The way he behaved toward me when I was soaking wet, shivering, and terrified I’d have to climb my way down, told me everything I needed to know about our relationship.
My boyfriend and I decide to spend the day at the amusement park. We are teenagers. He is fearless. I am a scaredy-cat.
We start by going on a wooden roller coaster that clacks and sways mercilessly as I try not to scream. It’s old, and except for being a death trap because it’s literally made from wood, it’s comparatively mild for an amusement park ride.
Next, we try a modern roller coaster, expertly constructed from whatever kind of metal they use for these things: steel. It’s called Corkscrew Loop Roller Coaster. Everyone just calls it the Corkscrew.
The Corkscrew sounds very different from the wooden roller coaster, not that I can hear much over the sound of my own screams. When we arrive back at the platform, I am hysterical.
“Thank God,” I say. “Thank God. Thank God. Thank God thank God. ThankGodthankGodthankGod.”
The Corkscrew attendant passes me by when he unlocks the restraints on the other riders. He points at me and smiles. “You go again,” he says as the roller coaster takes off with me on it.
I scream the entire time. When it’s over, I swear I’ll never ride a roller coaster again. It’s a promise I keep to this day.
From the horror of the Corkscrew, we move to the exponentially worse horror of something called the Freefall, which falls 13 stories at 55 miles per hour and nearly makes me lose control of my bowels.
A little boy offers to hold my hand on the Freefall. He is not afraid. It’s a gesture of kindness he makes when he sees the terror on my face. I don’t know how old he is, perhaps ten. He is so much more grown-up than I am. I’m nineteen.
When we slide to a stop at the bottom of the ride, we are lying on our backs with our legs in the air. My skirt is around my face, and I am happy I’m wearing bike shorts underneath. Otherwise, things would be really awkward right now. I’m already screaming at the top of my lungs and squeezing the hand of a pre-teen stranger while my boyfriend rolls his eyes and probably wishes he was here without me.
We move on to the Log Flume.
It’s like a slow-motion roller coaster except it’s lower as well as slower. There are only two hump and two dips, one big splash, and I’m done. It’s not so bad. This is the kind of amusement park ride I can get on board with. It’s high but not too high. I’m scared, but not too scared.
When it’s over, I am soaking wet from my armpits to my socks. I am uncomfortable, but not unbearably so. Although I don’t like my underwear being quite this wet, it’s still better than riding the Freefall. And I am not going on the roller coaster again. Not the wooden roller coaster. Not the roller coaster of steel.
So I pretend to like it more than I actually do, and we ride the Log Flume again and again. On our third time, there aren’t enough people to fill the logs four people per log. Instead of sitting in the same little two-person divot in the front or back of our log, my boyfriend and I have to agree to split up.
Now he is sitting in the front of the log, and I am sitting in the back of the log. I am not big enough to fill the space comfortably. My legs are short. I don’t like the sensation of being a tiny person in a log-hole sized for two people.
I scrunch down as far as I can so only my head sticks out. That way the tips of my sopping wet sneakers touch barely the end of my space.
The ride starts. We float in our metal log. Then the chain engages and drags us up the first hill. We drop into the first dip of stale water that splashes up around us, and my dry spots are immediately wet again.
Then we are heading up the second and last hill. See. It’s not so bad. I prepare myself for the second and final drop. One more big splash, and we’ll be done. Maybe I’ll suggest getting a cheeseburger.
I hunker down in my portion of the half-empty log and prepare myself for the drop, but the drop doesn’t come. Instead, the power goes out and the park is plunged into darkness, and I am right there atop the larger of the two hills on the Log Flume, teetering back and forth but not moving backward or forward.
The lights in the park are all out. They flash back on briefly, and I can hear the machinery whir and whine before everything goes silent and black once again.
And that’s it. The minutes plod by. Nothing changes. No one shouts words of encouragement to me, not even my boyfriend. We’ve stopped talking to each other. It’s lonely. Yet it’s better this way. He wasn’t very nice to begin with. Stuck atop an amusement park ride in the dark, he is even less so.
More minutes. More plodding. Time is, indeed, relative.
I’m still stuck at the top of an amusement park ride, and it’s still dark. I’m soaked to the bone and shivering like crazy. The ride has been stuck for about 45 minutes now, but I do not know if anyone knows we’re up here or not. All the lights are off below us. All around us, there’s just darkness.
It’s a strange feeling to be stuck here. I don’t know how long it will take for help to arrive, but my best guess is that the ride operator down there does not know what he or she needs to do yet. The power outage knocked out the controls on this ride after all, and likely every other one in the park.
The park is so quiet. The constant hum, grind, and whir of the heavy machinery is silent. The occasional screams of roller coaster riders and people on the Freefall have also gone silent.
On the other side of the park, some rides are minimally illuminated, but they are motionless. It’s dark enough to see the stars in the sky overhead and quiet enough to hear my sobs echo through the park.
There is the tiniest, narrowest ladder running down the side of the Log Flume. I fear having to climb down the ladder unaided; I will never make it. Climbing is not my forte. Falling, falling to my death is probably something I would be good at.
I sit there in my wet clothes in the cooling night air, and I imagine going down the ladder with my slippery wet hands and my slippery wet shoes. First, I have to emerge from the relative safety of my log. I don’t know how that will happen. I can barely peer over the edge without having a panic attack.
In the end, climbing down the tiny, narrow ladder was unnecessary. The power was restored. Lights illuminated the park. Engines and machinery roared to life. My log of the Log Flume plummeted safely as planned into the standing water below, splashing stagnant water over every inch of my body and soaking my damp clothing all the way through to my goosebumps.
It was the last time I visited an amusement park, any amusement park.
I left that park with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that was caused less by the amusement park ride malfunction and more by the complete and total lack of empathy on the part of my boyfriend. We stayed together five years after that night, and he never showed more care and understanding than he did then, which is to say none at all.
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