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Personal essay: “Roller coaster misadventure”

Let me paint you a picture, and tell a tale of overcoming fear.

I am a much younger version of myself, a girl who is not as little as she used to be, as when I had my yearly checkup I found out that I had reached the height of 140 centimeters. Why this was such a glorious thing would not become obvious until that summer.

Stockholm has one fairly decent amusement park, nestled between the old wooden buildings and fancy mansions of well of diplomats and others on the southwest corner of the island of Djurgården, the lush, green playground of Stockholm. It is, by necessity a small park, but what they have crammed in there has its own charm. Back then, most of the attractions were older, consisting of the standard Ferris wheel, an elevator that gave you a rather nice view of the city, a fun house, a spooky dark train ride, an octopus spinner, bumper cars, and a tunnel of love. Oh, and it had two roller coasters.

One was called “Ladybug” and was for kids. It could still thrill me, but it was short and I had begun to hunger for something a bit more exciting. The roller coaster Jetline had opened when I was just seven, replacing an abysmal log ride, but then I had been too little. Every year I had gazed jealously at Jetline’s steel track and listened to the screams of the people old enough and big enough to ride it. But this yeah, this year I had reached the 140 centimeter height they required you to be to get on the big roller coaster.

It was a sunny summer day, because somehow, all memories of summer when you are younger are full of sun and balmy winds. The entire family was there together, spending the day at the amusement park and as soon as we passed the turnstiles at the ticket booths the traditional amusement park scents of popcorn and cotton candy hit you like a wall. And I had but one major goal for that day, to get on and ride Jetline for the first time.

As I had put it as the highlight of the day I did not mind spending time riding other things, like getting on Ladybug with my younger brothers and going on some of the other, less scary rides. We all went through the fun house and we rode up in the elevator. Popcorn was eaten, cotton candy too. Money was wasted on games and chocolate wheels and what not. Then finally it was time.

It was only my father and I who got in the long line for Jetline, my mother keeping an eye on my brothers, young boys high on sugar and excitement. I vividly recall getting up to the cartoon charter holding his finger up to the 140 centimeter mark and proclaiming that you had to be “This High” to ride this roller coaster. Perhaps there was a tiny flicker of fear as I noticed I had only barely passed the mark.

When it was finally our turn to get in the train at the station my belly was doing flip-flops and my excitement grew as I felt the tug of the mechanism starting to pull the train up the first and steepest hill. I could push past my fear of heights as the train reached its highest point and the train began to speed down, forcing a scream of glee from my throat. The roller coaster was all that I had dreamed it would be, until it reached the twisting curve where you experience the most intense G forces. Perhaps it was because I was fairly short still, perhaps I was just too unprepared, but I recall how my neck snapped back and my previous glee was replaced with fear.

I have always been a bit of a hypochondriac, so when the train stopped and began its slow trek back to the station all I could think of was whether I had seriously hurt my neck there. Would I become paralyzed with time? Would I even…Die?

I did not know then that my worries were silly and that if I had only cared to tell my mother, who had enough medical knowledge to know a roller coaster would not snap your neck clean off, like I suspected it had. Instead I kept my fear inside me, until enough time had passed, without any ill effects that my logic sense told me that nothing would happen.

Yet, what did happen was that it took years until I could ride again Jetline without fear, not until I had grown another 20 centimeters, until I felt secure in that I was really, truly tall enough to ride it. But ride it I did, because it really was that great.

In hindsight, this old memory seems silly to me now, merely a tale that highlights how fearful I was of unexpected things, unexpected events and how I found a way to deal with fears by blaming them on something simple and easy, like my height, that I hurt my neck because I was still too short. Now that I have seen other ride that roller coaster, older, taller people, who have themselves also been taken by surprise in some way in that steep curve of roller coaster track, I see the true culprit, a piece or track meant to be bordering on dangerous, the most thrilling part of the roller coaster.

And I also realize that this is the sort of memory which might have become the basis of some lifelong trauma. I can see now how easy it would have been for me to have become so frightened by my experience that I would blame all scary roller coasters and thus shun them for the rest of my life. Yet, surprisingly, and pleasantly enough, this did not happen. I love roller coasters and thus far only one roller coaster has beaten me, meaning I was too scared to ride it (the “Top Thrill Dragster” at Cedar Point in Ohio, for the record).

If that doesn’t turn this little childhood story into a case for “if you fall of the horse, you need to get right back on it”, I don’t know what is.

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