I am in the midst of a very one-sided Jenga game with S——, a twelve year-old girl I am tutoring. This is a girl who has repeatedly told me that I would make a good candidate for Beauty and the Geek. We are playing Jenga while I drill her on her times tables as a reward for her success with solving exponents and adding fractions with the same denominator.
“How old are you, anyway?” she asks, poking a block from the stack with her pencil.
“You always forget how old I am. I’m twenty three. What’s eleven times six?”
“Sixty-six. Are you married?”
“You know I’m not married.” I pull out a center block. Easy. “Besides, I’m too young to get married.”
“That’s not true! My mom was married when she was your age!” S—— shouts to her mother who is in her bedroom enjoying a much-needed break from parenting. “Mom! How old were you when you got married?!”
Her face falls. “Oh.”
I take up my point again. “Some people do get married young, but plenty of people get married when they’re older too. Eleven times twelve.”
“One thirty-two.” She yanks a block from an unstable part of the tower. “Hey, I know! You can marry my mom!”
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
S——‘s mother seems to share my sentiment, and tells her to go back to the game. S—— tries again.
“What about when you go to Japan? I bet you’ll meet a girl there you can marry.”
Everyone brings this up when they find out I’m going to Japan; as if it were a requisite of the teaching abroad experience to return home with an exotic Japanese bride in a kimono and slippers. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. Eleven times ten.”
“Yes it will!” She becomes noticeably excited. “Unless you’re....”
Her eyes suddenly become wide and she covers her mouth as if she has just heard an adult tell a lewd joke and needs to hide her understanding. She chooses her words carefully: “...unless you’re like my mom’s friends up the street!”
Her mother rushes to my rescue, and I am so taken aback that I feel the need to protest before calming down and slowly pulling out another Jenga block. I gather my thoughts.
“As I was saying, I don’t feel ready to settle down and live that kind of life. I’ve got other things I want to focus on, and a whole lot of living to do. Even if I was ready, I haven’t met the right person. And how terrible would it be to marry the wrong person?”
S—— ignores me and carelessly pushes another center block onto the table, toppling the top half of the tower with the satisfying crash that signals my time to go home. Another lesson learned.