In March 2020, before we knew anything—except that schools were closing and we should check every store for Clorox wipes—I texted my sisters a picture of my shopping cart: two pints of peanut butter ice cream perched atop a mound of plastic grocery bags.
In case of emergency.
It was funny because I thought it seemed rational to me that walking that line between adrenaline-laced humor and apocalyptic projections still felt rational. Talk of a virus was rife, possibly catastrophic and perhaps overblown. It might be best to get some food, and then to make crafts and enjoy the rest of my life. I’d grown up in Ohio, crouching in elementary-school hallways during tornado drills and running down to our basement when a siren sounded. However, we never saw the worst thing possible.
This was not a real drill. My friend is an emergency-room doctor who can thrive under pressure. She’s the Rational yang to my frenetic What-ifs
“Should I be afraid?”
“I heard they’re using trucks as morgues overseas,” she responded. “This looks bad.”
Long before I could buy my own pints of Ben & Jerry’s, ice cream came into my life as a reward. You’re doing great,You said it. Continue to keep going. I’m 4 years old, holding my mother’s hand as we cross the parking lot of a homemade ice cream shop on East Main Street, the scent of mopped tile floors mixed with frosted air and just a hint of sugar hitting my face as she opens the door. I’ve collected enough foil star stickers on the laminated books Mom makes to help me read, which means “kiddie dips” are in order. For two quarters each, we eat like queens—chocolate mousse on a sugar cone for her, hot fudge swirled through banana ice cream for me. Any ice cream that leaks from the cone’s bottom, I immediately eat the tip and squeeze it through the funnel to make sure it doesn’t go on the ground.
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For 10 minutes, I lived without anyone’s expectations, without any fear. My experience was that of a young girl riding in a car, holding a cup.The same place was my first job many years later. I was a proud sister to my older sisters who loved scooping ice cream. We were also known as high achievers in the small community. Token Blacks could be counted on by the Sharp sisters. Although I was punctual and never late for work, one time I missed a complete robbery. I was the one in the corner, enjoying hot fudge on a spoon while enjoying the warmth of my tongue. The man behind the counter demanded cash. My boss didn’t pay me enough not to hoard fudge, I reasoned.
It wasn’t until college that I really understood the term pilferThrough stories of domestic workers and slaves taking small amounts for themselves, my professor helped me to understand. These quiet, but very powerful acts of resistance were shown to us by him as evidence that life is possible within the confines of sustained desires. There are sometimes whole galaxies that exist on the fringes.
The shop was closed long before I went to college. My anxiety disorder had gotten so severe that it made it hard for me to get out of the house. My eldest sister, Autumn, would pick me up from high school so I wouldn’t have to be alone and take me to Graeter’s, the other ice cream shop across town. No matter how many panic attacks I’d had that day, I could count on digging out smooth boulders of milk chocolate in a dip of mocha chip. For 10 minutes, I lived without anyone’s expectations, without any fear. My experience was that of a young girl riding in a car, holding a cup.
While I had to learn how to deal with anxiety using medication and therapy I still stayed close my sibling and followed her to University of Virginia where she went to law school. I also started college. I lived seven hours away from my family, but she was only minutes away. Ice milkIce cream, as they called it in the dining rooms, was a palate cleanser that I enjoyed with my friends after dinner. As I became more independent and capable of living without constant support, I found that ice cream was a far less comforting delight than it once was.
DelightIt is the definition of what it means. The word de-light takes you up towards the finish, and then takes you away before you settle. You know delight only because at some point you didn’t. Many of us, for 19 months now, have lived every day in delight. didn’t
I can read without the foil stars now and rarely have a panic attack, but throughout the pandemic, I’ve found myself reaching for ice cream. Pints of Ben & Jerry’s Netflix & Chilll’d sold in supermarkets; specialty ice cream sandwiches shipped on dry ice; cow-to-table drive-thru ice cream an hour away. When I finally got to visit family in Ohio in the spring, before the Delta wave hit, my dad and 89-year-old grandma brought five half-gallons of ice cream to my sister’s house. The only way to commemorate the occasion was by bringing ice cream.
What if ice cream’s superpower is acting as a sweet buffer between us and those hard things, the risks we carry?When it comes to ice cream, I know I’ve gone too far, have eaten too much, when my brain starts blowing past patches of pretzel or sinkholes of peanut butter, barely senses crushed Oreo cookies, and only registers the satisfaction of cool water. Beginning with my tongue and moving to my sides, my roof, my ears, and my roof, my body has shifted from a need-based mindset to one of delight. I’ve been taught by society to classify this as greed, that nothing good can come of an obsession. But as the world burns a little more each day, I’m not so sure. Perhaps obsessively seeking delight can be a way of living well, sometimes.
