This is Act I in a five-act fiction story: The Tragedy of Gerald Neesh.
Editor’s note: the following article contains references to suicide that some readers may find troubling.
Gerald Neesh decided it was time to die. Life was no longer worth living, he thought. It was full of pain and suffering and death, and he didn’t want any part of any of those things anymore. Mr. Neesh wasn’t a man of conviction, however, nor was he a supporter of suicide. A self-inflicted demise had never resonated with him, as a man of subtlety and nuance, and yet his wish persisted.
He couldn’t change his domestic urban lifestyle to that of a thrill-seeking daredevil in hopes of some accidental demise. Nor did the messiness of a car accident or some other speed-induced calamity appeal to him. He wanted an open casket funeral so people could see the elegance in his death. Gerald Neesh decided it had to appear truly accidental. It would be a death so normal, so mundane, so accepted, that no one would question his deep desire to never wake up again.
Gerald Neesh wanted to die of a peanut allergy. He didn’t have a peanut allergy, but had heard of adults acquiring allergies later in life. One out of every five people he knew had a deathly allergy to something: sharpies, bananas, cucumbers, to name a few. Nothing was more domestic than death by allergy, he thought. A sign of pure loss, a tragedy, an inexplicable result of the chaos of the mundane.
If his attempt was successful and he died failing to swallow air down his peanut-allergy-inflamed throat, he couldn’t make his demise obvious. It was for this reason Gerald became consistent. He bought a pound of peanuts a day, and dumped his trash in seven different trash cans along his winding street. He didn’t stockpile the peanuts, although it would have been much cheaper to do so, but rather purchased bags of peanuts from seven different stores in the city. Sometimes the desk clerks would comment on his consistency, but eating a pound of peanuts a week always seemed reasonable to them, especially for a seemingly well-adjusted man such as Gerald, who probably had a family of nut-philes who helped him in his innocuous habit.
He did not, however, have a family of nut-philes. He had never married because he had never met anyone that didn’t talk quietly enough to keep his left ear canal from popping at their pitch. The damage was the result of a high school football injury that caused noises to crackle at certain audio levels. If any situation had ever became audibly too loud, he thought it was probably too loud in other respects as well. In the end, Gerald preferred silence at the cost of companionship.
At 47 years old, he decided the only thing remaining on his life path was a sharp rocky descent. “Why bother?” he consistently asked himself, lying in bed, staring at his cubicle wall, looking out of his window. And after nine years, three months and four days of the same question with no satisfying answer to that question, to his existential musings, he looked across the hall to the break room and saw the platter of stale crackers, cans of diet soda and soft peanuts. If subtlety had defined him, subtlety would end him.
Contact Jake Zawlacki at jazawlacki ‘at’ stanford.edu.