I remember that summer well. I was going to start junior high, I was going to turn twelve. My father was busy teaching summer school and worrying about money; my mother was overseeing the construction on our house and worrying about money. There were strange men coming in and out, fixing the carpets, tearing out a wall, adding a shower to the half-bath off the kitchen.
Our mother hated our house, our busy street, and was convinced, if she could only update the floor plan, we’d be able to sell and move to a better neighborhood, meaning one she preferred, on a quieter street, in another town. I buried myself in my books, dreading the move and the loss of my friends.
I remember Mom was taking part in the letter campaign to get Soap taken off the air because Billy Crystal played a gay man trying to win custody of his child. It was 1977, before Uncle Lincoln came out, and the church had condemned the show. My mother, dutiful Catholic, wrote her letters without ever watching an episode. I saw them in the typewriter that summer.
I watched an episode secretly, after I eavesdropped on her conversation with Sister Kevin. I checked the TV Guide, planned a distraction with the dogs, and turned to the channel while Mom was busy. All I remember was how boring it was. All these grownups talking talking talking.
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries had started the same year. It was all I could talk about. I collected the cover profiles of Pamela Sue Martin from People and Tiger Beat; I had the lunch box, the T-shirts, the matching notebooks and folders. Mom was worried and had complained to Sister Kevin about me: “I’m afraid Lu-ying loves that TV show more than God.” Sister Kevin, bless her, had reassured Mom that it was just a phase. “Every girl loves Nancy Drew.” I loved Sister then, too.
One Sunday we took a rare break from the routine of Lewis and me being locked out of the house while our parents cleaned up after the workmen and argued. We were going to Manhattan to have brunch at my grandparents’ favorite Chinese restaurant, Chun Cha Fu, on West 69th, to celebrate something. Good news, my grandfather had told my father over the phone. He’d tell us when we got there.
We stopped by Ye-ye and Nai-nai’s apartment on West 71st to pick them up, but my grandfather wasn’t waiting for us on the sidewalk.
My father circled round the block once, then twice, and then my mother said out loud what we’d all been thinking. “Hmm, that’s strange. I wonder where your father is.”
One of the working girls on the stoops—my parents called them “professionals,” which confused me—perked up upon seeing our large, boat-like Buick Electra creep down the block yet again. She was thin and dressed casually, in a yellow tube top and cutoffs, it still being afternoon and not the usual working hours, but she approached the curb cautiously. Then she saw my brother and me, faces anxiously peering out the back window, looking for Ye-ye, and she waved a hand dismissively and turned back to her stoop.
My father set the blinkers, double-parking. He unlocked the doors with a click, then jumped out. “Move the car if you see any police,” he told my mother, then he bounded over to the callbox.
Mom locked the doors again.
After what seemed like forever, Dad came running out of the building, red-faced, sweating. He threw open the car door; Mom barely had time to scoot over again. “Ye-ye’s been hospitalized. His heart.”