The drive-in tried to kill me when I was 12.
How, you say?
Well, I did a bit of babysitting in my youth. Of course, one had to do quite a bit of babysitting at that time to make any money, because the going rate was fifty cents an hour, regardless of the number of children.
I once babysat four kids overnight and got less than $8.
But that’s another story.
I sat for my youngest cousin, Chad, here and there; and so it came to pass one weekend that my Aunt Jewel and Uncle Keith decided to go to a drive-in, bringing me along to watch the two-year-old Chad.
You remember drive-ins, don’t you? Rows and rows of speakers on stands, the rows of piled dirt that you parked your front wheels on, aiming yourself toward the screen, the teenagers who arrived in the trunks of their friends cars in an attempt to save the $4 or whatever it was to get in…
I didn’t get out much as a 12-year-old. I was a late bloomer of a gal, someone who could easily be portrayed in the movie of her life as someone who starts out in her brother’s corduroys and granny glasses and ends up, well, giving her brother his pants back.
But we’re going to the drive-in! We’re going to the drive-in!
Jewel and Keith up front, Chad and I in the back, what movie are we going to?
Why, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, of course!
I remember, quite clearly, Chad running ahead of me to the playground, lifting and placing him on the swing. The drive-in screen was visible, just beyond a couple trees, and I pushed Chad absent-mindedly while I watched the movie, watched as the van in the film pulled over and picked up the creepy hitchhiker, the one who went on to play with a knife, the one they kicked out a couple miles down the road.
I couldn’t hear it, of course, but even a fifth grader could tell you that this was not going to end well.
A number of hot dogs, some popcorn, a small keg of pop later, and we were in the back seat of the car again.
Chad lay on the floor and fell asleep.
With nothing else to do, I began to watch the movie.
Projected onto a screen 100 feet wide and 80 feet tall, I watched, through latticed fingers, as the free-wheelin’, van-drivin’ hippies were killed in horrible ways.
I kept my foot on Chad’s back as he slept.
We went back to their home after the movie, somewhere around 1:00 a.m. and I spread my sleeping bag on the floor of the spare room and closed my eyes.
And that was when the real horror began.
I was not accustomed to sleeping there, and every sound, every creak, put in motion the leather-faced freak now occupying precious brain space.
I summoned the dispenser of fear – the alphabet – for hours that night, reciting it in English, French, and Pig Latin.
Ohway ymay odgay.
It was around 6:00 a.m., as the sun was coming up, that I finally started to fall asleep.
And that’s when the garbage truck came down the alley. The sound of the hydraulic lift on the back of the truck – sounding every decibel like a chainsaw – caused my heart to rip through my ribs, whereupon it was propelled upward and hit the ceiling with a wet, percussive slap.
I peed my pants.
And then I died of fear.
You know, every day, I try to learn a little something.
What did I learn that day?
That there’s no way to ignore a screen that size.
And that you should always pack one more pair of underwear than you think you’ll need.
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