Always eat the ugly things first

    Some days, between my day job and freelance work, tasks pile up like a dilapidated tower, and I feel completely overwhelmed. And somewhere in the tower of tasks, there’s usually one that I’m especially dreading, something that scares me because it requires some delicate diplomacy I’m not sure I can pull off, or the stakes are so high that I might fall on my face, or it’s just too bloody much work.

    At times like this, I think of my sushi buddy, a guy named Kim.

    About 30 years ago, Kim and I were sort of dating and sort of not. It was one of those 20-something boy-girl friendships where we did a lot of things that seemed romantic — dinners, concerts, drives to the coast — but we were weren’t romantically involved. Or maybe he was and I wasn’t. (If that’s the case, then, Kim, I’m sorry about that.)

    Sushi was a new thing in our lives, and we liked it — a lot. We were always trying out new sushi places, and we always ordered the wildest variety platter they offered. We’d sit there with our tiny cups of warm sake, and the waitperson would bring us a big plate loaded with all sorts of sushi — an artist’s palette in whites, greens, pinks and oranges. Since there was usually just one piece of each thing, we’d devised a ritual for sharing: One of us would choose a piece, bite off half, then hand the rest to the other person. (So, also like romantically involved people, we shared germs.)

    But amid all that gorgeous sushi, sometimes there was one suspicious piece, an alien-looking blob we’d never seen before — some gooey-brown fish byproduct, or something with eyes, or what appeared to be a tentacle.

    We didn’t want to be cowards, so we developed a ritual for this too: As soon as we saw that scary piece of food, we ate it first. That way, if we loved it, we could savor it with fresh taste buds. And if we hated it, we had a whole plate of good sushi to wash it down with. So when confronted with that ghastly lump that looked like something growing in the bottom of the fridge, we’d fix our eyes on each other, say “Ugly things first” in unison, and chow it down.

    Sometimes it was wonderful. Sometimes it was so awful that we both gagged, laughed and drank another tiny cup of sake.

    All these years later, I still think of Kim every time I have to do something really hard, something that preys on my mind, that worries me so much that it blocks all the joy out of my life. I imagine myself looking at Kim and dealing with it. I can’t say it always turns out well or makes me a better person. But it’s done, and I can stop worrying and get back to the things I enjoy, like sitting at a table with a friend, laughing and not thinking too much about what we aren’t to each other. And what we are.

    — Amy Miller lives in Ashland.

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