It’s funny how some memories remain intact in the ever-waning gray matter of my brain.
Maybe the ones that survive are the ones drenched with the most emotion. Or maybe it’s the memories from our youth that survive, when our brains are still fresh and every experience is brand-new.
Back in the days before Netflix and Redbox, Colorado Springs had a drive-in movie theater: the Aircadia Drive In on Platte Avenue, where a Walmart now stands. Only about 330 drive-ins are left in the U.S., reported the website 303magazine.com in May, and less than 10 of them are in Colorado.
It was a warm, breezy May night during my senior year at Mitchell High School. Graduation, college, life all loomed in the distance, but for now there was only lollygagging through early summer days.
My date to the drive-in was Mike, a dishwater-blond, charismatic goofball with a huge smile that showcased the gap between his front teeth. He was loud, extroverted. He rounded out my pop culture knowledge with showings of the cartoon “The Ren & Stimpy Show” and the 1984 film “Repo Man.” I hope to see neither ever again. Nothing against Mike, but his tastes were not my tastes.
Don’t ask me what movies were showing at the Aircadia. That part of my memory has permanently vacated the building. I can only remember the most important part: the falling in love. You can’t take that from me, Father Time, you relentless thief of memories.
Mike and I met during sophomore year in the band room, as we locked up our saxophones after marching band practice. Walking in step with your band mates while playing music is 1,000 times harder than it looks. And highly unenjoyable, at least for me. But it was required to play music.
Perhaps it was our matching tooth gaps, but my body issued an immediate call to arms: This was somebody worth knowing. I crushed on him. It was unrequited, at least for a good long stretch of time, during which he had several long and serious relationships with upperclasswomen clearly more worldly than me.
But something sparked up during our senior year, or maybe it was because all the older ladies had long since graduated, leaving little old me. In April, there were pizza slices at Poor Richard’s, the play “Agnes of God” by Star Bar Players at Lon Chaney Theatre in the City Auditorium, a late-night walk through a Village Seven park near the site of one of my first jobs — Conway’s Red Top. And in May there was that night at the Aircadia.
We took my mom’s cranberry-colored Dodge Omni, and in between the double feature, we got out to bask in the spring air. This next part is most clear in my memory. I sat cross-legged on the hood. A breeze blew my hair across my face as I smiled enigmatically, butterflies buzzing through my insides, unsure what to say. He stood there and stared at me. I wondered what he was thinking but didn’t have the spunkiness to ask.
I found out months later, in a letter he wrote to me from Marine Corps boot camp. He referenced the moment, and called me his Mona Lisa. Swoon. I’m at 100 percent that I still have the letter. I also tucked those words into the imaginary file folder in my brain labeled “Kind and Interesting Things People Have Said to Me.” You kind of have to keep something like that, don’t you? To combat the co-existing folder of “Horrible Things People Have Said to Me.”
Granted, my one drive-in memory is limited, but that’s OK. The range of emotions it evokes will live forever. Hope and possibility. The end of childhood. The beginning of adulthood. And fresh, all-encompassing, naive first love.
He went to boot camp, I went to Grand Junction for college before finishing school in the Springs. Our three-year relationship outlasted the Aircadia, which closed in 1994, from what I can find online.
Perhaps some young couple will fall in love in the Walmart parking lot after a particularly fruitful grocery run. I’m grateful I got the chance to do it against the backdrop of a giant movie screen, the smell of buttery popcorn, the big trees and the mountain range at dusk.
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