This is a true story. Or a memory. It might be a true memory.
On my twelfth birthday, my father took me and three of my friends to the drive-in.
On the way, we stopped at Krystal’s for a bag of sliders and some Cokes. Almost 50 years later, I remember the greasy grey imprint of the patty on its little white bun, that indeterminate “meaty product” flavor – if “flavor” is even a word that applies here. It left a waxy residue with every bite, enhanced by every swallow of Coke. The smell permeated the car. We, the girls, shrieked with laughter, at everything; we could not get over ourselves. One of us (wasn’t me) rolled down a window and threw handfuls of ketchup packets at passing cars. We were wild little assholes.
My father must have drawn the short straw on this venture: I imagine my mother, at home that night, sipping rosé after a long day at work, taking long draws on her Virginia Slims.
In the car, however, my father slouched into the driver’s seat, right wrist on the steering wheel. Resigned. He was in his early 30s, still baby-faced. He hunched himself deeper into his seat as he drove, trying to squeeze himself into an alternate universe.
At the drive-in, it didn’t matter that we could barely hear the audio through the rusted metal speaker next to the car. He popped the top on one of the Budweisers he had brought in a little cooler, and he began to chain smoke Winstons from the pack that he kept in his front shirt pocket.
Jabbering like happy fiends, my cohorts and I polished off the Krystal’s, in all of their grey glory, and poured out of the wagon, galloping to the concession for popcorn and more Coke.
One of us saw a friend from school a few station wagons over. We ran to her car and screamed some more.
It was mid-October, but the Georgia night was warm enough for sleeveless shirts and shorts.
Cigarette smoke curled from every car window.
Whatever the movie was, we didn’t care, but the blue wash of light reflected from the three-story cement screen made all of us seem the same, alien, one color, glowing in the dark: cars, kids, lovers, long-suffering parents, all of us springing from the hard clay and the Bermuda grass, a strange congregation.