One of the lines on the book’s website describes it as “a sure-fire system for overcoming fears and having a great time at any type of business or social gathering.”
So, I read the book. I learned the proper way to start a conversation, how to smile, when to shake hands and the different opening lines for every mood. There was also a section entitled, “Fancy Footwork: Advanced Mingling Techniques,” and I read it — but decided sticking to the basics would probably be best.
In other words, I prepared. I over-prepared. Some might even say my obsession with preparedness reached a new height.
Just like there was no way to know the weather in Chicago, there was no way to know what kinds of societal and conversational hurdles I would come across in college. I had to be ready for any eventuality. I would arm myself with “A Mnemonic for Those at a Loss for Words” and “How to Handle a Joker in Every Deck.”
You might be shocked to hear this, but, well, college doesn’t quite work like that. At all.
There’s no textbook answer for accidentally waking up your suitemates on the second day of move-in, and there’s not an answer for how to leave a party when the person you arrived with is having way more fun than you are.
As with any good story though, there is one single moment where everything changed — the moment when I realized that you can never be prepared for everything.
I caught lice.
Don’t worry, I’m clean now, every last louse removed from my head through hours of miserable, meticulous horror, but the process was one that I never, ever want to repeat.
I’ll set the scene.
My head had been itching all week, but I just attributed it to a dry scalp. I scrubbed at it in the shower trying to make it stop itching, but nothing helped. Around mid-week I started to suspect, but it wasn’t until Friday that I asked my roommate to check.
She confirmed my suspicions. I tried not to freak out. I think I failed.
Now, flash forward to Saturday. The night my roommate and I now call “Lice Night”.
I was sitting on the fake hardwood floor of my dorm, head between my knees and hair dripping insecticide down my neck. The computer was playing a tinny version of a Mumford & Sons song and my bed was stripped bare to the shiny plastic mattress.
My roommate was behind me, knees around my sides, legs radiating an uncomfortable heat against my body, and she was going through my hair, section by tiny section, methodically removing the nits that had adhered themselves to my hair.
Of course, this all began the weekend Hurricane Matthew drenched campus with rain. I’ve always loved symbolism, but I wasn’t in the mood for it that day.
After the first two hours spent in this lice removal position, I came to a realization.
There was nothing I could have done to prepare for this.
When I had been sitting in my room at home in August, boxes and bags at my feet, thinking about my future in college, could I have prepared for this moment? Could I have known a month and a half later, I would be sitting on the floor of my room while my roommate removed lice from my hair?
Could “The Art of Mingling” have prepared me for this?
The answer was a resounding no. Nothing could have prepared me for this. My overwhelming need to always be ready for anything had completely failed me, and it was time to do some life reevaluation.
I can’t say college, and my subsequent battle with lice, has made me an entirely new person, but it has made me think about priorities.
Being ready for everything is impossible, and a book called “The Art of Mingling” gives no information on how to treat lice.