When are we no longer young?
I decline to order one for me. I watch as he catches a neon green spill falling down his cone. “Is this your favorite flavor, too?” He asks.
“Ben and Jerry’s has a mint cookie kind. Oh, it’s good. But it’s different than yours. White. It has these sort of Oreo chunks in it.”
“Mint chocolate chip is your favorite,” he says, catching another drop.
“Maybe. But you know what? When I was little, we scooped up snow from outside in the winter. We’d add strawberries and milk and mix it all up. Oh, man. That was dee-licious.”
“So, strawberry is your favorite?”
“Sometimes.” I tell him about turning the crank in my grandma’s Dallas back yard and the pockmarked peaches from her little tree. “Nothing better in the summer.” Then, my other grandparents, the Oklahoma folks. They always had a quart or two of Braum’s butter pecan in the deep freeze out in the garage. It was as hard as a rock and we’d have to wait for it to soften into that perfect, melty crunch.
On and on. The place in the Montgomery mall where it was always a scoop of chocolate in a cup with chocolate jimmies. Snickers bars churned into a monstrous carafe of soft-serv after waiting in a night-falling line at the window of Belt’s in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Green tea flavor, a diminutive scoop after sushi.
Bug is almost down to the soggy sugar cone. “But which is your favorite. I mean of these flavors, right here, today?”
Florida sun glints off the window of the froo-froo creamery. A Baskin Robbins would be run out of St. Pete’s if it dared show its face on the strip. This place even makes its own artisan truffles on a marble slab. “Maybe salted caramel. Or mascarpone. But they do have peach, so I don’t know. . .”
Bug sighs in defeat, sea-foam green lapping all around the edges of his face.
This is the choice. To own it all and also none of it. To claim a home base on changing terrain. We lay down roots and they slip free, like it or not, usually right at the moment we forget our stay is only temporary.
Bug wads up his napkin and tells me he does not like museums. Nonetheless, we toss the remains of our sticky mess and wander into the building with the black doors. From the entryway, we watch white heat turn sand to liquid to glass, then to the jade-rimmed elephant ear and the crimson explosion. Bug hangs back for a few beats but the Chihuly bowl with its azure whorls winks a little too brightly. He steps closer.
When do we become so rigid that we shatter completely? Do the bluster and dogma we imagine to be our eternal foes come to comprise us? I wonder if we reach a point when we can’t learn to love noise or inhabit silence when all we’ve known is the opposite.
When does it become too late to open?
My mother makes her way out from the exhibit into the gift shop to meet us. She has already been through and is ready for food.
“Let’s head out,” I say. “We can grab lunch and go straight back to the pool.”
Bug is lingering by a squat, floral oddity. “I want to go in and see,” he says. We hesitate. He has told me he is sick of art. That he is tired of walking. That all he wants is to swim. I am half a breath away from reminding him of this. Then something stills my tongue, though I’m not sure what. Maybe just that phantom trace of peach and pecan. Of long-ago chocolate.
Does my son really need me to fuse him to his claims? Sure, I pay lip service to the 31 flavors of favorites. Am I really ready to let him decide which now, which later? Which mood? Which self? No one needs fixing. No one needs to be unfixed, either. My boy can have his tastes, no matter if they are forever, fickle, or forgotten.
I glance at my mother, mindful of her energy levels. She shrugs. “I already bought a ticket. I’ll just take him through.” She pays the kid rate for him. He races in after her.
I sit and wait. I watch the film. They show how to make a sheet of glass from a melting cylinder trimmed up a perforation along the side. Geometry shifts. An object flattens into plane. Then, it lifts. Its bows. It catches sun. I once heard that if you find an old building somewhere out in the country with the original windows intact, the panes will measure thicker at the base than at the top. Glass is liquid even when it is not. We hold it firm and fit it into place. It melts away. It does not stay. Nothing does.
After, Bug shows me a roll of shots from the iPhone he has purloined from my mother. “See this one? I told grandma to pretend she’s making fireworks.” The photograph is a shadowland tinged cerulean. Mercury fronds reach skyward. My mother flares her hand and feigns a spell, her mouth widening in incantation and wonder. She is pyrokinetic. She is wizard. She changes right before my eyes.
When are we no longer young?