the thrill of the chase though. The odds were near impossible but somehow we usually made it in time.
It wasn’t about the ice cream itself, I could have gotten the same treats from any of the three delis across the street, but it was about the truck. Walking up, looking at all the colorful choices depicted on the side, the images slightly peeling off; I did this every time even though I knew I would have the same thing. Peeking over the counter and listening for the freezer door to thump shut. It was magical. I felt the cold, thin packaging crunch in my hand and I ripped it open savagely in a matter of seconds. Taking that first, brain-freeze inducing bite felt so good. Soon I would have ice cream running down my wrist to my elbow crease and chocolate smeared on the corner of my mouth. I couldn’t wait to do it all again tomorrow.
I looked down at the comic once more, picturing my mom and I in place of the red-headed kid and his yellow dog. I smiled and let out a soft giggle. I looked at my mom and we locked eyes, I saw where she was going. When she feels intense happiness lately she is soon after overcome with the fear of when she will be in pain again, when I will leave to go back to Boston and she will be stuck within herself once again. Her hand soon lifted to her mouth so she could bite at the raw edges of her fingers once more, a nervous habit turned regular occurrence.
Her puffed face squinched into itself turning red as the tears welled up and her lip curled over, just as a baby does before letting out a great wail. She did exactly that. I put my hand on her and closed my eyes. Now this was us. After calming her down I went and picked up the comic again. Transporting myself for a brief moment away from the present pain and back to the innocent worry of making it downstairs to the ice cream truck in time. All that was trivial I am now nostalgic for. I wait for the moment when I can look deep into my mother’s eyes again and see no pain. When there isn’t another alarm going off to take pills. When we can smile without frowning. When the skin on her fingers grows back. When we can laugh and continue laughing. When that can be us again.
A version of this essay appears in the first issue of GRLSQUASH, a biannual women’s food, culture, and art journal. To order the first issue click the button below!