I just really don't like Jell-O.

This was the last thought that went through my mind at the end of my life. When I died, which I did on September 30, 2001, this was the unconsciously made final assessment of my existence. I have a good idea why it occurred to me when it did, and certainly I won't argue with the truth of it. I can't stand the stuff. It's one of those texture problems, and part of a larger rule I had when I was alive about not consuming anything that wasn't a drink, but still took the shape of its container.

What was worse than Jell-O was Jell-O with bits of things in it. This seemed distasteful as well as outright unnatural. Perhaps if money had been suspended in the wobbly chunks of green and red that somehow just appeared en masse at picnics, school activities and the like, I could have tolerated seeing the stuff. But usually it was just grapes or pieces of banana, which didn't help that texture problem. I always likened it to finding an eyeball in the brain I was being forced to eat. Insult to injury.

Obviously, it's not just Jell-O, and I don't want to make the people at Jell-O to feel that it is only their specific brand of gelatin product that I always found so nauseating. I did have Knox-Blox once, and those were pretty horrible too. But really Jell-O has sort of cornered the market on multicolored non-food horse-hoof slime bricks, and so must bear the brunt of my distaste. Sorry.

The good news is though, that I'm dead now, and so have stopped writing those letters.

They were really a waste of time anyway, though I like to think that I did in some small way help to keep three flavors of it off the market--I can't tell you which three. It was part of the agreement--the Jell-O people didn't want the public to know that they had even been considering them.

For the record, I thought the Pudding Pops were OK, though that didn't occur to me until months after my body had decomposed far beyond the capacity to enjoy them.

Nothing that caused, or was immediately related to the cause of my death, had anything directly to do with Jell-O. At the age of ten I would not have believed that anything but Jell-O would kill me, but it did not work out this way. I died under unsuspicious circumstances, in an uneventful way, though at an unreasonable age. If you think that thirty is unreasonable. When I arrived here, it was explained to me that no age was unreasonable. Just because we don't know the reason, they said, doesn't mean a thing is unreasonable.

This kind of babbling is typical of Death.

"Why an air conditioner?" I asked when he came--this is how I died, a falling air-conditioner--and he shrugged.

"Because a paper clip from that height wouldn't have killed you." And that was all he would say on the subject.

I still suspect there was more to it than just seeming like the right thing to do at the time. The first six months after my unsung crushing, I searched for some form of irony, a theme, karma, anything. I stretched every possible metaphor, fabricated any kind of meaning:

  • "I was cold as a son--cold, like an air-conditioner."
  • "I treated my friends like home appliances."
  • "I was only useful for three months of the year."
  • I latched on to that last one for a while, deciding that in terms of ratios, I probably was useful for only a fourth of my life. I forgave myself for years zero-to-five, but when I began to think of all the things I could have done when I turned six, and didn't, I began to feel both regret for my misspent life and satisfaction for the cosmic fitness of my demise. Sadly, this only lasted until I learned of some of the really great Deaths out there, and discovered that sometimes, they really do have to go with whatever is available at the time.

    If I had stopped to retie my shoe before I left, I would have walked around the mangled air conditioner on the sidewalk and been hit by a car. But since the air conditioner was already on its way down, they figured I might as well be there to meet it.

    This other guy I met owned a multi-million dollar corporation, used child labor, hurt thousands of people, everything. He was buried by an avalanche of spare change from an armored truck leaving a laundromat. How come I couldn't get that?

    I have written a list with nearly fifty worthwhile deaths, all reasonably accurate commentary on how I lived my life. My favorite was being cut to ribbons by a maelstrom of presidential election ballots, because I never voted. Dramatic, to be sure, but better than getting flattened by a stray air conditioner. I wonder what would have happened to me if I'd simply stayed home.

    Of course, I couldn't have just stayed home; point of fact, she had essentially thrown me out. A fight had erupted after dinner, as one usually does when she's acting so stubbornly about something entirely insignificant. It came down in the end to a question of marriage, and the fact that she wasn't getting any younger. The joke is on her, of course. Now I'm dead, she's still not getting any younger, but I'm sure as hell not getting any older, which is nearly as good. Moreover, she'll have to spend more of her precious time replacing me. That's not just going out and getting someone to marry her; it's doing research, laying the groundwork, building trust--you can't just throw these things together without plans. Otherwise the whole thing will crumble at the first sign of a quake.

