This weekend, a new friend and I went to an amusement park called Zero Gravity Thrill Park. Zero Gravity only has five rides, but all five are the most hardcore in the metroplex. There’s the bungee jump, the free fall, the slingshot, the swing, and the skyscraper. His favorite, he told me, was the 16-story free fall. He had such a smile on his face when he said it; dreamy and content. Happy. I’m such a sucker for a smile. I suggested we go on it.
Dear readers: I am a wuss.
My wussiness is a fact of nature, like species-specific circadian rhythms, or the simple-yet-mystifying mechanics of soap. I won’t sleep in a tent. I can’t get under the bedclothes without first taking a shower. And I absolutely hate roller coasters. I’ve ridden the beasts less than ten times in my life (excepting the Mine Train, which doesn’t count because it isn’t a real roller coaster), and only then with persistent goading from family members. It’s not that I’m afraid of heights–I’m afraid of falling from heights. I’m afraid of the climb. I worry that the track will break and the car will fall backwards, and I, strapped into that car, will fall backwards, too, until I finally hit the ground, horribly and painfully, snapped back against hard-packed dirt and unforgiving metal. My brain is my own worst enemy.
The park was a lot smaller than I had expected. There were a good number of people, but virtually few lines. Spectators. Yet another thing I tried not to think about. The free fall, we found, was shut down; there was too much wind. For perhaps the fifth time that night, my friend turned to me and asked if I want to stay. I could see the concern in his eyes, and I knew he wouldn’t think any less of me for doing so, but I was just so tired of being a punk. I told him I wanted to stay, and he steered me over to the Skycoaster.
The Skycoaster is like a giant swing. One to three people are harnessed to a cable, attached to a central pivot, and pulled back as far as possible. At the signal, one pulls a rip cord to release the locking mechanism and engage the swing. I looked at the woman already in the swing being reeled up to the top, heels pressed to her eyes, as her children catcalled from below. I felt the anxiety slowly start to build. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They’re hang gliding harnesses.” “So it’s like flying? I’ve always wondered what it would be like to fly. I’ll hold out my arms, then.” Flippancy, I thought, would release tension, and redirect my nervous energy into more benign areas. It worked, kind of, and I instead thought of those childish daydreams I had of flying, felt awe instead of apprehension. Then he said for me to pull the rip cord. I considered the ramifications of playing an active role in my own very probably and painful demise, and instantly deflated.
The trip up was a bitch. Sight only increased the pull of gravity, so I kept my eyes shut for most of that. When we finally stopped, and I opened my eyes, I for one split second thought I was going to start screaming and crying in terror. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long before the attendant gave the signal. I quickly compressed my thoughts and pulled the cord. The bottom dropped out of my stomach, and then I did scream as we wooshed down and then up, up past the horizon. The lights of the city were tiny and muted, but pretty in the strangeness of my vantage point. It was scary. It was beautiful. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Sample vid from the Zero Gravity website. None of these girls are me.
Soon we reached the apex of the first swing, and as we fell away into the next climb, the grandness of the moment–wind coupled with near-weightlessness and the knowledge that you’re as close to flying as a human can ever get–turned frigid terror into wide-eyed awe. I couldn’t get over what I was seeing. It was magical in a way that my stodgy, cliché-hating self cannot deny. Even now, three days later–more than enough for me to overthink, to downplay, dissect, and analyze–I can’t help but say that it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.