Friday, May 29, 2009

Life Really IS A Roller Coaster

This past Monday, some friends and I went to Six Flags for a day of fun and escapism. We got up early, got on the bus, and got to Six Flags before the main part of the park was even open, and we lined up at the rope waiting for them to drop it. It was all really cool. Now, here's the thing about taking me to Six Flags...
I am TERRIFIED of roller coasters

Ever since I was little, I've been scared of roller coasters. When I was young, my dad took me on one (ironically, at the very same Six Flags we were at that day) and I was scared half to death, and have been on very few roller coasters since. I would only get on VERY small ones, and never anything that went upside down.

So, of course, my friends, being the awesome, encouraging, fun-loving people that they are...

...put me on Nitro.

Now, I had promised to try to get on some of the roller coasters, despite being scared. I promised I'd try something that didn't go upside down. I had even joked that after the emotional roller coasters I'd been dragging my sorry ass through lately, I should be able to handle a real one no problem - there was no way a literal roller coaster could be anywhere near as scary, as painful, or as seemingly never-ending as the emotional roller coasters I've been locked into for months now. One friend and I even made a pact - we were leaving our baggage at the top of the first roller coaster and not thinking about it for the rest of the trip.

Being that we were pretty much the first people in the park, the line was extremely short and it took us probably ten minutes to get on the ride. During those ten minutes, I was utterly horrified at the idea that I would be actually getting on this roller coaster. When I sat down in the seat, I was about ready to cry, and when they fastened my little restraint, I was internally freaking out. Sitting in the station locked into this roller coaster is probably the closest I've come to having a full-fledged anxiety attack in the last six months.

Once the car started to move, it finally dawned on me. 
I was riding this roller coaster. I really was going to do it. At that point, there was nothing I could do, no matter how scared I was. I had given up my control, and I was in this for the long haul whether I wanted to be or not. As we started to climb the hill, my fear began to subside a bit... until I looked around. The closer we got to the top, the more nervous I became. The drop was imminent. There was nothing I could do. And maybe, deep down, that's why I was really so scared of roller coasters. I hate feeling out of control.

We reached the top of the hill, and the agonizing metal grinding noise of the car being tugged up the hill stopped. I looked down. We started to fall, and yes, I screamed. I clung to the safety restraints, and curled up into the fetal position as best I could. (My on-ride photo documented this for me quite nicely) And then it was over. We were soaring up the next hill. That was it. I uncurled myself a little. I sat back in my seat and opened my eyes. I unwrapped my white knuckled hands from the safety restraints. Finally, maybe halfway through the ride, I smiled, and threw my hands up in the air.
I was riding this roller coaster!!

My friends, who were seated on either side of me, cheered. Some little voice inside my head screamed "I'M FREE!". I got off the ride grinning, and proceeded to run over to the Batman coaster with my friends, and ride that too. That one even goes upside down. I went on the Dark Knight, which was a walk in the park compared to those, and then we ran back and I, yes, ME, the 
TERRIFIED OF ROLLER COASTERS GIRL, insisted that we go on Nitro again because the line was so short. This time, my on-ride photo was me grinning with my hands in the air.
I rode every open roller coaster in the park that day. Superman, Rolling Thunder (The one that had scared me as a child - I avenged my 7-year-old self!), The Great American Scream Machine (complete with SEVEN LOOPS!), even the brand-new Bizarro, and the incredibly intimidating El Toro, which were to become my two favorites. Sure, while waiting in line for some of them, I started getting scared again, (watching car after car go down the extremely steep first hill of El Toro is enough to make anyone nervous!) but it never stopped me from getting on. Kingda Ka was closed, so I didn't get to see just how far my newfound bravery would go, but I rode every other coaster.

But of course, I wouldn't be me if I didn't somehow wax philosophical about all this. At the beginning of the day (and in the days prior), I had joked about how no real roller coaster could be worse than my emotional ones. By the end of the day, I had realized that they're really one in the same. Life is full of emotional and psychological roller coasters that we all have to get on whether we like it or not, and the only way to handle them is the same way you'd handle a real one.

Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry. Sometimes you scream from excitement, sometimes you scream from sheer terror. Sometimes it looks like a great idea from the start, but somewhere in the middle you realize it was actually an awful idea. Sometimes it looks like an awful idea, and you know it, but you get on anyway hoping for a few thrills. Sometimes it looks like an awful idea, and you realize you couldn't have been more wrong, and it's great. Sometimes you can see where you're going, sometimes you're completely in the dark. Sometimes it feels like it's over too quickly, and sometimes it feels like it's never going to end. But one thing is certain - once you've made the decision to ride, you've given up control, and at that point sometimes, the only thing you can do is take a deep breath, let go of your safety bar, and throw your hands up in the air, fully knowing that you are going to fall, but knowing that no matter what, you will survive, and there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy the ride.


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