When balmy gulf breezes blew just right, I could hear shrill screams from the amusement park, located 5 miles east of our house. This sound conjured images of teenagers with arms raised above their heads, anticipating the moment when gravity would rip them from the security of their perch at the precipice of the wooden roller coaster. From our front yard, I could also see the loftiest fireworks shot off at 9 o’clock every night, framed by the tops of our neighbors oak trees. If not for the oppressive heat, ever-present humidity and mosquitoes, I would have sat in the front yard until the park closed, smiling at the sounds of life as it floated in on night air.
Like the anonymous thrill-seekers I heard in the night, I would stand in line for what seemed like hours to experience 2 to 3 minutes of adrenaline-laced fun (?). What I can admit today is that most of the time I was terrified. As we would inch closer and closer to the inevitable, I would scan the perimeter for an escape route, my eyes darting left to right as I nervously shifted my weight from foot to foot. I could feel a greasy ball of fear growing in the pit of my stomach.
On one particular visit to the park, I found myself waiting for an agonizingly long period of time to ride Greezed Lightnin’…the latest loop roller coaster the park had installed. I soon realized from my vantage point in line I could watch the entire operation from start to finish. People being loaded, strapped in and cars slowing inching, click by mechanical click, up the 80’ vertical climb to the top where they would be jettisoned at breakneck speed on shrieking rails towards a loop that would slingshot them at 60 mph skyward only to fall prey to gravity and experience the entire thing again, only this time backwards. From start to finish, the ride only lasted 33 seconds…I know because I timed it.
I learned a life coping skill that day that is the centerpiece in my arsenal against fear. If I stand still long enough in the face of what terrifies me, watch, analyze and intellectualize it in repetitive motion, I am no longer afraid. On that hot Texas summer day, I stood in the same spot long enough to be able to anticipate every twist turn, bump and jolt I was about to experience, hoping that someone, somewhere west of the park would be standing outside at just the right time to hear my shrill scream and smile.