A Few Legos Short of a Castle

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Sometimes, I wish life came with an instruction manual and not one made by IKEA either. It would love to see that I’ve arrived at Step 6, and my life should look something like Figure 9.2. And then when I get to the end of the book, I could see how everything has been built perfectly. I see some people seem to have it together as if they own their own life manual. Unfortunately, I think I came with a Lego instruction guide at birth. I look like all of my pieces are fit together just right, but in reality, I’m missing a few pieces here and there. (I’m just really good at jamming parts together.) My foundation is a health hazard in the making.

But if life did come with instructions, I probably wouldn’t have stories about how a boyfriend dislocated both of my knees at once or how cayenne is not similar in any way, shape, or form to cumin. I may be jamming pieces of my Lego castle together, forcing it to look like the picture, but my castle has something others don’t: character. And a horse in the scorpion pit. (Okay, sometimes I’m not good at jamming the RIGHT pieces together.)

One fundamental part of life I have never quite mastered is art of the greeting. Sometimes I smile too much and seem “fake.” Sometimes I don’t say enough and seem like a fuddy-duddy. I want people to remember me, but I don’t want to annoy them. I want them to think I’m kind, but I don’t want to seem as if I’m flirting. I want to be unique without being weird. It’s a very difficult thing to emit your entire essence in a few brief exchanges.

Unfortunately for you, my dear reader, I don’t have any advice on what to do about that. (If you have any advice, I’d appreciate it!) I haven’t learned any profound lessons nor have I mastered the art of the “hello.” In Japan, I’m learning all new ways of greeting someone, and I’m afraid that when I return to the US, my greetings will be more awkward than ever as I combine Western and Eastern cultures.

But fortunately, I have learned that you should never under any circumstance feed an awkward situation with a burst of spontaneity.

My senior year of high school was when I began to blossom for the first time. Prior to that year I rarely went out with friends. (Honestly, I’m still not much of a social butterfly.) But my senior year, I can proudly say that I possessed something resembling a social life. My first day, I owned the school. Everyone was beneath me at last, and I had taken my place as master of the universe (or at least my dinky Arkansas high school). I had just one more year…

I congregated with my friends inside the classroom of our favorite history teacher so we could pray over the day as we always did. We chatted about our summers and mourned the end of our sleep, and then I noticed a new face in the crowd. Someone new in the group. I had been the new kid last year. Having found my place with my group of friends, I knew I had to be the one to welcome anyone who had wandered into our midst.

He blended in with the rest of us in our drab school polos and khakis. As he shuffled between the exit and the corner away from the rambunctious crowd, I caught him. Introducing myself, I decided to ease him into conversation with idle chatter about the weather, summer, and life in general. I expected a dip of the head, a shy hello, or at the very least a smile. Instead his eyes practically glazed over with confusion as I spoke, my speech quickly moving from light conversation to rapid fire questions.

This kid wouldn’t talk back. I couldn’t even get a name out of him.

I started to sweat. I talked faster and faster. I repeated my name. I spoke louder. I asked him more about himself. Still nothing. In a panic, my fight or flight instinct told me I had to break the silence, or I was going to lose a potential friend. And what is the best way to break the ice? Make someone laugh of course! Any normal person would have told a joke, but me? No. I have to go above and beyond. Prior to my senior year, most of my social interaction occurred through the internet and with my cats. Yes. Cats. And what makes cats happy?

Yes. I petted him. Right then and there. I assaulted his “fluffy” black hair and continued to go on and on about it. I watched his eyes widen twice the size of his face, his body stiffen, his lips curl into something akin to a voiceless scream.

I will never forget that look of horror on his face.

Thankfully, we ended up circling up for the morning prayer, and I sneaked off to another spot to avoid standing next to him.

And that, my dear readers, is how I met the Chinese exchange student.

Thankfully, I did manage to show him that I’m not a hair tousling freak after all.

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