    You see, I understand that, love is delicate. Yet still she had the nerve to accuse me of being insensitive.

    She'll want to do a rush job, of course, but even so the whole marriage project is bound to take her at least two years, whereas if she'd just been a bit more patient, I'd be alive and able to marry her in eight to twelve months. She'll never know that now, though. I wish I'd written it in a journal or something for her to find. That'd drive her nuts.

    Of course, it would take her less time if she already had someone in mind, which is what I was thinking as I walked out the door. She's been Tarzaning it her whole dating life--you don't let go of the vine you're on till you've got a firm grip on the next. I actually knew the vine that preceded me, and if she'd waited any longer to let go of him, he'd have ended up in bed with us. I'm vine enough for anyone, I think.

    Naturally, the vine analogy breaks down at a certain point in her history, as I don't know how to account for more than two being involved at any one time. She once claimed to have had her hands on four at once, and if I were Tarzan, I'd probably be paralyzed by the options. Obviously you can't hang on to them all. The great thing about the real Tarzan is that there was always just one vine ahead of him, so that's the one he went with. Move forward. How do you make a left turn on a vine, anyway?

    Though I never did quite buy that all the vines in the jungle were so situated as to present themselves precisely when needed. Many times in my life have been flat out vineless, either clinging to the one I've got because there's nowhere else to go, or just falling out of the trees entirely. In that way, I guess I'm just as bad as she is, maybe worse. I suppose I finally put too much weight on my last vine, and it broke. When I finally reached the ground, that's when the air conditioner reached me.

    I don't hold her entirely responsible. Mostly, I hold dinner responsible, because if we hadn't been together for dinner, none of this would have happened and I would still be alive.

    How many dinners have caused how much romantic strife? I don't know about you, but I myself have never lost a girlfriend over breakfast or lunch. I did once end a thing over coffee, but it had only been two dates, and I hardly count it a relationship. She didn't seem to have either, she remained very light hearted about the whole thing and even offered to pay. An eight dollar tab hardly seemed worth the trouble, so I dropped down a tensky and that would have been all, except she insisted on giving me two dollars to cover the change and tip.

    It was odd running into her again. She was hit by a runaway gas tanker last November, and explained to me that it was because she drove an old car that got really bad mileage. I grumbled something about hoping she appreciated that, but I think it went by her.

    Now that we're dead, I think I'd like to go out with her again.

    I'm not even sure what started it--the argument, not the air conditioner. She didn't just bring up the subject of marriage, I remember, and I had been very careful for weeks not to make any jokes that might elicit such a response. Clearly though, it erupted over something over which we both decided to absolutely dig in our heels, and yield nothing. From that position, the conflict extended outwards, and the next thing you know, she's having dessert, and I'm five feet, seven inches shorter.

    Dessert. That's what it was. Dessert. A quivering mass of lime Jell-O. Shaped like a goddamned Bundt cake, then brought right out of the kitchen and set gyrating in front of my nose.

    I wouldn't touch it. She was offended. Resentful. Angered. Then yelling, screaming, and telling me to get the hell out.

    But she knew. We'd talked about it, countless times before, about how the texture makes me nauseous, probably because my Mother would spoon the stuff down my throat whenever I was sick as a child. About how it squishes in my mouth, and just becomes smaller pieces of itself, like that broom in Fantasia. How I feel like it cannot be destroyed. How it makes me nervous, anxious, agitated. She knew. And she did it anyway.

    She wanted a confrontation. A challenge. She never even tried to cover it. Never said "it was a mistake," or "I forgot." Never. She wanted a fight. And she wanted it to be my fault.

    But it wasn't my fault. None of it. I didn't ask for a fight. I was happy the way things were. Everything was settling down. After thirty years of relative turmoil, things finally seemed to be leveling out and going my way. It wasn't my fault.

    I just really don't like Jell-O.

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