For Fear of Jello

I stood on top of the house with my usual swagger. I was fifteen, and I was thoroughly convinced of my own invincibility. About fifty of my peers, slightly to mostly drunk on pilfered moonshine, homemade wine and stolen beer, shouted at me to just DO IT. No fear. After all, I was the one who broke my cousin’s record for the longest jump on a motorcycle in our area. I was the one who jumped a car in the mall parking lot and ran from the cops, only to get caught. I was the first one of my peers to spend a night in jail, namely due to the fear of what my father would do to me if he found out I had been arrested. I was a rogue, although a reluctant one. It was a survival mechanism, honed out of years of being labeled as a nerd and a bookworm. My ability to make homemade chicken stock while reciting The Dawn’s Early Light did not do anything but wreck my popularity in high school, but stunts such as these, well, they did everything to restore it.

Only weeks before I had been caught riding my back tire up the wrong side of Rt. 460 by my grandmother’s place. I did it largely to provide amusement to my grandparents, my grandfather relegated to a wheelchair at that point in his life. Anything that I did that was derelict was, in his unspoken but loudly chanted opinion, awesome. He lived through us, his grandchildren, and as the oldest of the group most often around him, I was more than often happy to oblige. My grandmother Audrey would reward me with an extra lard biscuit and a little more red-eye gravy, which she was the ultimate master of. That was well worth the occasional moderate to severe whippings that I suffered at the hands of my father, which, in retrospect, were well deserved.

On this particular night, I was supposed to be at a Bible camp. I learned early that I could go nearly anywhere, at any time, provided that I gave a perfectly believable religious reason to do so. (My dearest parents: Should you wish, I would advise that you stop reading. But know this: I love you with all my heart and I am sorry for a teenager’s deceit. It is something that I will no doubt experience firsthand.) Instead, I found myself in the backyard of a supposed friend’s house on top of their house, more than a little buzzed on a few shots of moonshine. In my defense, I rarely drank as it interfered significantly with my ability to jump over cars on my bored out KX 250, of which I was interminably proud. So, it was with a mostly sober mentality that I perused the situation.

I had agreed to jump from the top of the house onto a trampoline located strategically adjacent to an above ground swimming pool approximately four feet in depth. Parents, should you find yourself so strapped for space that you choose to place a pool adjacent to a trampoline, go see a therapist. Especially if you intend on raising teenagers. The problem was, I was afraid of heights and couldn’t swim. These are two maladies that I have mostly remedied, basically by learning to swim and staying off high things. But at that point in my life, I had neither the wisdom nor the reason for such decisions. So, I weighed my options.

Nearly fifteen years later, I was aboard yet another tricked out motorcycle on the outskirts of Reno, NV, where I had been attempting to ride with younger versions of myself in the dunes. I grew up riding motorcycles in an era where every attempt was made to stay on the motorcycle. I am and always have had nothing but mad respect for these maniacs who get off their bikes in midair, do back flips, forward flips, and do everything but make a sandwich in midair. It never crossed my mind that I would attempt something so insane as an adult, especially when pushing hard towards my thirtieth birthday. I did wonder occasionally, if maybe, when I were younger, if I would have been able to do those stunts.

So, there I was, with a bunch of yelling teenagers roaring me to just DO IT. I once again in my life, for the umpteenth time, I perused the situation and weighed my options. I was getting ready to attempt a stunt called the “Flying Superman Seat Grab.” It’s about what it sounds like, in that you really shouldn’t attempt it unless you’re superman. Or slightly insane and being cheered by a group of fearless teenagers who are equally insane. I remember briefly wishing I had chosen to just stay home and make an apple pie, grill some peaches or maybe take up knitting.

But, there is the point of no return that people such as me have that will not allow us to back off when committed. Is it hereditary, that iron ruthlessness that enables us to do things that we know, without a shadow of a doubt, will hurt? Is it a product of our environment? I really don’t know, but I tightened my goggles and gunned the throttle, hurtling down the dune to launch off the next one. Just as so many years earlier I had blindly leaped off the house. I didn’t break anything in that leap, but I nearly drowned. It turns out that I had badly misjudged the acceleration of a falling mass due to gravity and the braking effect of a new trampoline and all the possible angles of departure from the said trampoline. I also had no idea that landing prone in about three feet of water after falling that far generally renders you unconscious. At least briefly.

I also badly misjudged how quickly the motorcycle would get away from me as I released the handlebars and launched myself perpendicular to the ground away from the bike. There was this brief blinding moment of exhilaration, as I thought, “I’ve done it!” The whole point of the trick though is to catch the seat as the bike passes under you. I missed. I’m so glad that this was before camera phones as I would no doubt have been all over YouTube under the moniker “Old Dude Tries to Ride” or something of the sort. Thankfully, the dune I landed on was sand, and slightly sloped, so my landing was somewhat softened. All I broke was my sternum and a few fingers. All I suffered in my bad landing in the pool was a lingering concussion – both small prices to pay for such enormous stupidity.

Both events landed me, albeit briefly in the hospital, where I was fed Jello. They wouldn’t let me leave until I ate Jello! What kind of monsters run these places? If nothing else, I learned that to avoid Jello, I needed to act with some measure of caution when crazy thoughts occupy my head. I’ve successfully avoided Jello for about six years. Whenever I feel the insane Ron jumping up and down on my shoulder, I threaten him with congealed ground bone matter and he generally shuts up. He’s been getting louder lately…I may have to threaten him with instant mac and cheese.


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