True Crime and Karate Kids

Originally written August 2015.

So my entire month of July was comprised of matters of the True Crime genre. I’m talking watching The Jinx three times (the first time, shaking next to Aparna and Kayla; the second, mingling in feelings of self-imposed torture while reliving the sick excitement with my parents on the couch; and the third, hunting for classic Durst-isms such as his adorable “bye-bye” sign-offs, his uncontrollable nervous burping, and his cuter-than-a-kindergartner signature of a block letter BEVERLEY), listening to Serial while accidentally developing a little bit of a crush on Adnan Syed (he sounded like my type aside from the murder thing), and currently wrapping up In Cold Blood, where I can no longer hear the words “Kansas” or “farm” without thinking “Clutters” or “murder”. And of course, sprinkled on top are Aparna’s delightful anecdotes on the life and times of Charles Manson because who doesn’t love a good psycho bio?

So last week while I forced myself on the elliptical, I tuned into an episode of Invisibilia on fear and fearlessness, which all of a sudden seemed too relevant.

Unfortunately it digressed. A guy named Jason Comely came on and discussed his past fear of rejection by women and other people in social scenarios. He overcame this fear by undergoing what he dubbed “Rejection Therapy”, where he purposefully went out everyday looking to get rejected and eventually realized the minute effects, if any, that rejection had in his life at all. Thus, he achieved “fearlessness”.

Cool story Jason but an anti-climactic ending, no doubt, after the initial casual interview with a woman with full blown Urbach-Wiethe disease, but I sat there anyway in my post-cardio haze, stretching out the burns from my calves and thinking about it. Rejection Therapy. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone says no? Big deal! And right when I almost vowed to play this little game daily in real life, I remembered something.

For as long as I’ve had ovaries, I have had a love affair with the Karate Kid. The real curse associated with this, however, is not my everlasting weakness for baby faces or my aching desire for my own personal Bonsai tree to name Daniel-San (though those are definite accessorial outcomes), but it is the simple fact that for anyone who even resembles the Karate Kid slightly… Well, I just fall hopelessly in love with them immediately.

Last winter for example, I was at Central Market when I was approached by a friendly woman less than a decade my senior who complimented my winter coat, struck up conversation, and ended up offering me a job. I wasn’t looking for a job, but my ego swelled up enough to where when I saw a guy feeling up cucumbers while wearing a t-shirt advertising his local Austin dojo, nothing could stop me. Fear of rejection did not even occur to me. In fact, thinking didn’t even occur to me. “Oooh, you’re in karate?!” I had a good run, until he casually brought up his girlfriend and I slowly backed away with my arms above my head and my tail in between my legs.

But looking back, Jason, I actually agree with you. It really wasn’t that bad. Especially compared to my other Karate Kid story. The one filled with regret.

This tale takes place many moons ago, during the fall of my sophomore year, when I hadn’t yet been fully Miyagi-ed in the subjects of love, fear, and rejection.

In the arena of an old lecture hall, in the row right behind me, sat a boy who if there was a casting-call for Karate Kid: The Musical would have undoubtedly played the starring role. He was just so baby-faced. I could hardly stand it. So instead of giving priority to Biology-For-Non-Majors, I focused on making sure every Tuesday and Thursday was the best hair day of my life. I also made sure that every time class dismissed into a frenzied splattering of stick-struck pool balls, I cast a glance or two his way. Now let me tell you, there was some real eye contact between us two. And for those of you well-versed in classic cinema, it was a Daniel-Ali level of eye contact. But I was patient. I knew the day would come where he would chase me down after class, wait for my gaggle of gal pals to evaporate, and we’d finally talk.

Fast forward now to a cold winter morning several weeks later. The alarm sounded and I silenced it. The next thing I knew after that brief pause of black, I was pulling beige sweats over my head like George Costanza trying to fit into cashmere. Not only did I have ten minutes to get to class, but it was an exam day. I grabbed a pencil and sprinted out the door, with not a spot of makeup, with my hair in a ponytail, and of course, with my retainer still in.

I snuck into the classroom and shielded my face, looking down at my scantron and bubbling away in concentration but mostly in misery when I remembered my appearance. I hurriedly turned it my exam, and began my walk of shame out the door, up the stairs, and off toward home. I was at the top of the stairs when I heard running behind me. My sensei senses tingled. No, no, no, no. Not now. Please not now. I kept looking forward as if I didn’t notice a thing and pushed my way out the door and into the sunlight. I kept marching forward, clenching my plastic jaws, until he was in front of me. Walking right in front of me. And even worse, looking back at me! Stalling to talk to me! I kept my neck craned down staring at my phone, dying on the inside. I did it for long enough that he kept walking and I kept walking and we eventually went our separate ways.

Well, I blew it. I blew it, and it was the end of the semester. All we had left was just one more class and one final exam.

But if I had learned anything from The Karate Kid, from the relentless challenge of the underdog to the Cobra Kai, it was to never go down without a fight.

So I curled my hair and I wore my cutest outfit to that final exam. I took that test and came out to wait for my friend Taylor while I actually waited for him. Taylor came out, so I politely suggested we wait for Megan. Megan came out, so I asked them to not move an inch while they very slowly explained to me that last question on the exam. They were in the middle of their lesson when the door busted open and out came my karate kid in shining armor. We looked at each other, but there was no point. My friends were talking to me- I was obviously busy and obviously uninterested. He kept walking. But before I had the chance to think of fear, before I had the chance to think at all, I shouted, “Hey!”

He turned around, and looked at me. “You look just like the Karate Kid.” He smiled confusedly. I beamed: “It’s a compliment.”

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