Knowing he would pick me up at six p.m., I started getting ready at noon. Robbie and I hung out together all summer. Sometimes at his house. Sometimes at mine. This was going to be our first real date. A double date. Since we were only fourteen, he was supposed to ask his brother Brian to drive. Brian was the responsible one. Pre-med. Nice car. Instead he asked his brother Billy.
My older siblings were never an option. Monday through Friday they lived on the University of Miami campus around forty-five minutes away. Steven was twenty-one, Ellen nineteen. They were the sort of kids who suffered through their adolescence only to see their adolescence last for twenty years. On weekends they came home, sat in our den, and watched TV. Every weekend. On the same couch. Like bookends.
Our parents always joined them. Even though Mom and Dad were only in their forties, in 1967 people in their forties looked old. Their bodies were squared, like someone had taken normal people, put them in a trash compactor, and made them shorter and wider.
Other than cooking and cleaning, my mother didn’t get out much. Once she joined a bowling league. Then when I was in third grade, Dad had a heart attack. They didn’t have cell phones back then. People could disappear for hours. My father almost died, and no one knew where to find Mom. That was the last time she bowled.
Like most religious Jews, our family kept a kosher home. We had three sets of dishes. One for meat. One for dairy, and one for Chinese take-out. Our Saturday rituals were sacrosanct. Mom would cook all day. Then we’d watch The Defenders. My parents loved courtroom drama. It was like watching Judge Judy, if Judge Judy were in black and white and stripped of any semblance of humor.
Every Saturday night. Like clockwork. In my parents’ eyes, bailing on The Defenders was like skipping school. No one was supposed to miss The Defenders. I broke the news about my date subtly, sliding it into the conversation. Mom, as usual, was washing dishes. I spoke to her back.
“Boy. Do you think we’ll ever solve the problems in the Mideast? Thurgood Marshall is certainly impressive. Robbie and I are going to the movies Saturday night and we won’t be home until midnight. I sure hope we can make that nuclear proliferation treaty stick!”
If anyone was making weekend plans, it wasn’t supposed to be me. I was the baby of the family, years younger than my brother and sister. Life in our household was supposed to proceed in an orderly progression. The older birds were supposed to leave the nest first.
The problem was the older birds. Steven and Ellen were content with their credit card accounts and their stereos and Mom washing their dirty laundry each time they brought it home. It’s not that I was popular. It’s just that my siblings had no social lives at all. And nothing terrified me more than the prospect that I would end up just like them.
Finally the big day came. Each hour was strategized like a military assault. To get the frizz out of my hair, I washed it that morning, slathered on Dippity-doo, and then wrapped it in emptied orange juice cans. I applied my Bonnie Bell makeup with surgical precision. I tugged on pantyhose even though it was ninety degrees in the shade.
My sister and I had been condemned to share the same room. A junior in college, she was lonely and bitter and hated me. While I got ready, she kept the banter going.
“Interesting eye shadow. Has Halloween come early?”
“Is that a pimple on your nose? You know. That big red thing.”
For weeks I had cruised the mall looking for just the right outfit. Six months of babysitting revenue bought me a simple brown shirtwaist. I spun in front of the mirror and imagined Jackie Kennedy. Needless to say, my sister had a different opinion.
“Put on a little weight?”
“You look like blubber with a belt.”
At ten after six, I heard a car honk outside. Peeking through a slit in my curtains, I saw Billy at the wheel of his piece-of-shit Chevy Nova. Brian drove a red Impala. Billy’s car looked like it’d been through a Demolition Derby. You couldn’t describe the paint color. There was no paint color. A floor mat covered a hole where you could have stuck your foot.
I ran to the den and inched open the door. “My ride’s here!” I warbled to my parents.
The four of them were eating dinner off folding trays, poised and ready three hours early to watch their show.
“Aren’t you going to invite your friend in to say hello?” asked Mom.
She was in a housecoat blotched with sauce from the brisket. Dad was sitting in the La-Z-Boy, his large stomach protruding from his T-shirt and boxer shorts. He glanced at me and belched.