The following story is true. Well, true enough. As D and I prepare to set out on new adventures, we enjoy looking into past ones. This will be a new segment for us, so it is simply titled:
First and foremost, you need to know this is a revenge tale.
When I was in high school, during summer break, I visited my cousin Robby. He lived in northern Ohio. We spent a week walking the line between getting into trouble and having a lot of fun. One of those humid, sunny days we drove to Six Flags. For those of you who don’t know, Six Flags is an amusement park. They’re always competing to have the biggest, fastest, and coolest rollercoasters.
That day we made two rules.
Rule #1: we had to ride in the first/front car of every rollercoaster.
Rule #2: your arms had to be in the air the entire ride (no grabbing onto the bars).
And so, we enjoyed a day of stomach dropping F-U-N. We joked with strangers, road as many rides as we could, and constantly laughed. But above all, we followed our two rules. Everything changed when we encountered our last rollercoaster of the day; a ride called Superman.
We sauntered up to it with the same misguided confidence a child has when playing with an electrical outlet. I mean, for reals, y’all! We had just ridden in every front car of nearly every ride at a world leader in Rollercoasters! You could practically call us experts and rulers of the universe. We were oozing so much arrogance it’s a small wonder Karma intervened.
Superman was in the shape of a big “U.” It was one of those rides where your feet dangled and you had a cushioned bar hold you in place from the tops of your shoulders to your waste. The ride started you in the middle at the bottom of the “U”, went forward half way up one side of the “U”, traveled backwards passing your starting point until you were halfway up the other side of the “U” facing downwards, and did one more circuit of the same except going all the way up to the top of each peak.
And even though this ride took less than a minute, we joined all the other lemmings for an hour wait until it was our turn to ride. First, you had to wait in one long, winding line before it broke out into separate lines for each car of the rollercoaster. Speaking jovially, Robby and I got to the back of the line. Our conversation faltered however, after we repeatedly endured a high pitched wine right in front of us in the line. This wine took the form of a small child.
“I don’t want to go on this ride! I’m tired of waiting in lines! Can we go home yet?” His voice trembled several octaves higher than soprano as he stamped his feet. He was glaring up at a man we could only presume to be his father. This dude wore a weathered ball cap and sunglasses, and angrily sipped on a Styrofoam cup housing some sort of strong alcohol (again, we could only presume).
The boy whimpered a series of questions again. I believe one had to do with being “scared.” I don’t remember really what the boy looked like. But do remember wondering if the father snuck the kid in by hiding him in his hat, Tinkerbell-style. Seriously, he was so short I have no idea how he bypassed the height requirements for the ride. The dad didn’t reply to his sniveling offspring with anything other than a grunt. His body language shouted, “For the past several months all you ever did was beg and grovel that we come to this damned place, and all you’ve done since we got here is complain!”
I sighed softly, mentally preparing myself for a dreadful forty five minute wait. Suddenly, to my surprise, Robby interjected at the child, “you know, only big kids can ride this ride.” He leaned down towards the kid, nodding knowingly.
I didn’t have time to register the brilliance of this manipulating statement, because the child immediately puffed up his chest and stammered, “I—I’m a big kid!” (I know, I know, you’re going to try this out sometime)
“Oh, right,” Robby replied as the kid settled down, looking contemplative. We both glanced at the dad. Over his Styrofoam cup he mouthed “thank you.” Apparently, Robby took this to mean please, go ahead and give my child years of nightmares, for Robby leaned in and conspiratorially asked the kid, “Do you know why only big kids ride on this ride?”
“No,” said the boy.
“It’s because people die on this ride ALL THE TIME.”
My eyes performed a worthy impression of saucers as I gaped between Robby and this bellyaching kid’s father. Oh shit, oh shit, I thought. I’m about to get in a fight with a middle aged man. It’s all Robby’s doing! But instead, the father, hiding a smirk from his son using the cup, released a small chuckle.
Robby smiled somewhat gleefully. If the father knew Robby, he might have stopped him there. I however, knew Robby quite well and he believed if he got this far, then that meant please, go ahead and destroy my child’s confidence so that he may never want to ride a rollercoaster again.
By this time the kid said something along the lines of, “people don’t die on this ride.”
