I have a distinct memory of the first time I visited Häagen-Dazs as a child. I was in third grade, and I had a friend whose parents were rich. He lived in a house that I considered a mansion, and his life was very different from mine. (I remember him talking to me about his family’s recent trip to Egypt. He told me, probably not intentionally trying to sound like a snob, but merely repeating something he had overheard one of his parents saying, “We flew first class. It’s the only way to travel,” and I replied, confused about why he had thought to mention this fact, “Well, if there aren’t any other options, then of course you did.”) He knew about this magical place that served the best ice cream in the world, only it had some strange unpronounceable name that I thought sounded vaguely like a pig—and therefore rather appropriate as a name for ice cream, I guess—until I saw it emblazoned on the storefront.
I was there only because I had been invited to spend the weekend at his house, and his family decided to go for ice cream while I was over. I’m sure, for them, Häagen-Dazs was the only place to get ice cream. I wish I could tell you the exact name of the flavor I ordered and describe its decadence in precise detail, but I have no memory of the ice cream, though I suppose it must have been good, because I remember that he and I were pumped up on sugar and running around. He was jumping up over the benches on the store’s outdoor patio, and I was chasing after him, both of us laughing, when I misjudged and toppled over, landing hard on my chest, which knocked the wind out of me. Feeling unable to breathe, I ran over to his mother, who was engrossed in conversation with a friend. She ignored me as I continued to get dizzier and dizzier until, fearing I would fall, I lay down on the ground beside her feet.
She finally looked down at me, her face completely blank as she regarded me for a full second, then she turned back to her friend, scowled meaningfully with one upraised eyebrow, and continued her conversation. It took me another fifteen seconds or so to realize that was it. In the life of a child, fifteen seconds is also long enough to regain your breath and to realize that you aren’t, in fact, going to die, and the pain and fear that seemed unbearable only moments before is actually quite tolerable, maybe even gone completely. The other pain, though, the surprising pain of being completely ignored and uncared for, even as insignificant as it was against the larger backdrop of my youth, that pain stayed with me for years after that experience, and it took me far longer to understand.