We did things in secret a lot: a movie after running errands, a meal out when we could have eaten at home, a run by Wendy’s after she’d gotten her nails done. These were always “treats,” “flukes,” “secrets.” But it was ok, she assured us. “I’m just not ready to go home yet.”
This was before the divorce, of course.
“Meghan, I swear, if you don’t stop fighting with your sister we won’t go to The Olive Garden later. I MEAN IT.”
She yelled this over her shoulder, in the general direction of the back seat. She didn’t really know who was fighting with who, but I was an easy target. I would shut up immediately. I knew she didn’t mean it. She wanted to go to The Olive Garden as much as we did. The Olive Garden meant no dishes, less outright fighting, and maybe a semblance of family time.
Even so, it surprised me one night when she asked, after running errands all over the city, “Want to see a movie?”
I almost didn’t know how to respond. I was the only one with her, and the day had been a boring slew of banks and small shops and department stores. Seeing a movie was a dream. This never happened!
So I nodded, enthusiastically, and blubbered a half mute “Of course.”
I was confused by the act of compulsion, but I knew I was in for a rare treat too. Alone with my mother? Just the two of us? I couldn’t say no.
She smiled in the front seat, knowing she’d done something good.
We parked in front of the dollar theatre, in Sugarhouse Park. Before the movie started, we went to a Greek place where she got Souvlaki and I got french fries. She complained about the meat in the souvlaki, something about it being fatty and cooked the wrong way. I was vegetarian then, so I wasn’t even interested in tasting it, and therefore didn’t really care.
We finished our meals, packed our trash into a tight ball, and discarded it on the way out of the shop. She bought us tickets, to “A Bug’s Life,” which had been out for almost a year but we hadn’t seen it yet. We got soda and popcorn and milk duds, and then made our way into the theatre.
She never liked sitting too close to the screen, so we chose some seats halfway up the incline. They weren’t quite in the center (which was my preference), but our seats were close enough to the front of the theatre that I could still forget I wasn’t part of the movie.
It was perfect. She and I laughed together. We got teary-eyed at the right moments together. At the end I was tired, not used to being out past nine o’clock, and she put her arm around me to guide me back towards the car. I felt close to my mother while we put our seatbelts on, got onto the highway, and drove back up the canyon.
Then we got home. Dad asked, she yelled. All the wonder of the evening disappeared in the moment. Squished like a last thought into the fibers of our lives.