When my feet hit the ground, I knew I was old. The Kings Island ride Windseeker, which consisted of sitting in a chair which rotated 301 feet in the air, had done something it hadn’t ever done: It scared me. It hadn’t malfunctioned, or sprung a lap bar, or affected me in any way which all the warning signs at the base of the tower told me it might. It did exactly it was supposed to do. And I freaked out. Suspended so high, going so fast, even while closing my eyes and clutching at Josh The Pilot, I panicked and panicked and panicked even as everything but the discomposure came to a full and complete stop.
But wasn’t an anxiety attack. That was an old enemy. This was an entirely new mental horror show.
“What was that?” I kept asking. “What was that?” I was on my phone before the ride attendant even unstrapped me, having long ago turned over my mental health, as we well-educated women do, to Duck Duck Go. “Sudden fear of heights,” I typed.
The results were returned in .084 seconds, courtesy of the Cedar Fair wifi: “As we age…”
The Warren County landscape hadn’t changed. Windseeker hadn’t changed. What had changed was me. Six months earlier, I turned 40. I flicked through page after page of people who’d had similar experiences. “I used to skydive and then when I turned 45…” “All at once when I hit 48…” “Why, at the age of 46, am I suddenly afraid to look out of a glass elevator?”
Something about an eroding sense of balance and slower brain processing speeds. I experienced it all again half an hour later while ascending the lift hill of the park’s highest roller coaster, Diamondback. I powerwalked ride to ride, turnstile to turnstile, sorting out how my life was different now outside of now being married to a person who now had deep and abiding claw marks on his arm. I didn’t like being suspended from seat restraints. I didn’t like any loss of solid ground. I didn’t like looking beneath my feet or off to the side and seeing nothing open air. I passed an entire day at Kings Island’s sister park, Carowinds, with eyes squinched shut as the North Carolina ground whizzed by.
But that wasn’t all. The roller coasters which were new and the very definition of thrill when I was a child were now clattering, rough, and nasty to my neck. I’d once stood in line for two hours to ride the cutting-edge Vortex just to spend 90 seconds barely able to see my cousins’ poofed bangs over the seat restraints; now, it was a ride one walked on, the favorite of absolutely no one, and still standing largely because its tangle of steel twists and helixes make for compelling photography. From the ground.
For two years, my approach to climbing into a machine specifically constructed to entertain me was to clench my head against the top of my spine, tense up like a tiny female Hulk Hogan, and await the battering. For these reasons, even such world-revered classics as the Beast have lately been ridden with a gritted-teeth sense of moral obligation and determination to remain un-lame before my nephews. They’re on Snapchat? I’m on Snapchat. Eat the ghost pepper sauce, agree they don’t need pants to venture into the polar winds, strap in for the roller coaster. “It’s very safe,” the nine-year-old said with a heartbreaking mixture of reassurance and contempt when I sat down with a travel vial of Advil and said I’d sit this Windseeker round out.
So there was no avoiding the Beast. “Is this too shaky, Aunt Beth?” the smallest one asked. “This is one of the best roller coasters on the planet,” I said, staring directly at the back of his older brother’s head as he held both arms in the air.
“You lean into it,” said the youngest as we clanked our way to the top of the first hill.
“When the ride goes really fast. You lean forward. It’s better.”
This is a person who goes to Ron’s Roost and orders seafood, so his ability to bestow useful life advice is in question, but I was strapped in and I was going over this hill, so that’s what I did. I leaned forward. I didn’t brace. I didn’t tense. I didn’t fight the momentum and motion of the train flinging me over the trees and through the tunnels. It was the best Beast experience of my 40s.
So when these same young men were angry and sad and angry some more when news came of the Reds latest trades, I told them I understood. I said I would miss Puig. I agreed that the loss of Scooter was a terrible one and we’d miss the prospects. I threw my hands in the air.
In the past week alone as a Reds fan, I’ve been bored, hopeful, angry, furious, elated, proud, despondent, hopeful, and hungry for Fritos. Sometimes I feel that way in the span of the same game; sometimes I feel that way across one inning (I wrote more on this here.) They’re up ten runs!… Oh wait, the Pirates got a grand slam. Garrett is charging the entire visitor’s dugout!… Oh, and now it’s 11-3. Look at this nifty new pitcher!…wait, the nifty new pitcher just said he’s been playing hurt. We’re only 6.5 games out of first!…We’re a massive 6.5 games out first.
I’ve stopped clenching my neck and closing my eyes, here in the hot August early mornings. It’s the only way over the hill. We’re all getting older together at the same rate, in or out of the dugout, and what seems to be solid ground is always shifting anyway.