It All Ends the Same

A. Your parents meet. They come together with love, through force, by accident or in reconciliation, and you are conceived. Months pass. Things grow. You are born. If you are a large healthy boy, go to B. If your umbilical cord gets caught around your neck as you exit the birth canal and you lose too much oxygen before they untangle it to survive, go to Z.

B. As a little boy, you are well-loved by your parents. They take good care of you and you are happy. On the day that you are six weeks old, you smile for the first time and their hearts boil over. You eat well and sleep well and play efficiently. Your parents tell their friends that really, you only fuss when you really need something, never for no reason at all. You receive immunizations in soft thighs and vile fluoride through a sticky brown dropper. You learn to roll over early and your parents begin whispering to themselves but not others that you are gifted. The pediatrician recommends solid food. Your parents take a magnifying glass to labels and decide that, extra time and trouble be damned, they will make your food from scratch. There is no telling whether additives or preservatives will diminish the giftedness of the child. Your mother mashes bananas, which are well-received. Your father grinds fresh boiled beans in a special baby food grinder. He does not take into account the stringiness of the beans, and they get caught in your little throat. The choking is silent as your skin blues, and your father is carefully mixing more cereal in a small yellow plastic bowl. If your father turns back and sees that you are asphyxiating on the beans, go to C. If he does not, go to Z.

C. If your father is able to perform infant CPR, go to E. If he does not, go to Z.

D. The wayward beans are removed from your throat and your parents promise tearfully to stick to bananas for the time being. You eat bananas, cereal and milk day after day. Eventually, you grow teeth and are able to eat beans on your own. You learn to crawl, early, because you are gifted. Plastic doohickeys are placed in electric outlets. One day you grab the phone cord and drag the base onto your head. You cry briefly but are resilient, and instead of wallowing in your pain, decide to instead chew on the receiver's rubbery buttons instead. You chew off the eight, but your father scoops it quickly from your throat. The following week, you suddenly crawl faster than anyone anticipated and pitch down the stairs. If you escape with just bruises, go to E. If you incur a spinal cord injury, go to F.

E. Everyone is so relieved. Another near miss, they breathe. Things like this happen to everyone...remember when Martha Rothchild's little girl fell off the counter into the flip-top garbage can? or when John Burton accidentally let little Laura get into the cabinet under the sink and she managed to eat some dishwashing powder and they had to force-feed her syrup of Ipecac until it all came up and everything was okay? The word "Ipecac" reminds your parents of "The Girl from Ipanema," and they get to singing, the fall forgotten. The years pass as they should and you grow up to be six. Like many six-year-olds, you like to ride your bike, and even though you know you're supposed to look both ways before crossing the street, sometimes your friend Danny and the way he imitates Mrs. Rodland, the ugly woman across the street, is so funny you get distracted. Danny is already on the other side, but you are just on the yellow line and don't see the blue Volvo and its red brakelights, coming on too late. The Volvo, and the horrified young mother behind the wheel, hit you. If you get tossed into a conveniently-located bush right off the road and get a bit scratched from the loose branches and dry stiff leaves, put on some Band-Aids and go to H. If you experience internal bleeding that the doctors just can't stem, go to Z.

F. You become a paraplegic and are wheelchair-bound for life. Your parents instill in you a sense of thankfulness for being alive and courage to set and achieve lofty goals. You go to school, make friends, date girls, enjoy life. One night you are wheeling home from a gig (you're funny and you have begun doing sit-down stand-up comedy in some local clubs to great accolades) when a man exits an alley to hold a knife to your throat and take your $75. You look him directly in the face as you give him the money and tell him that he must be a pretty lame thief if he has to rob cripples. If he spits on your face and absconds with the cash, leaving you trembly and swearing to take a longer yet safer route next week, go to G. If he slices your carotid, go to Z.

G. You take a longer yet safer route next week, but there's a bump in the sidewalk that you don't see in the dark. You fall out of your chair and roll like a log down a hill. At the bottom of hill is a small river, not terribly deep. No one is within shouting distance, and your upper body strength is able to keep you above water for a good half-hour. Go to Z.

H. At ten, you are dared to eat some funny-looking berries by Jack, who is Popular, and so you do. If they are bitter but you're able to get rid of the taste by drinking a large Mountain Dew right after with your new friends, go to I. If they are poisonous, go to Z.

I. At eleven, Jack dares you to swallow a knife like the guy in the circus did. If you do it sideways, so it looks like you swallowed but didn't, go to J. If you try and fail, go to Z.

J. At twelve, Jack tells you that you better drink all the beer or you aren't really cool after all. If you fake it, pouring some on the grass each time no one's looking, go to K. If you drink the whole twelve-pack that Jack's brother who's 21 got for you, go to Z.

K. At thirteen, Jack dares you to jump off the roof of the school, but being afraid of heights, you refuse. He never speaks to you again and convinces all his friends that you're a nerd. If you find new friends, perhaps some average-type guys who play soccer instead of football and go to movies on the weekends instead of beer parties, go to L. If you realize that you're now socially doomed for life and commit suicide in a manner that does not involve jumping off something to break your neck, go to Z.

L. If you, at fifteen, think about stealing your parents' car for a joyride but decide against it, go to M. If you determine that it's a good idea, go to Z.

M. If you, at sixteen, decline the cocaine you're offered, go to N. If you rationalize that one taste never hurt anyone, go to Z.

N. If you, at eighteen, walk under the bridge right before the big chunk of concrete falls, go to O. If you walk under a second later, go to Z.

O. If you have safe sex, go to P. If you think a condom takes too long to put on and she just might change her mind in that time, go to Z.

P. If you make sure you're out of the bathtub entirely before turning the radio up, go to Q. If the new Limp Bizkit song is almost over and you really really really need to hear the end of it, loud, before you finish cleaning your ears, go to Z.

Q. If that irregular mole is benign, go to R. If not, go to Z.

R. If the bungee cord holds, go to S. If not, go to Z.

S. If you're a foot to the left, go to T. If not, go to Z.

T. If you leave the house at 7:40am, go to U. If you're running five minutes late because you need to throw the wash in the dryer, go to Z.

U. If you make it to forty, happily married with two children and a dog, and continue on, go to V. If something happens, go to Z.

V. If you make to sixty, happily married with two children, four grandchildren, a dog and a parakeet, then keep on living, go to W. If not, go to Z.

W. If you reach eighty and people are still marveling at your energy and sound mind, go to X. If not, go to Z.

X. If you're still around, go to Y. If not, go to Z.

Y. Go to Z.

Z. You're dead.

About the author:

Vanessa Weibler Paris lives, works and writes in Erie, Pennsylvania.