It smiles at me with the slightest smirk, teasing me. Almost a haughty sneer. Although the smile is thin, as if drawn in by a fine-tip pen, and barely noticeable against the pale white face, it screams a challenge. It baits me with a sliver of its bright green teeth, fueling my rage, reminding me of its contents. “Ha, you will never break me. Give it up, pal,” the pistachio jeers. I'm really starting to get frustrated. I'm a high school senior, top of my class, a big brother, and in my mind, an adult. But I just can't crack this freakin' nut. I've already devoured all of its brothers and sisters, but this one refuses to break. This pistachio is packed in real tight. I imagine its green body nestled comfortably inside its impenetrable shell, with just enough of an opening to watch me struggling fruitlessly against it. The literal translation of pistachio in Chinese is “happy nut,” probably because of the way each nutshell cracks open into a smile. My family and I always eat them during Chinese New Year, and I munch on them throughout the year as any child would eat Goldfish crackers. However, there's always one I can't open despite my greatest efforts – one that ruins my mood and throws me into a fit of frustration. It's like frolicking through a field of flowers, and then suddenly realizing you've stepped in a pile of dog poop. Usually I end up throwing these impenetrable nuts away after thirty seconds of failed attempts, but today I'm determined to have a taste of happiness no matter what it takes. I start by using my fingernails to pry it open. Two minutes later, all I have are bent nails to show for my effort. I switch to using my finger pads, but after a couple of attempts I'm worried that I'll draw blood. I even pick up one of the shells I had previously cracked to use as a wedge against this unbreakable booger, like a prehistoric caveman using basic tools to survive. Still no luck. By this point I'm about ready to go upstairs and grab the Chinese sword that hangs on our wall. I slam the pistachio on the table and stand up. I see my dad at the cupboard watching me, taking out his own jar of pistachios. “Need some help?” he asks, stifling laughter. He comes over and starts prying at the stubborn nut the same way I've been doing. No luck – which surprises me, because usually his large, calloused hands do the trick. I've even seen him break one that was completely sealed (don't ask me how that's possible). As a kid I thought he was a Superman-like figure who traveled the world cracking nuts for people, kissing babies, and performing other saintly acts, so his struggle with this nut surprised me. “You gonna give up?” I ask, terrified of his answer. If my dad can't open this pistachio, it must have been forged by the devil himself. He scratches his head and smiles. Then he puts the pistachio between his back teeth and – CRACK – spits out the broken shell. In his palm is the green pistachio, naked and at his mercy. “Ai yaaa, Eddy, your teeth are gonna break if you keep doing that! It's not worth it!” my mom scolds from the next room when she hears the crack. My dad merely smiles and pops the pistachio into his mouth. “Mmm, delicious. I think that's enough for today.” He puts the jar back into the cupboard and returns to his office. That's when I realized that the most gratifying taste of happiness doesn't come from pistachios that are simple to crack, but from those that require a struggle or an unorthodox approach. Even though I could have cracked ten normal pistachios in the time it took to penetrate the hard one, that one was much more satisfying. And maybe Mom's right about damaging our teeth cracking stupid nuts, but at least when Dad's old and inserting his dentures, he'll know his teeth were put to good use with many years of service fighting stubborn pistachio insurgents. I look at the pile of pistachios smiling back at me. But wait … one doesn't look as happy as the others. I pick it up and see that its smile is even thinner than the one my dad just broke. I place it between my teeth and CRACK.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the October 2014 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.