When I was really little, Orem’s was where I’d go for milkshakes after someone’s birthday party, where I’d meet my grandparents on weekends for pancakes, and where my friend’s parents would take me out to dinner. But then I hit the fifth grade, and I discovered that Orem’s is more than a family-oriented diner.
Annie Jr. was my first show at Wilton Children’s Theater. I played a rosy-cheeked, four-foot-tall orphan who was occasionally wheeled around in a laundry cart. After our Friday show, I emerged from behind the curtains of the Middlebrook stage; jazz shoes still on, my face blotchy with heavy foundation and blush. One of my fellow castmates asked if I’d be joining them at Orem’s which was a tradition after Wilton shows. I promptly begged my mother to let me stay out, which she agreed to.
By seventh grade, I’d nailed down my order: a chocolate milkshake and mozzarella sticks which all my friends would steal from me. When I was one of 40 sweaty kids with lips tinted from whatever lipstick I wore, mascara piled onto my eyelashes, and hair tied up tightly after being in wigs for hours who entered the restaurant around 10 pm., I’d go straight to the left front corner booth and ensure that I would have one of a dozen chocolate milkshakes ordered to my table. We’d laugh about how one of our friends tripped while dancing on stage or how a girl nailed a note she’d previously missed. My mother would drag me home before midnight.
In high school, the tradition continued. Except instead of my mom staying with me, as a freelancing teenager I could stay out as late as my older friends who were driving me home permitted. The drives from the high school to Orem’s consisted of belting showtunes, and the rides home were rides down a Route 7 so empty that we could leave our brights on and the whole world was frozen outside of the car. My junior year, I suddenly became the older friend dictating how late my younger counterparts could stay out, and ensuring we left a hearty tip. But besides that, it stayed the same. I’d go to my same booth with the same friends and laugh about the same things.
My final post-show Orem’s was a tsunami of memories. I was transported back in time through all the post-show Orem’s where I sat in that booth, and every other occasion that I went to that diner during my 11 years in Wilton. During the drive there, my mind raced through every nighttime drive from the high school to Orem’s on a dimly lit Route 7 and all of the friends I’ve made that drive with. When I got there, I was transported to every Orem’s trip, from after Annie Jr. to the time last week where my friends and I grabbed milkshakes before a bonfire. Then I drove two sophomores and one junior home and we talked about everything; I remembered before I was the driver and I was begging to be the last one dropped off.
I’ve been time traveling a lot lately. When I drive by a certain intersection on my route to school, my mind travels to years before when I’d sit on a bus seat right there and listen to angsty music. Or when I go swimming at my friend’s house, I remember the first time I went swimming there at his end-of-sixth-grade party. My mind recalls wandering through the reserve by my house alone for hours on end and feeling true freedom for the first time in elementary school when I return there to do the same thing. Every place I go ignites some memory. Every store and house and cul-de-sac I go to reminds me of everything I’ve seen in our suburban haven. Every time I realize more and more, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.