Today is National Eat Your Jell-O Day. Jell-O is a gelatin dessert and gelatin a protein produced from collagen and extracted by boiling animal bones. People eat gelatin desserts at potlucks, picnics, and barbeques because people enjoy sweet, jiggly treats when they gather. Is there anything more beautiful than a peach slice suspended in sunrise-orange Jell-O? Or a maraschino-cherry-studded Jell-O salad made with a cloud of Cool Whip? They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and perhaps the alchemy of Jell-O and Cool Whip is proof of a merciful god.
As a child, I prefer everything purple and aspire to be a singing sensation. I want long hair like Crystal Gayle. Or a name like Crystal or Gayle. I will only eat Concord Grape Jell-O. How much gelatin does Crystal Gayle consume to keep her hair so long and strong? She looks like a fairy-tale princess in a purple dress. But does she get headaches? Does her hair get stuck in the spokes of bicycle wheels? Does it collect food debris? When she sleeps, do insects and animals roost and feed in that glorious nest?
By 1983, I want to be Karen Carpenter instead. It no longer seems practical to have such long hair. I take a self-defense class to learn the ways my body can be used against me. I struggle to have a healthy relationship with my mother. We go on diets and eat sugar-free lime Jell-O. For her birthday, Mom makes a key-lime pie with two boxes of sugar-free lime Jell-O and zero key limes. This is the year Karen Carpenter dies of her eating disorder, and I want to believe she’s died for my physical shortcomings. My waist does not taper, and since I can eat and cry at the same time, I eat Jell-O and cry for Karen, but it doesn’t bring her back. That night I dream Karen lives in a domed structure made of Jell-O. Karen’s house is a safe place to explore dark feelings.
I spend decades eating gelatin desserts. When Jell-O quivers on my tongue, I feel like a god. Blue-raspberry Jell-O confers the greatest godlike feeling.
Eventually, I don’t know what day it is. I miss the dogs I used to have. I wish I’d been a horse person. I long to experience a beach at sunset from the back of a galloping Appaloosa. Except I’m floating through the cosmos tethered to this bed. The vinyl mattress cover squeaks, and I need it. On bad days, I feel like a pickle lost in a dark, spicy barrel. I’m afraid. I’d rather be a strawberry suspended, even if I have to be sliced. I’ve rediscovered red Jell-O.
I practice counting my blessings, giving thanks for what I have and have had: books on landscape photography, corduroy, and a mystery that keeps you going until the end. The artificial intelligence tells me there are twenty flavors of Jell-O. I never tried Melon Fusion or Cherry Lemonade. Lime still reminds me of my mother, and regret tastes like Pineapple; it’s the same yellow.