The Zipper

For a moment, all I wanted was to be a kid again. To have no fear. To live in the moment. To scream out loud. To ride…the Zipper.

Every year, the local parish where my children attended preschool throws a fall festival, complete with carnival rides, a silent auction, and goofy games. One year, winding our way through the crowds, I saw towering above the horizon, a ride I recognized from my own teenaged years: the Zipper. Lost for a moment in the past, I am desperate to ride it!

But my kids were too young. My daughter was only six and my son four. It would be a while before they would be ready for such a dare-devilish ride. It looked like it would be a day on the big slide and the little choochoo train.

This has been a problem since I have had kids. Living in Southern California, we are surrounded by amusement parks. We have been to our share, not as often as some, however. Yet I have not ridden Space Mountain since I was in the ninth grade on a family vacation. We ride the log flume over and over and sometimes squeeze in a little merry-go-round or spinning teacup ride. All the while, I gaze longingly at the twisted turning metal tracks soaring to the sky, cars screaming by.

“Some day,” I think.

In the meantime, I let my kids know that once they reach the requisite height limit, I fully expect them to escort me on every roller coaster in the park.

But tonight, I just want a peek at the fun I used to have and the fun I hope to have.

Shocked to overhear a friend offer to accompany her oldest son on the Zipper, I pounced when I heard him turn her down, his voice trembling at the thought.

“I’ll go with you!” I volunteered. Despite that fact that she had offered to ride for the benefit of her son and not because she was interested in the ride, she agreed to go with me. I had found a kindred spirit, a rebel, a real friend. Even so, I rushed her to the line before she could change her mind.

Everyone we knew was convinced we had lost our forty something-year-old minds. My four-year-old son was hysterical. He flopped to the ground, grabbed my leg, and pleaded with me at ear-splitting decibels, to stay off of “that ride.” But we forged ahead. 

One thing I had forgotten was how sneaky teenagers wanting to get on a ride can be. Kathy and I soon discovered that we were all but invisible in the world of the teenager. Should our concentration lapse for merely a second and we not remain on the heels of the kid in front of us, sure enough, someone would slip in ahead of us. I knew my quest for youth was successful when I found myself blocking potential line-cutters by spreading my arms and  holding the rails at all times and by not budging, no matter how many times I was pushed forward or back by a mob of bodies.

Ahhhh. Visions of eighth grade.

Other little whippersnappers apparently couldn’t believe we would possibly be in line for the Zipper. Weren’t we people’s mothers after all?  So we endured the incredulous cries of  “Are you in this line?”

After surviving the politics of the carnival ride line, our turn finally came. We stepped into the small cage attached to what looked like an oblong Ferris wheel. The difference was that as the large wheel turned one way, a cable moved the cages in the opposite direction along the outside of the oblong wheel so that sometimes the cage sat at the tip of the éclair shaped ride and sometimes in the middle. The cage then flips wildly around as the entire ride turns on its axle.

The carnival worker waited patiently as we strapped ourselves onto the small bench inside, and he then closed the cage front down over us. It was a cozy fit. The cage left no room to kick about or even to straighten out our arms in front of us. 

Mounted to the front of the cage, right in front of our faces, were two thickly padded grab bars. We instinctively grabbed them as the worker swung our cage back and pushed the button to move us slowly upward as he continued loading. We swung back and forth in the air, never quite getting our equilibrium, as we waited for the ride to fill. Only now did it hit me what we might have gotten ourselves into. But it was too late to turn back, so the anticipation and anxiety grew like a tumor in my stomach. Back on the ground, we were brave, heroic, and a bit crazy. Now, I felt mostly crazy.

Then, we took off. Most of the ride is now a blur…literally. We were flipping first one way and then the other. All I could see were the backs of my eyelids. Periodically, I couldn’t help but peek, but all I could see were streaks of lights from other rides whizzing by me.

I screamed. I cussed. But mostly, I laughed. I laughed until tears were spilling out of my clenched eyes. I laughed until I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or weeping uncontrollably – my body convulsed in much the same manner, my breathing wheezed and hiccupped. And I’m sure my expression did not make the distinction clear.

The ride finally slowed down. The end was in sight. We dared to open our eyes, pried our hands off of the grab bars, and celebrated our triumph with much chest-beating, high fives, and hugs of joy.

But our celebration was short lived. Suddenly, the ride stated up again – this time going backwards! Horror stormed our delight. The ride was only half over. We had not noticed this turn of events while waiting in line. All of the line posturing had obviously distracted us.

This simply led to more screaming, a lot more cussing, and a little less laughter.

When the Zipper finally did come to a halt, we emerged from our cage weathered but not beaten. However, apparently we looked quite beaten judging from the frightened looks on our friends and children’s faces.

My kids were clearly concerned, unsure of whether I had loved the ride or had just experienced a most horrifying incident. But I was laughing. Laughing like I hadn’t in years. Laughing so hard I was dizzy.

The next day, friends chastised me for “making” Kathy ride the Zipper. (As if I “made” her ride it!) Kathy told me that although she had fun, she had had a headache the rest of the night and would never do something like that again.

I also had had a headache the rest of the night. My throat hurt from the continual yelling. My hands were sore from the death grip I had on the bars. But I was certainly not about to say that I would never go on such a ride again. I could not cope with the thought that for the rest of my life I might never feel that much unrestrained joy and fear mixed together. I suppose even at the age of forty-one, I have not come to terms with my mortality and the aging process. But that’s ok.

For a few brief but memorable minutes, I was thirteen. I was uninhibited. I was free. I was fearless.

Why would I want to give that up?

**Author’s note: This was written in 2003! A lifetime ago! But I remember this day vividly. And I am happy to say that I have ridden countless rides (mostly roller coasters) since that day.**

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