As soon as we started to climb the hill, I knew I had made a mistake.
Hours into my second visit to Cedar Point, I decided it was time for me to ride my first roller coaster. Living in nearby Michigan, trips to Sandusky, Ohio and its well-known amusement park were a summer ritual. My family embraced the various thrills the park offered, while I spent my time revisiting the House of Mirrors. Though my parents and sisters didn’t seem to think less of me for my steadfast desire to remain on solid ground, I had a nagging sense that I was missing out on a right of passage. Books and movies tell reliable tales of a kid protagonist summoning the courage to overcome fear. I was convinced that my own story was working toward this particular act of bravery.
So, I wandered the park intensely observing the possibilities, eventually choosing Gemini. The decision made no sense; Gemini was then known as the tallest and fastest roller coaster anywhere. From a distance, though, I convinced myself that it was a smooth, even tranquil ride compared to the twisting alternatives. Plus, by starting at the top, I would avoid a series of escalating challenges.
I convinced my dad of my sound mind and the attendant of my just-tall-enough body and we settled into our seats. I was nervous, but optimistic, as was my dad. That lasted as long as it took the coaster to turn and began its slow ascent to the 125-foot peak.
With each click of the tracks I became more terrified. I turned to my dad and said, “I don’t want to do this.” I meant it with my entire being. “I don’t want to do this! I want to get off!”
I’ll never forget the look on his face. My nightmare was his nightmare. I was trapped, but so was he. As a parent now, I feel his anguish nearly as much as mine. What's harder that having someone you love plead for your help and not be able to do anything for them?
“Make it stop!” I don’t remember if he said anything. Stunned by this unexpected turn, he was both exceedingly sympathetic and helpless.
I remember with my first book, I was talking to a friend of mine, and I said, “The problem is, I don’t think it has any plot at all.” And he said, “Well, descent is a plot.”
In my case, the descent was 118 feet at 60mph. I remember gripping the bar in front me, consumed by the plummeting sensation. I kept my eyes closed through the second hill and the many turns. Resigned to my fate, I didn’t scream in fear or protest. This wasn't the hero's journey I had imagined; I felt defeated.
Then, 2:20 minutes later, the ride was over. I opened my eyes. My dad’s were full of relief. “You made it!”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, unconvinced.
“You had me scared back there. I thought you were going to try to climb out.”
I laughed. He smiled, but he wasn’t joking.
We walked away, slowly feeling better about our accomplishment. That was the only time we road a roller coaster together, though. Some things need only be experienced once.
I’ve thought about those 140 seconds often. I'm grateful he was there, next to me in that moment, even if there was nothing to be done. I only realized later that it was a small expression of love in its most selfless form.
I would do anything in the world to fix this, but I can’t.
So, I’m going to stay right here next to you, and we’ll ride this out together.