Cusp

Vulnerability comes in many different flavors, one of which is: terrible. I read in the news today that the MCAT started labeling their booklets “Battle Royale” in light yellow Comic Sans.

“Honesty is the best policy,” my father said, shuffling the newspaper.

The MCAT flavor was so terrible that my big sister Jennie came home from the test frowning. And Jennie always smiles, a professional smile that she can’t take off when she comes home from hostessing. This does wonders for her relationship with her boyfriend Craig, who gets especially confused when Jennie starts cryling (cry-smiling). My limited experience with vulnerability probably stems from observing Jennie and Craig’s honestly scary romance. And of course, my mother and father’s relationship – which isn’t a relationship so much as a pizza party with only calzones.

But that summer, I found love. Not infatuation, not obsession – no. I loved him up close.

“Vulnerability comes in different flavors,” he said, “with intimacy as the aftertaste.”

How often do you meet someone who has a mouth you want to talk to and kiss? In retrospect, his words had only the aesthetic of truth. But that didn’t stop me from loving them. I still remember his lips in the moonlight, like little pieces of bacon.

That July, things started getting spicy. The whole town was ready to host its tri-annual chili pepper eating contest, and Jennie and I were helping set up food tents in Linkin Park. As we hammered pegs into the grass, someone behind us whispered, “hey, ladies.” I wore a floral dress without bike shorts. Jennie and I were bent over, so this voice-man must’ve been talking to both of our butts. I turned around to see Guy Fieri carrying a child-sized chunk of Boar’s Head ham.

“You want a piece of me?” he mumbled.

Guy’s smirk dipped my whole body in fear. I glanced over at Jennie, who was still smiling, but I just knew she was frowning on the inside. Couldn’t Guy recognize the panic on my face, the universal sign for “you should go now”? The town had worked so hard at being emotionally on-point for Spicy Throwdown; I really didn’t want make a fuss over him looking at our butts. But Guy Fieri kept inching closer to us with that ham.

“Woah, man! Guy FIERI!?”

Craig was running towards us with a bottle of hot sauce.

I grabbed Jennie’s hand, but she couldn’t move. I took a step backwards into the tent, and with a kaboom, it crumpled. One peg flew loose and hit Guy in the neck. Everyone in Linkin Park turned around to see Guy Fieri on his knees, clutching his double chin in pain, and Craig smiling really big, holding his autographed ham. Then the cameras came and slapped Jennie, Craig, Guy and me with pictures. These remained the town’s only memory of that fateful day. Spicy Throwdown has since gained continental recognition.

What makes me sad, though, is that no one remembers how my rabbi almost died after winning the grand chili pepper eating prize. As Jennie and I made our way back to the parking lot, we found the rabbi spluttering on the ground like an amoeba. I had gotten a CPR certification in school that year, but I had no idea how to do CPR.

“Call 911,” came a calm voice behind the trees.

“Guy Fieri,” I mumbled sadly.

I turned around to see where the voice was coming from. There, under the sycamore tree, stood the rabbi’s son. Before I could get a good look at him, he walked over, knelt beside his father, and administered the most breathtaking CPR I’d ever seen. The rabbi gasped and shook and began to take great gulping breaths. His son looked calmly out over the Linkin Park hullabaloo.

“Could you give me a hand?” he asked.

After we hauled the rabbi’s spluttering body back to his Hummer, the son sat down on the pavement and put his head in his palms.

“Every damn year,” he murmured. “They’re going to turn everything into an emergency episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and say it’s good for the town.”

When I saw a tear roll down his cheek, I knew: it was time to pull out the travel-size Jenga.