When Vi and Tony moved to Hartford, Connecticut, my sister, Ann Marie, was still in High School. It must have been daunting to move from our small home town to a city and a large, diverse high school. She approached it with her usual common sense and confidence. In no time she had friends and a social life. Of course, she had a boyfriend, and when I visited for the summer I fell in love with him.
I was only nine going on ten, but I knew quality when I saw it and Ann Marie’s boyfriend was way too good for her. He deserved a girl destined to become a great Indian chief, who could climb a tree, then back flip from a lower limb and stick the landing; a girl with lightning fast reflexes, a strong arm and a noble heart, who dreamed of living on a deserted island or in a tree trunk on the side of a mountain. I pictured us fishing and picking berries, building a raft to sail to a neighboring island where we would barely escape the cannibals by throwing coconuts at them, and of reading by candlelight in our cozy tree trunk while, outside, the snow fell gently on our side of the mountain.
Whenever he visited I watched them from afar and plotted the best way to steal his heart. One afternoon, as they sat on the back stoop of our building, I spied on them from the kitchen where Tony cooked Italian sausages for dinner. He cooked two kinds-sweet and hot. The boyfriend mentioned he didn’t have much of a tolerance for hot foods and we teased him about how hot the hot sausages would be.
I usually preferred sweet sausage but I saw a chance to steal Ann Marie’s boyfriend with my impressive tolerance for peppers and so I chose the hot sausage. I took my plate out to the steps and sat down at his feet. I popped a slice of hot sausage into my mouth, chewed, and waited for the expression of awe and admiration that I knew was coming. As my tongue screamed and my eyes watered, my future boyfriend leaned over and whispered into his current girlfriend’s ear, “Show off”.
I sat on the steps long enough as to not seem obvious in my shame, and then slunk off to join my mother in the living room where she was curled up on the couch smoking Winstons and watching Hollywood Squares, and there I remained all night until I grew bored of game shows, canned laughter and second hand smoke. I wandered off to bed with my stuffed donkey and blanket. I was too old to have a blanket or a stuffed toy, as my siblings often reminded me, but at times, when the whole world seems against you, one needs old and loyal friends.
The boyfriend patted my back and said good night on his way out. I pretended to be asleep. I forgave him but drifted off devising ways to rid the family of him forever. My sister was way too good for the likes of him.