I was a young man on a date. We were eating at a dive restaurant. We’d gone on exactly four dates. She didn’t care for me.
I was an awkward-looking babyface who hadn’t washed his truck in fifty years. Her family belonged to a country club.
I had movie tickets in my pocket. After dinner, we were going to the movies. That was the plan.
I ordered the burger. She got the chicken salad. Things were going famously between us.
After supper she said, “I don’t think we’re fit for each other…”
I asked her why, of all possible times, she waited until after I paid for her chicken salad to tell me this.
She said she wanted to date someone who was (and I quote) “doing something with his life.”
She hitched a ride home with her sister. I never saw her again.
I drove home through the dark. I parked in my mother’s driveway. I turned on the radio and felt sorry for myself.
I was good at feeling sorry for myself. After my father died, I’d turned wallowing into a fine art.
My sister came walking out the front door. Barefoot. She was a nine-year-old. She had a button nose, sun bleached hair.
“Why’re you sitting out here?” she said. “Why aren’t you coming inside.”
She’s always been nosy. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to my kid sister about the finer points of why I had two orphaned movie tickets in my pocket.
But then, this wasn’t just a sister. This was my friend. During our father’s funeral, she’d been a five-year-old, bouncing on my hip.
And I was her brother—who slept on her bedroom floor for six years. After my father’s funeral, she was afraid to sleep alone.
The nine-year-old crawled into my passenger seat and said, “What’s wrong? Where’s your date?”
I turned the radio dial to fill the silence. The Eagles were singing about peaceful easy feelings. I didn’t feel peaceful. I felt like a loser.
My sister sang along in a loud voice.
“Stop singing,” I said.
“Because I’m thinking.”
“About what a stupid loser I am, that’s what.”
Her mouth closed. The song ended. Up next: an anthem by Crystal Gayle about brown eyes. I turned it up.
I understood Crystal’s sad song. Life seemed unfair. I wondered what was wrong with me.
I shut the stereo off. I looked through the window at the night. My sister was quiet.
I reached into my pocket. “You wanna go to a movie?” I said.
She thought about it. She kicked her bare feet the way little girls do. She wrinkled her face.
“Dunno,” she said. “All depends.”
What was the world coming to? I couldn’t even get a date with my sister.
“Depends on what?” I asked.
“On if you buy me popcorn.”
I agreed to buy a small popcorn.
“AND, Whoppers,” she added.
“AND, a big, huge, extra-extra large Coke, with nachos, and a pickle.”
We shook on it.
She wasn’t cheap. But we enjoyed ourselves. I don’t remember what movie we saw. I don’t remember how my sister ate all the food. The older I get, the less I remember.
But I remember carrying her sleeping body inside after the movie. I remember placing her in her bed.
I remember her eyes opening, and her whispering in a sleepy voice, “You’re not a loser to me.”