Ice cream is the dessert of abandonment. Think about it. In all the movies, after a break-up, the food of choice is always ice cream. People drown their sorrows in ice cream. I’ve never seen the point in doing so. I think perhaps it’s because of an incident during the summer of grade 1 involving me, my best friend, and our horses Strider and Trek.
Strider was my horse. And he was a beauty. Purple. White mane. And best of all, no training wheels. That’s right. You read that right. Strider was a bike. As a young cowgirl stuck living in a town instead of a barn like I dreamed, my purple bike with the word “Strider” across the bar in bold lettering was as close to a horse as I was going to get.
My best friend, Heidi, was also a cowgirl stuck in a city-girl’s body. Her horse, Trek, was blue, a little rusty, and had to be shared with her two younger brothers. Trek was a little worse for wear. He had a pedal missing, and he had a handlebar that was slightly askew to the right, but Heidi loved Trek as much as I loved Strider. That’s what brought us together.
It was me and her. Strider and Trek.
Starting in kindergarten, we did everything together. And everything we did was horse related. We were the embodiment of that weird girl obsessed with horses in any given classroom. Neither of us could read, but that didn’t stop us from collecting all the Pony Pal chapter books. I collected magazines with pictures of horse breeds in them. Heidi supplied the hats and cowboy boots and we formed the ever exclusive and creatively named, ‘Horse Club’ of which we were the only members—Me and her. Strider and Trek.
All summer long we rode our horses around and around the block, the wind streaking through the holes of our helmets, and the sweat pooling in our cowboy boots. From an outside neighbour’s perspective, it looked like two girls endlessly riding their bikes around the block as if they expected to find something new every time they turned the corner. But to Heidi and me, we were riding in the open fields with nothing ahead or behind, the sun beating down on us as we surged forward on our powerful and mighty steads. Just me and her. Strider and Trek.
When our horses were in the stable, or being ridden by Heidi’s brothers, we piled our horse supplies into the clubhouse—Pony Pal books, horse breed magazines, and stuffed horses to match. Together we poured over the pages, learning the names and colours of the breeds we loved and wanted. Heidi always went with the classic Thoroughbred or Mustang, while I leaned toward the draft horses—with feathered feet of course.
I never thought that Heidi’s dedication to Trek, to our Horse Club, to me, was ever to be questioned. But I also thought ice cream was just a cold treat to eat in summer; however, that summer, between Kindergarten and Grade 1, I learned otherwise.
Heidi was at my house, as usual. We were preparing for a cross-country tournament. The first of the summer. It was an exciting expedition. The elementary school had just poured cement for a basketball court, but Heidi and I saw a horse-riding arena like no other. Our helmets were secured, our boots were polished, and the brakes on our bikes were checked and double-checked. We were ready to take off! I could hear the cheering crowd as we mounted our horses, waiting for the signal. I could hear Heidi’s name being chanted.
“Heidi! Heidi! Heidi!”
I opened my eyes, the stands of cheering fans faded away, and the triumphant shouts died in my ears. I saw Heidi’s little brother, Jordie, thumb in his mouth, standing in front of us, moments before our cross-country race could begin.
“Mum says we are going for ice cream. Are you coming with us?” Jordie asked, removing his thumb just long enough to deliver his wretched message.
I saw the tournament at the new horse arena fade from Heidi’s eyes. She dismounted. Suddenly Trek was just a blue rusty bike to her. She gave me an apologetic shrug.
“What about our tournament?” I asked.
“I’ll come back after,” she said, shrugging again. A dangerous sign I should have seen. The indifference of that shrug should have warned me, it should have set bells ringing, but it didn’t. I was clutching at the tiny piece of hope that after ice cream, we would have our tournament.
So I watched her go down that dusty road, Trek walking beside her, Jordie running to keep pace with her, no doubt thinking only of ice cream.
I wish I could say I went inside, explained to my mum the situation, and she would have told me…told what was going to happen at Heidi’s house.
But I didn’t. I stayed on the edge of my driveway, sitting in the gravel, Strider grazing on the lawn. Halfway through the afternoon, when the sun was relentless, I took off my helmet, and then my cowboy boots. But still I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Finally, my mum called me in. We had supper.
And the summer went on. It was supposed to be me and her. Strider and Trek. But it wasn’t, and it never was again. Heidi moved away that summer. I wish I could say I went to her house and found Trek there, with Heidi’s hat and boots. As a symbol, an apology for never competing in that cross-country tournament. But I didn’t find anything. She was just gone, simple as that.
It had been me and her. Strider and Trek. Until the day I learned that ice cream is the dessert of abandonment.