We rode in the family car on our way to see my grandparents in Michigan. We had been in the car for what felt like twenty years to my six year old self. The sun had already set, and nothing but the pale moon light and the faint red glow of the brake lights from the cars in front of us lit the dark highway. My dad was driving. I had no idea how he was able to navigate only being able to see fifteen feet in front of him, and constantly driving towards a black wall. My mom was in front of me sleeping with her feet propped atop of the dashboard. And my brother was next to me listening to his CD player and reading a book.
I was staring out the window looking at every shining star on that clear night, at the same time wondering about all the outcomes of all the maybes that were being said at that very moment. Some of those people got the positive side of that response, while others did not fare as well. And I was searching through every star until I found the shooting star that would twinkle me a “Yes.” I was doing this because I had just asked my dad if we could stop and get some food. His first response, “Maybe.” I was tortured with this ambiguous response and his ambivalent facade.
Another three years later, my dad finally asked where my brother and I wanted to eat. Immediately, and almost simultaneously, we say, “McDonald’s.” At the next exit my dad goes to the nearest McDonald’s, and pulls into the parking lot. Finally I’m free from the prison cell of those four doors. I got out of the car and carried the dead weight of my sluggish shoulders into the McDonald’s. As soon as I enter, I’m filled with the pure joy that every kid get from just being inside of a McDonald’s.
Thankfully, it was near empty. Just one other family. There was no line, so I was first at the register. My mom let’s me make my own order, and of course I kindly asked the lady for a Happy Meal. Five seconds later I’m handed a bag designed to look like a house with the smiling faces and waving hands of the majestic, yet unsatisfying TY Teenie Beanies. I absolutely hated getting those toys as a child, especially since my mom would not allow me to open them from the bag, as they would be “worth something” one day. I still don’t think we’ve quite figured out that “thing” they’re worth.
I quickly finished my meal, and ran to the PlayPlace. I climbed up the green ladder, crawled through the orange and red pipes, slid down the smaller yellow slide, and must have went down the fire pole eight times before I decided I had enough courage to master the tall blue slide crowned at the highest point of the PlayPlace. On my venture to the top I used the rope ladder, ran across the unstable bridge, went up the spiral stairs, through the purple hall, and up the final ladder. When I emerged from the ladder, a girl with brown hair, a black shirt, and too much lip gloss, sat proudly in front of the entrance of the slide.
“Do you want to go down this slide?” She asked. At the time this girl seemed to be in her late twenties. Although, looking back on it, she was probably only eight. “Yes?” I asked confused to why she was perched in this very inconvenient spot. “Well you have to kiss me first!” “Kiss you??!!” I was morbidly terrified!! I had never kissed a girl before, nor have I even received my cootie shot! I was vulnerable to the cootie disease! Was this it?! Was this how the great Toby Darling was going to perish? From the mere cootie infested lips of a girl?! No! This wasn’t going to happen! I courageously and regrettably responded with “No…! Ewwwww!”
“What do you mean ‘Ewwwww!’ ?!”
I said the wrong thing. “Uhh…” POW!!! I was struck with the blunt force of her fist on my shoulder. I started crying. Not from the pain of the punch. But from the surprise of it, and maybe the pain…. But mainly the fact that I wouldn’t be able to go down the slide, and then continued crying from the realization that I had to return to my family crying. I climbed back down the ladder and sat in the secluded area where one pretends to pilot a plane. I wiped my tears away. Manned up. And went down the smaller yellow slide. I walked quietly back to the table where my parents were sitting. I sat down. And played with my still-bagged TY Teenie Beanie.
A few minutes later we threw our trash away and walked outside back to the car. I climbed in, closed the door, and stared into the McDonald’s through the panes of the windows at the tall blue slide. Suddenly my attention was grabbed by the other family exiting as we began to back out of our parking spot. There she was, leaving with her family. She walked out with a smile, playing with her unbagged toy, and joyfully skipped to her family’s van.