tmbt remembered: drive-in romance
I was six years old, perhaps seven, when I met him. We were on a usual summer family outing to the drive-in in that big white conversion van my dad gunned around. Me and my little brother Doug usually situated ourselves on the roof of that van atop and under quilts and comforters galore. We were often falling asleep before the end of the first feature, lulled beyond our own sheer will by the buzz of those drive-in speakers all around and aglow with the soft light that huge, old projection screen bounced back at us like a nightlight under a canopy of stars.
Just under that screen was a playground and between the films, it would fill with boisterous boys like my brother and shy girls, like me . That’s where I met him. I wish I could remember his name now. I’m sure I did remember it for years, but even those years were so long ago, it escapes me. I remember meeting amidst all the rowdy kids – most all new to each other – a rag-tag bunch collecting from all the surrounding small towns.
I tried in vein to find a way on to the already-whirling merry-go-round until he took initiative to stop it. He yelled at the other kids, offered me his similarly-small hand, and made sure I was on safely before letting the other boys start the spinning again. Then, when I wanted to get off, there he was again and we were off to the teeter totters.
I was bigger than him. I was bigger than most boys my age at that time, so the teeter totter imbalance was obvious and embarrassing, even at that young age. I said shyly, “Sorry I’m so big,” and he said, “You’re just stronger than me, that’s all,” and my smile must have outshined the projector. It sure seemed like it did to him. Then led me over to the swings where he smiled, too, as he gave me gentle little pushes. He can’t have been any older than me, but looking back I’m astounded at what a gentleman he was. I suppose I developed a deep appreciation for chivalry right then and there, one that has certainly stuck with me ever since. He was the nicest boy I’d ever met; in retrospect, that was no tall feet given all the roughnecking, bike-riding, fort-building, kiss-sneaking neighborhood boys I spent most of my time with at that age.
We sifted back and forth on those swings until the next movie started, until most of the kids had vacated back to their family vehicles per the well-understood rules of returning before the opening credits rolled into the first scene. We lingered. Then, the boy’s big brother came looking for him and after a sweet introduction, “This is Heather,” an all-too-tragically-wistful look and shy wave, he was gone.
I ambled back to my roof to take my place with my brother and marveled at the feeling inside me. My chest was warm and my face was sifted into a slight frown. My chest was hot and my guts hurt. My mind was a million miles away and I felt more a part of the world and at the same time more disconnected than I had ever remembered feeling. I looked up at the stars and nodded in understanding, realizing more than ever that I, like each of them, was my own person, beautiful, shining, and so alone.
It was the first time I fell in love and it was awful. And it was beautiful.
Photo by MJ Seitz Vega and found at Wired.com.