Daddy didn’t like spending money in restaurants. A waste, he told us, when we have food at home. I mostly ate fast food when I visited my grandparents. But, on strange and wonderful occasions, my father would take my mother, brother, and me out to eat, invariably, to Taco Bell.
The Enchirito was my favorite dish at Taco Bell. A combination of a burrito and an enchilada, it was a tortilla, filled with meat, drowned in red sauce, and topped with cheese and three black olives. I always wanted one. I especially loved the metallic olives. I savored each of the three, individually, at the very end. It was a perfect meal, served in a reheatable foil tray. I never needed to reheat mine.
The reasons for our trips varied greatly. Daddy had just returned home from working out of state. Or he had thrown the plate of food momma had made for him at the wall. Or my brother and I had a baseball game that lasted too long.
The last time I had one was in Houston in 1977. I was in my room playing while momma cried downstairs. Daddy was going in and out of our apartment over and over again and cursing. He was twenty-nine years old, had a huge beard, towered over us.
Eventually, he opened my door and told me to get my ass up. I grabbed a couple of toys and followed him downstairs. “Get in the goddamn car,” he told us. “Where are we going?” Momma hugged me. Daddy didn’t answer.
We ordered at the Taco Bell drive-thru. “We’ll eat at the park,” he said. My brother, older and hungrier, got two bean burritos and a taco. I got my Enchirito. The bottom of the foil tray was hot and the condensation was building on the plastic lid. I could barely make out the three black olives on top. “Don’t drop your fucking food in my car,” daddy warned us. He had a brand new Ford Thunderbird.
When we got to the park, momma brought us to a table next to the swing set. “Eat and then you can play,” she told us. “Daddy and I are going to talk over there.” She was a small, short woman, barely over five feet two and maybe a hundred and ten pounds. My brother and I ate, quickly, eager for this rare trip to the park.
My brother finished first and disappeared among the monkey bars and merry-go-rounds. It was cold for Houston that day, and we were the only children. I wanted to eat quickly, but I still ate my Enchirito the same, leaving the olives last. As I got the next to last one in my mouth, I heard my father say “Bitch!” and turned to see him strike my mother across the face. My little mother swayed from the force of the slap and held her face. My father got up and saw me watching. “Eat your food, boy.” He walked away.
I never had another Enchirito, never finished that last olive, the taste now forever metallic, like blood, on my childhood palate.
Travis Cravey is an editor at Malarkey Books (@malarkeybooks) and Editor at Large at Versification (@versezine), but mostly he”s a maintenance worker. Find him on twitter @traviscravey and ask him anything.
image: Susan Gutterman