In the span of a breath, everything changed. We were enjoying a late Manhattan afternoon during the crisp early days of autumn when the city is at it’s finest. One moment she was holding my hand and the next she was running towards an ice cream stand on the opposite side of the street. My heart stopped at the exact instant that my brain registered she had just dashed into heavy traffic. Cars honked and swerved but the truck driver must not have seen her. I screamed her name again, again and then again. There was nothing else I could do.
Sometimes it is the smallest decisions that can change your life forever. We could have stayed at the library a little longer, or left there half an hour earlier. In either case the truck would not have been barreling down the right lane at the exact same moment in time my Emily chose to let go of my hand and run into the street. We could have stayed home that afternoon, baking cookies or puttering in our little garden which took up most of the back yard around the lone scraggly, wildly bent tree. Making mud pies maybe. Emily loved mud pies from the time she could first toddle into a puddle on her own.
But we chose the weekly trip to the library with a promise of ice cream afterwards. We had a game we played on each visit called “Flavor of the Week.” The rules were simple: never choose the same flavor twice. The previous week Emily had tried Peach for the first time and I snuck in an old favorite – Lime sherbet. While we waited on our double scoops I noticed an intriguing new flavor had been added to the list of choices. A handwritten word was scrawled between Lemon and Lime on the menu board. It read: “Lilac.”
“Do you suppose it really tastes like flowers, Em?” I remember asking her. And her excited response “Let’s get it next week, Mama, both of us!” So that was our plan as we walked from the library with another week’s worth of picture books. Lilac Ice Cream for two before we hurried back to the apartment to see Daddy when he got home from work.
It is sometimes necessary to forget in order to survive. But I remember everything about that afternoon. The way the late afternoon sun slanted through the spaces between buildings and glimmered on the traffic, the warm and somehow comforting smell of exhaust fumes and the swizzling sounds of tires swooshing across the pavement. I remember seeing my daughter’s laughing face turn back over her shoulder to call to me “Come on Mama!” as she runs blindly away. The distance between us grows while her golden curls bounce in the wind. Her chubby cheeks are flushed from the walk and her tiny white teeth are bared in a delighted grin.
In this moment of total joy she is almost transcendent in her happiness.
I can’t stop my tears and lately I don’t even try. It could have been so different.
I remember the sound of horns and the squeal of brakes from passing cars while Emily ran on. She was already past the truck and into the other lane of traffic when that truck suddenly swerved around her and stopped abruptly, acting as a barrier between her and the oncoming traffic. She reached the opposite curb and turned back to me, her frightened face finally registering a realization of the danger.
Well, I missed the Speakeasy deadline again – this time by a full day! I’m finding my writing process (read: slow) and required daily obligations (read: job) are interfering far more than they used to. So, not wanting to waste my little effort I’m posting it here for your reading pleasure. Comments most welcome!