04 October 2007
It is a universal fact that fast food has a mystical power over Americans. No matter how much we all agree to hate their carb-coated, diabetes-on-a-bun burgers, we find ourselves returning again and again to the same slipshod service and teeth grinding wait for some teenager to thaw out a long dead cow. There is a unity in our strange love/hate relationship with the fast food industry. It was because of this that I didn't feel so alone in my agitation that humid day. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, with summer still creeping on slowly and the mixture of smells particularly nauseating. This including, but not limited to: deodorant, french fries, body odor, old people, gasoline, and the polish used to give that needed glint to Ronald McDonald's frightening, plastic features.
I had practiced the expression I was wearing—the, "No, this McFlurry isn't for me," look, which was true, but my ego wanted everyone else to know as well. I watched the clock, anxiously shifting from foot to foot and sweating nervously. It wasn't the horrible service that had shaken me so much; it was the time I was spending away from my table, a table that now had both of my biological parents… together.
This particular McDonalds was near the 'pick up point,' just off of I-65. Every summer since I was a little kid, I've visited my dad in Alabama. Living in Tennessee had made exchanges easier, as the trip is only seven hours (granted, seven hours with anyone's parents seems twice as long) and usually pick up points consisted of a quick, "Ok, here's the kid. Nice seeing you. Bye." However, this summer was different. Somehow, a cruel, twisting of fates brought both parties to skip lunch and become hungry at the same time. How to solve this issue? Why, the local McDonalds of course!
I can't help but be socially awkward in these situations. One reason is because I'm a naturally awkward person, always fumbling over words and actions and how to make everyone happy. The other reason is because growing up is never easy with one parent. I was raised by my mother, who, while stronger than most women, has one of the many aspects of her gender—the ability to hold a grudge. Naturally, I learned to blame everything on my dad: financial situations, the divorce, my weight, global warming, etc. However, this belief ended near the beginning of middle school, when I realized that my dad wasn't so bad. He had feelings, beliefs and joys like any other human. My dad was a good guy, and I loved him. I didn't want to upset either of them though, so I simply decided to blame them both for different things. Blaming people usually works out, after all. Or so I thought.
So there I was waiting in line for my mom's ice cream thinking about all the hideous things that were going on behind me. They were probably just staring at each other with nothing to say, each reflecting on their pasts and what they could have done differently to better their marriage, or maybe they were seething with hatred for the other person. I became even more fidgety. I chanced a look behind, hoping that their judgmental eyes weren't glaring me down at the time.
I think I would have preferred it if they were.
Instead, they were buzzing with conversation. It wasn't small talk. I could tell by their eyes, and how they leaned in as if the last decade had not happened. An old hope slithered into the back of mind, the place where I had long ago thrown all my childhood fantasies, like the Boogey Man and peace on earth. What hurt the most was that it didn't hurt at all.
I laughed at the thought, because at 17 years old, it was actually laughable. My mom had remarried, and so had my dad. He had two kids, a third on the way and things were, well, happy.
As a panicked teenager pushed an over-filled McFlurry my way, I found myself speculating the life I had been living. All the difficulties and hardships that had been thrown at not only me, but at humanity, had inevitably worked out to fulfill another, often better goal. That's not to say that there's such thing as fate, or an ultimate fantastical being, but that humans are optimistic in simple existence. After a decade of blame, only the God-forsaken service of a fast food restaurant could make me realize how life had really turned out for the best.
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