The summer I turned 18, I fell in love with the ice cream man. Although, being the same age as me, he was only technically a man. In truth, we were both still kids telling ourselves we were all grown-up. He worked behind the counter at the local Baskin-Robbins and wooed me with his scooping virtuosity and oh-so-witty pickup lines. (“What’s your flavor? I’ve got 31 original.”)
The son of a military officer who’d recently moved to our Virginia high school from Texas, he was a talented soccer player who was too smart for the jock crowd—which meant he remained an outsider. Still, he was cute, and if he’d handed out a few free cones, he could have quickly landed a sweetheart. Instead, he chose me: a girl who didn’t like ice cream.
It’s my teeth. I grew up in Germany drinking well water, which, apparently, led to my soft enamel and cold sensitivity. To this day, I have to wait for vending-machine sodas to come to room temperature before popping the tab. One chill against my molar and—zing! Pain straight to my sinuses. The last thing I wanted to eat was ice cream. But when I found myself falling in love, I did it anyway.
When he worked the night shift at the ice cream parlor, I’d meet him at the minutes before closing for our “date.” He’d lock the door, turn the sign, then serve up whichever flavor he thought would please me. We’d talk while he cleaned the dirty dishes and scooper spoons, sticky countertops, café tables streaked in chocolate sauce, and cookie crumbles from the floors. I’d swirl my frozen cup until it melted enough to eat painlessly. (In case you didn’t know, it takes a long time for ice cream to puddle, and no one serves Rocky Road lukewarm for good reason.)
We spent hours together on those nights. All of my previous romances had been pretty formulaic, brief, and unsatisfying, so I didn’t mind that these weren’t real dates. After all, he made me laugh harder than anybody I’d ever met, while wearing an apron and holding a mop under pink neon lights.
It’s funny how far outside your comfort zone you’ll go for love. A young woman who had no palate for cold confections fell in love with an ice cream man and married him seven Junes later. This year marks our eighth wedding anniversary—and our first summer apart. Our romance has veered toward the unconventional once more. He’s an army physician who’s just been deployed to Afghanistan.
I can’t send ice cream to his military camp, but one thing I can promise: When he returns, I’ll stock the refrigerator with every one of those 31 flavors and then some. And this time I’ll even do the washing up.
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