Gluttony should not be considered OK.The Pharisees will speak. ItCe cream is a liquid that dissolves, leaving you only with guilt. I am home to a multitude of thin women wearing yoga pants, all rent-free. Even though my doctors are gentle and never advise me to fret about weight, they suggest that I enjoy sweets with moderation because I am more likely to develop breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
Doctor, yes. I’m aware of my genetics. But doctor, Have you ever tried to slim down by dipping into a French pot full of churned milk, letting the calories cover every corner and fact of your body? What if ice cream’s superpower is acting as a sweet buffer between us and those hard things, the risks we carry? Between who we are today and who the world says we might become if we’re not careful?
The University of Virginia Medical Center cancelled all elective procedures including the planned April 2020 double mastectomy. Because cancer hadn’t yet found my breasts, because my risk for developing cancer is higher than average but risk is not the same as Being cancer, I’d have to wait. As a tribute to the time that plans were important, I put aside my post-op list and left my unopened boxes with breast pillows, stretch pants and ice pack, as well as my post-op check.
We’d made plans in the Before, and even into 2020. My husband, a Black professor who’d done all the right things, would get tenure at UVA. My husband, who was a Black professor, would be denied tenure at UVA as Americans started to drown in hospitals.
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The group wrote and interviewed articles. We also called Black friends at high levels, people who were already aware of the galaxies. My family enjoyed hand-scooped salt caramel icecream sandwiched between perfectly shaped snickerdoodles. Neighbors, friends from church, and colleagues all signed petitions. The fruit of a small business out of Michigan became a way for people to say, “I see you” and “This is wrong.” The dean called in July. We won the tenure battle, but we’d lost so much in the process.
My elective procedures had resumed by August and Lisa, my best friend and tall Strega Nona, appeared at my home days before I went into surgery. She was tall, chic, and adorned with gift-worthy ice cream sandwiches. “This should last you a couple of days,” she teased. The individual wrapped, labeled and individually wrapped cakes looked elegant with strawberry shortcake, Key lime pie and blueberry lemon flavors, as well as raspberry white chocolate and peaches and cinnamon. Is there any manna in real life? Lisa and I rarely show emotion in public, but I suspect we’re both teeming with feelings inside. Her extravagant offering was our way of having a good laugh, and she promised to keep me close no matter what.
“Should I be afraid?” that question again, this time in recovery. They’d wheeled me, wrapped in a heated, foil-like blanket to the operating room, on the three-year anniversary of the day white men tiki-torched their way across UVA’s lawn. Perhaps it was strange grace to be unable or unable grieve, or even roll my eyes at the empty platitudes. As tissues were being removed from my chest, I couldn’t help but to remain there on the hospital table. I felt a little bit helpless, despite the scary nature of surgery. “Just keep taking breaths,” the doctor said, placing a mask over my face.
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A team of doctors raced for my vitals and a chest radiograph. I then awoke to shock. Although the surgeons planned, I refused to be intruded. My chest was stitched with two drain holes, paste was spread across my chest, and my torso was covered in clear plastic. I was unable to control my blood pressure and felt my heart beat at 150. Sometimes it’s not a drill.
Days after I’d been discharged, I sat in a chair on our patio under the sun. My body kept me awake, even though I was unable to sleep. This happened repeatedly, every time I closed my eyes, no matter how many times it took me to fall asleep that night. Although I was ready to fall asleep, my body insisted that I stay awake. Resigned, I pulled a half-gallon of Monkey Business ice cream— a smooth banana base with flecks of chocolate and trails of thick peanut butter—from the freezer. I would be able to keep company with a gift from Penn State Creamery.
Maybe I was feeding off the excess of food that my doctor had recommended, filling in those parts of me that have been removed days earlier. Perhaps I ate more than was necessary, or maybe it wasn’t. I could not weigh it all, couldn’t calculate how much pain is worth a decreased risk, or which acts of resistance are worth death. But there, on that couch, I could have a little taste of the world’s sweetness for myself. You can now see it. In a body that is not mine, I keep a bit of what’s important to me. My world is tumbling toward danger, and I’m still enjoying the joy of it.