11/19/2013 05:15 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

The Drive-Through Killing

It was going to be a great day, maybe the greatest.

I was going to my first fast-food restaurant, the first fast-food restaurant in our South Florida town. A Burger King. Drive-through only. I had my order ready and everything. Hamburger and a vanilla shake. Best day of my life. Coming right up.

It was around 1:30 when we headed from our home to the Burger King. We were in my mother's Mercury. Copper colored, I think. Power windows, I know. I played with the power windows until I was told I could catch my neck in the window. I stopped playing with the power windows.

My mother was driving. My grandmother was in the passenger side. I was in the back.

I was 4.

This was a special treat not only because we were going to our first fast-food restaurant but because my grandmother was with us. I was with my two favorite people in the world.

We pulled up to the window. A girl -- a woman -- same thing to me back then -- stuck her head out. My mother leaned her head out of the window. Both heads leaning toward one another. I wasn't sure, but I guessed she was taking our orders. I waited my turn to order my hamburger and vanilla shake.

I waited. But no one took my order, and I had practiced and everything.

The girl and my mother kept talking, but their voices were so soft. Then I saw my mother talk to my grandmother, but again so softly I couldn't hear a word they were saying. Grown-up talk, I figured. I just wanted my fast food. Could I eat it in the car? We were never allowed to eat in the car, but maybe this one time?

After they talked, I saw my mom sag in her front seat as if something heavy had struck her. She looked like she would fall, but thankfully she was sitting. I looked at my grandmother. She didn't look like she was falling. She put her hand on her daughter's shoulder as if to also brace her from some impossible fall.

I looked at the girl in the drive-through window. She was crying. I wondered if my mom was crying. I looked at her. I saw her straighten up in the front seat. She started the Mercury, and we went back home. I never got my hamburger and vanilla shake.

Last weekend I went home to visit my mother. In the family room there's a bookcase where she keeps old newspaper clippings and Life magazines. My mother, a lifelong Democrat and Catholic, saved so many articles and photographs about the assassination of her president 50 years ago this week.

During my visit, we talked about the family, my job, her yard, the struggling Miami Dolphins and a songbird she inherited from her granddaughter. The night before I left I mentioned the approaching anniversary. I reminded her of us being at the Burger King, how Grandma was with us, what I planned to order, how the food never came.

My mother seemed to sag again, so I stopped talking about her president.