When we got ice cream—two scoops of strawberry and one scoop of butter pecan for me, three scoops of mint chocolate chip for you, as always—that Saturday afternoon in June from the little dessert shop pocketed in the southeast of the city, the one that sat two blocks from the intersection between Waverly and Randolph Street, where it smelled kind of sharp, like lemon or eucalyptus, a little bit like the air freshener you sprayed in your dorm room (which was only a two minute bike ride away), well, Jace, I didn’t mean to, but I forgot to tell you something.
We were walking out of the store, our freshly served ice cream cups blissfully cool in our hot palms. There were no more seats left indoors, so we’d had to eat at the picnic tables outside, where the concrete tiles were painted in a pattern of alternating black and white, which you always said made you feel like we were walking across a chess board. I was about to sit down, but then your arm stopped me. You said my name. You said, checkmate, Stella, checkmate, with your lips curved into a teasing grin that made your teeth look very sharp, and I rolled my eyes, I brushed you aside as I said, get out of my way, rookie, and we laughed. We sat across from each other, we spooned prodigious amounts of ice cream into our mouths, we let the sweetness stream into our bodies like water, and then I was paying attention, really paying attention to what was happening—marveling at the warm air pregnant with the promise of even warmer days, that this was only the start of summer, the chorus of our voices, yours an octave lower than mine, the harmony reminding me of our string duet, where you played your viola and I played my violin, in the in the school orchestra, where we first met in third grade, the scene behind you, a few feet away, of a little boy, his red mouth open in a smile, standing with a young woman who held a light green umbrella, so much like Monet’s painting, The Stroll, that we were studying that week in an art history class at university together (which we both decided to take, even though neither of us could draw anything proficiently beyond stick figures)—and I remember thinking, wow, isn’t this so picturesque, isn’t this so magnificent, isn’t this so exquisite, but then I felt something dripping onto my right knee, the skin bare and exposed through the artful rips in my blue jeans, and I noticed, then, that the sun was burning my ice cream, that what once had been three glorious orbs of refreshing, delightful perfection had dissolved into a puddle of light pink, sticky liquid that reminded me of the laughable strawberry yogurt we had attempted to make the night before in the dorm hall’s kitchen, downstairs, two floors below where my room was, and I sighed, without meaning to, and you said, Stella, is there something wrong, and I said, no, Jace, no, nothing’s wrong, I just wish my ice cream would stop melting. I just wish I could freeze it.
But that wasn’t all I wanted to say, Jace. It wasn’t only the ice cream that I wished I could freeze. I wanted to freeze me, you, the whole world that day. I wanted to store that moment in that place in my mind I peer into whenever I am cheerless, friendless, and a little restless. I wanted to keep everything in place so that I would always remember what it was like, even for a few minutes, to forget and to be forgotten by this linear thing called life or reality or whatever it is, which I spend traveling back and forth from the glass office, where I, for a living, consult old men in black suits on how to line their pockets with money, to my one bedroom apartment where I glare at the haphazard heap of Internet and healthcare bills smirking at me on my kitchen table. I wanted to stop everything because that day, I wasn’t lonely, I was happy, you were my best friend, and I trusted you, but most of all I was scared, Jace, I was scared because I knew that inevitably this moment would escape from me the way the monarch butterflies did a few years ago when we were sitting in your mom’s backyard and they landed in my hair for only a brief second but then fluttered away and I never saw them again, that this day, though so vivid and alive to me at the time, would someday fade into the grayness of year-old memories that no one can quite recall (do you remember, Jace? Do you?), that it would eventually have to do something that I detest with every inch, every crevice, every depth of my soul: it would end.
I don’t know why I didn’t tell you all of this. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want you to say something like, come on, Stella, this isn’t Frozen, I’m not Olaf, you’re not Elsa, and then brush it away with an elegant wave of your arm, the way you always did with things you didn’t know how to respond to. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want you to say that it was naive. Because I already knew, and I still know, that it was naive. That I’m naive. I believe in the best of people even when it isn’t there, I daydream that things can sometimes end up the way it does in the movies, I assume that everyone thinks about me as much as I think about them. I sway through my life on a flimsy string of idealism.
Nothing lasts forever. I accept that. But isn’t this just our natural response to good things—with things as precious but delicate as ice cream? As friendships? We try to hold onto them for as long as we can. We try to freeze them.
It’s too late to tell you this now, I guess, since we’re not nineteen anymore, I’m twenty-five, my next birthday is in three days, I drive my own car now, so I guess I should just forget about it. Move on. Yet every time I try, the memory resurfaces in my mind like foam in a swimming pool, unbidden.
I guess I keeping thinking about that day–I guess I keep thinking about you–because even though I know I’m still young, that there’s still so much to look forward to as I get older, as I feel my mind growing wiser, I just still can’t let go of those times when I was younger, when we were younger, Jace, when we were teenagers, when we did things just to do them, when we floated through everything so effortlessly like we were on a cloud, easy breezy, so relaxed, so carefree, never thinking about anything beneath us. But now you’re gone, you moved to Milwaukee eight weeks ago, you said, bye, Stella, bye, thank you for dropping me off at the airport, and now you never ask me how I’m doing, you never ask me to listen to your favorite songs anymore, you never tell me whether if you win or lose your tennis tournaments, or if you play doubles or singles or even if at all, and I don’t know why, I don’t know why you left, I don’t know why you decided to leave me without ever telling me why, why, why whywhywhywhywhy, so now whenever I eat ice cream, alone, and it starts melting, I realize that I should’ve told you, Jace. I should’ve told you. I just wanted to freeze everything that day.