*Note: The following contains sensitive information about childhood sexual molestation.
Sometimes when I walk past an elderly man in the grocery store, I smell my great-grandfather. Once while working at a college, a student came into my office and chattered on about how excited he was to be back in school at his age. He was eighty-something, and while I wanted to rejoice with him, I had to leave the room because I was sure I would throw up. He smelled like my great-grandfather.
Those moments are few and far between. Still, I’m always amazed at the power such instances have over me. That complete jolting back to my past, back to those terrifying moments when I realized what he was up to.
The same punch in the gut comes when I’m shopping for ice cream. My search for something tasty always seems to lead to my coming face to box with butter pecan ice cream. I cringe, I quickly look away, and I feel the ache deep in my heart.
My great-grandfather wasn’t so great at all. He used butter pecan ice cream to lure me in.
“Come on over and sit on my lap,” he’d say. “You can have some ice cream after.”
I don’t know when it started, when he first began to let his hands wander over my small body, but it ended one day when I spoke up and called out for help. The final straw came when he brought me to his bed and held me there, touching, holding me tightly, and I pushed away from him and he held on tighter, and I remember thinking, “How can he be so strong when he’s so old?” I remember being disgusted, and I remember not being able to hold back the tears any longer. I remember how he smelled. And how when he noticed I was crying, he stopped and told me I could have some butter pecan ice cream. All I wanted was to go to bed, to pull the covers over my head and protect myself.
I went into the guest room and locked the door and then had nightmares all night that he easily opened the door and came in to touch me some more. “You can’t lock me out,” he said in my nightmares.
The next morning, I called my mom and begged her to come get me. “Please,” I whispered into the phone, “just make up a story why I can’t stay the whole week. Please don’t leave me here.”
To her credit, my mother did save me that day, but her “revenge” left me with no justice (but that’s another story for another day).
I never ate butter pecan ice cream again.
I recently decided I wanted to reclaim this treat. I wanted it to no longer have any power over me. It’s been decades, and how dare that man who is no longer even alive have control over me.
I added it to my grocery list and my husband said, “What are you getting that for? I thought you said you hated it.”
I shrugged off his question.
When I bought it and it was in our freezer, he said, “Okay, seriously. What’s going on? You’ve always said you hate that flavor. Did you get it for me? Can I have some?”
I decided it was time to tell him. I skimmed the surface, as I often do, and watched his face for reaction. “Yeah, never mind, I don’t want any,” he said.
“But that’s the point. It’s just ice cream and I want it back. Because I don’t actually hate it. I like it. He used it because I liked it. But that’s not fair and I want it back.”
The ice cream sat in the freezer for a week until today.
Today I made a bowl. I stalled by taking pictures of it, but eventually I knew I had to do it.
I took a bite. The ice cream sat on my tongue, burning my teeth, slowly melting. I took another bite and bit down on a pecan. I stared out the window, tasting the sweet freeze of a bad memory, and I let it melt away. Bite after bite, I took it back. I took back the fear and the tears and the helplessness I felt, and I took back the pain and the anger and the bitterness.
And I’m taking my life back, one spoonful of butter pecan ice cream at a time.