I didn’t ride a roller coaster until I was twenty-one. My life was basically a disaster, as it should be when you are twenty-0ne. I was submerged in a codependent romance. I was annoyed that my first three years of freedom were not more fun than rebelling against my parents.
My misery led me to join my family on their vacation, and may have also inspired my epiphany. Unlike some famous epiphanies, mine lacked a spotlight or an orchestral crecendo, but still startled me: rides at Disney World are not something to be afraid of. Cancer and death are things to be afraid of, but Disney roller coasters… no.
Epiphanies force you to do things you don’t want to do at all. I did not want to line up for Splash Mountain. I wanted to listen to the sanitized “Song of the South” tunes in the Winnie the Pooh gift shop and rock in their rocking chair, while maintaining a moderate heart rate and dry palms. The rest of my family would return in a half hour, and then we would seek the mild, sing-songy pleasure of the raping and pillaging Pirates of the Caribbean.
But Splash Mountain wasn’t cancer, or death, or even dangerous, so I lined up. One of my sisters held my hand as we snaked through the maze. Another sister narrated the entire ride (“First you do a small hill, which really isn’t bad at all…”), and yet another sister repeated that I was going to be fine, that this was actually going to be fun.
It clearly wasn’t going to be “fun.” I thought I was GOING TO DIE, and I weighed by options: actually riding the ride versus the shame of ducking out at the last minute. I wondered if they would stop the ride if I screamed something like, “I can’t do this! Let me off!” as the train pulled away and I was all strapped in like a mental patient about to receive electroshock therapy.
I rode every ride that year: Thunder Mountain (which is a baby ride, even for me), Splash Mountain (I don’t like that slippery-falling feeling!), Space Mountain (now my favorite), the Rock n’ Roller Coaster (upside down, no problem), and the Tower of Terror (falling is fun, but the suspense almost kills me).
My new plan was to spend the rest of my twenties doing scary things so that I could relax. The more things I could cross off my list of fears, the more relaxed I could become. So I went to Europe alone. When confronted by my infuriated boss, I refused to snitch on my coworkers. And I taught high school freshmen– by far the scariest.
Still, I’ve been disappointed by how fear returns. It’s not like a cockroach you squash– it’s more like diabetes. You have to be keeping an eye on it all the time, monitoring yourself, and it could flare up into a big crisis at any time.
Just because I’ve vacationed alone doesn’t mean I’m not scared to do it again. Just because I rode the Tower of Terror in 1999 didn’t mean I wasn’t scared shitless to ride Expedition Everest in 2009. Everest was awesome, though, and I rode it twice, screaming the whole way.