Robby immediately shook his head sorrowfully, “No, no. Look up there. See how when the rollercoaster goes down one of the peaks of the ‘U’? You see how the ride itself waves from side to side?” I also followed where Robby was pointing and could see that what he said was true.
“Yeah,” the kid said, “daddy calls it ‘Physics.’”
Robby shook his head again, “Wrong! They loosen the bolts up there to make it more dangerous so someone MIGHT DIE ON THE RIDE today.”
“Nuh-uh,” the child said softly.
“Sure they do! This IS a big kid ride after all. But I’m sure you were smart and wore your pink, polka dotted underwear, right?” Robby raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“What?” The child scoffed.
Furrowing his eyebrows and then locking eyes with me, Robby shook his head. “He’s not wearing the right underwear,” he said to me with a surreptitious glint in his eyes. I immediately understood and plastered a look of disappointment on my face.
“What? What?” The child squeaked urgently.
Throwing up his hands exasperatedly, Robby shouted, “Everyone knows that if you don’t wear your pink, polka dotted underwear you’re GOING TO DIE ON THIS RIDE today!”
Pointing a finger at Robby, the child accused, “You’re not wearing pink po—pokey dot underwear!”
Robby threw up a deuce of fingers, “I’m wearing two pairs! Jake, aren’t you wearing pink, polka dotted underwear?”
“Sure!” I supplied immediately, “I don’t want to die today.”
“But—I won’t—If I die, then everyone else is gonna die!” The boy sputtered angrily.
Robby shook his head energetically, “Everyone else is wearing pink, polka dotted underwear!”
I stole a glance at the father. I was nervous Robby and I were going too far, but surprisingly I found myself mistaken. I couldn’t see through his sunglasses, but he still hid a small smile behind his cup and kept sipping. Maybe his child really did deserve this… Robby began running out of material, and as soon as I realized it was safe we wouldn’t get pounded (yes, I’m that kind of hero), I jumped in to the sudden silence, “Well, you wrote a will at least, right?”
The kid looked stricken. It appeared he actually had a concept of what a will was. I sighed and said to Robby sadly, “He didn’t write a will.”
Flustered, the kid jeered, “You didn’t write one!”
“Robby?” I demanded. “Didn’t I write a will?”
He smacked me in the chest and smiled, “I helped you write it!”
The kid’s face went from anger, to despair, and then melted into a semblance of acceptance. He slowly turned away from us, facing further down the line. “Rachel!” He yelled. “Raaacheeelll!”
A teenage girl about six people down or so turned around and grumbled with the haughty air of an older sister, “What?”
To her astonishment, the kid called, “You can have everything but grandma gets my beanie-babies!”
This shouting was too much for the casual minding-my-own-business-waiter-of-lines. This poor child’s remonstrations attracted their attention. We suddenly had onlookers. An audience of teenagers and adults alike, and everyone appreciated our witty destruction of an eight year old. No one said anything and no one pressured us to stop (there’s got to be a lesson in here somewhere). And for the following forty minutes, we ruined this boy. Robby shined under the spotlight. I helped whenever necessary; mainly I went along with whatever he said and sold his material with a nod or shake of my head. I even heard some lady behind us whisper “he’s good” in reference to Robby’s hilarity.
To be fair, the child performed admirably under increasingly morbid circumstances. He didn’t break down or turn violent, but with each jab and witty invention of why he was GOING TO DIE, he hunkered down into himself bit by bit.
When the lines broke out for the separate cars, we parted ways. Robby and I, following rule #1, got in the longest line for the front car. The father threw his cup away and took the child to the line for the car in the dead center of the rollercoaster. For the next several rides, Robby and I regaled our last three quarters of an hour. We reminisced and good naturedly did impressions of the child and father.
We joked until we saw it was the child and the father’s turn to ride. We watched eagerly and weren’t disappointed. The kid was pale as death, and was just shaking his head from side to side. He didn’t stop shaking his head as he was strapped onto the ride. The father was laughing and waving his hand in a manner that bespoke: “it will be alright! Calm down!”
Off they went! About minute later the rollercoaster slowed and was pulling back to the starting point. From our vantage point, at first we couldn’t see the kid’s face even though we could see the rest of him. His head was pushed so far back that the shoulder pads obscured it. As the ride was coming to a stop, suddenly, his head appeared as he released a huge sigh. We laughed and laughed, and continued to debate our awesomeness.
A couple of rides later it was our turn.
We strutted up like the veterans we were, and pulled down the safety bars until they would no longer give off that clicking noise. Then the person whose job it is to double check all the safety bars walked our way. Typically they will give your bar a good shove to make sure it doesn’t need to tighten anymore, and then move to the next car and so on. He checked both of ours, but as he was walking past us, he stopped behind my seat…behind MY seat!
“Uh oh,” He said under his breath. “Hey, Frank!” He called to the booth operator.
“Uh oh?” I asked. “What do you mean ‘uh oh?’”
The guy ignored me and continued to yell for the guy in the booth. “Hey, Frank!”
Frank was a no-nonsense, bearded man. Irritatingly, he leaned out of the booth and glaring at the guy to my side shouted, “What?”
“C’mere!” The guy responded, waving his hand urgently. “C’mon, Frank! C’mere!”
Frank growled something under his breath and stomped over to our car. The guy pointed behind my seat, asking, “Is this ok?”
Frank squinted at it for a quick moment, shrugged, and said, “It’ll hold.” AND THEN HE JUST WALKED AWAY!
Frantically, my voice broke as I screeched, “What’ll hold? What’s wrong? Frank? Frank!” He ignored me and walked away. The other guy was already two cars back checking other people’s harnesses. I tested my safety bars to see if I could get out. I was locked in, there was nothing I could do!
My eyes sought Robby: my only friend and ally in this time of terror. His face a mask of concern, Robby slowly raised his arms into the air and said, “Rule two, bro.” I nodded weakly, raising my arms into the air as well. Usually, I would stretch them out as far as they would go. But now, now I only rested my forearms on the bar itself.
The Rollercoaster rocketed into motion. We climbed the first half of the “U” and I was only slightly hyperventilating. As we climbed in altitude, my heart matched our feet per second with beats per feet. We stopped halfway up and then dropped downwards. My stomach lurched and I nearly grabbed on, but nothing felt terribly out of the ordinary. We flew backward across the track and headed backwards up the other side of the “U” and came to a stop looking straight down. My breath held expectantly and I could hear my heart throbbing in my ears.
I gained in confidence as we began our descent. The breath I held transformed into a joyous scream that can only be experienced by the thrill of a rollercoaster ride and a moment of oh my god I’m not dead. We cruised all the way across the track and this time, when we reached the top of the other side of the “U,” I grinned, screaming gloriously through my teeth.
We plummeted backwards and this time, I reveled at my stomach jumping to my throat. We flew through the track until we we’re facing the ground at the top of the other side of the “U” a hundred feet in the air.
I still remember how joyous I felt. And I still remember how terrified I became.
You see, my cousin Robby and I spent the entire time before the ride crushing the soul of a child that we didn’t actually watch the rollercoaster. Apparently, at the end of the ride, when you’re at the top of the “U” facing the ground, they drop you ten feet and then they bring you to a sudden, jolting, stop.
When that stop came, and I heard the sound of my seatbelt locking, my joyous scream morphed into a terrified shriek. My hands pounded the bars and my eyes widened to the point I became an anime character. Over the creaking sound of my fists white-knuckling the bars I heard Robby’s piercing screech as he too figured out we were about to die. I knew it was the end. I knew my life was forfeit.
Instead, moments later, we came cruising to a soft stop at the point where we began. I shakily looked over at Robby. He held out a thumb and forefinger and shuddered, “This close, Jake. THIS close to needing new shorts.” I nodded in fervent agreement. I released my grip on the bars and my hands peeled off the steel painfully. I looked back at Robby to say something I don’t remember. But what I saw froze my tongue in place.
Over Robby’s shoulder, standing in the Exit aisle, was a guy wearing a worn ball cap and sunglasses. He took a sip of something in a Styrofoam cup, gave me a small smile and saluted me with a couple of fingers. He turned and walked away.
Now, I can’t prove he had anything to do with anything. But I sure hope he did.