Every year the magazine Real Simple runs an essay contest. This year's theme was bravery. I wrote the following essay, which did not win. The essays that did win were great, and their success was well-deserved. You can read those essays by clicking here.
When I graduated college in May, I felt a tremendous amount of relief. Finally, I would get a job that paid me more than eight bucks an hour--one that didn’t require dealing with belligerent customers complaining about our lack of apple fritters or demand I scrape curdled cream from the crevices of our dairy dispenser. I had accepted long ago that my dream of becoming a writer would not happen overnight, that I would need a day job to pay the bills. Now that I had a bachelor’s degree, that would be easy, right? On my first day of job hunting, I sat at my desk with my Mylar “Congrats Grad” balloon by my side, ready to search. Coffee? Check. Notepad? Check. But after hours of scouring job websites...job that I was qualified for? Not so much.
Every post, even for a simple secretary job, demanded years of experience, and I just didn’t have that. When I finally did find a posting for an entry level job I was qualified for, I was thrilled. I applied, certain that the job was mine. I began to plan my new adult life--where I’d live, how I’d decorate my apartment, what I’d cook when friends came to visit. A month later, I finally got an e-mail. I thought the company would love me, but instead they had decided to “concentrate [their] attention on other (read: better) candidates.” I was so frustrated and dejected. By the end of July, my balloon sat deflated in the corner of my room.
It was about this time that my boyfriend, Ryan, invited me to go to Six Flags New England. When I agreed to go, Ryan asked, “Are you gonna ride the Bizarro?” I shuddered at the thought. Before I began dating Ryan, I had ridden exactly one roller coaster--a horrifying wooden one that did not seem structurally sound--and had vowed never again to do so. However, with some gentle prodding from Ryan, I had slowly acquired the courage to ride a handful of them. However, one roller coaster--the Bizarro--had always terrified me. It wasn’t so much the 77 mph speed or the 5,400 feet of track, but the first hill--a 221 foot drop--that kept me from riding it. In my mind, my petite body would never make it down that drop without passing out or having a heart attack from anxiety.
Years ago, the last time Ryan and I had visited this Six Flags, he had tried to convince me to ride it. I rode several smaller coasters that day, thinking I’d work my way up to it. When the park shut down temporarily due to a passing storm, I thought maybe this was a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. But then, after many patrons left the park, the ride reopened and there was no wait. “Let’s ride it now!” Ryan said, grabbing my hand. We ran toward the coaster, and the closer we got, the taller and taller it grew. When we reached the entrance, I stared straight up the twenty-stories-tall hill. Was it my imagination or was it growing by the second, like the Christmas tree in The Nutcracker? I froze. Ryan gestured for me to follow him, but I couldn’t. Instead he bought me an ice cream. As we sat in silence, I felt like a Little Leaguer after a tough loss.
Now, here I was, three years later, squinting up at that first drop with the confidence of a pimply seventh grader at her first dance. My feet felt as if they were stuck in tar. I was ready to run away again, but then I thought about the last few months. Nothing had gone the way I planned. I was still peddling overpriced coffee for minimum wage. I was still living at home. I was too depressed to work on my novel. I was a loser. “No,” I told myself. I was going to do this. I had to do this.
Suddenly, I felt a burst of courage. I followed Ryan to the entrance. We put our belongings in the lockers and took our place in line. At the beginning of the line, I was rather optimistic. “I’ll be fine,” I said to Ryan, mostly trying to convince myself, “I’ve ridden other coasters like this. Like that one in Vegas--how tall was that one?”
“About half this size,” he replied casually.
“But, see, that one was on top of a building, so if you count the building’s height...”
“Still not anywhere near this one. But you’ll be fine. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
By the time we were nearing the station, I was still pelting Ryan with questions. Exactly how long that first drop last? And that weightless feeling? Will it make me sick? What kind of belt do they have? No belt? Just a bar? Won’t I fall out?
By the time we took our seats, my heart was racing. I tried to compose myself by taking calming deep breaths, but due to my frenzied state, it sounded more like the slapstick Lamaze pregnant women use on sitcoms. We pulled the bar over our laps and watched as the operator checked the lap bars for the right side of the train. I waited for the other operator to do the same on my side of the train, but she was distracted by a passenger at the front of the train. I watched in horror as she returned to the booth.
“She didn’t check our side! She didn’t check our side!” I panicked. Soon other right-side passengers got her attention and she began to check the restraints. As she yanked the lap bar to test it, I wondered, was this some kind of omen?
As I considered calling the whole thing off, the car began to slowly move forward. After a few feet we began to move up the towering first hill at an ominously slow pace. “Look at the view, Erin,” he said, hoping to placate me.
“Nope. Not looking down.” I sat as still as I could, clutching the lap bar as tightly as my fingers would allow.
After what seemed like ten minutes, Ryan announced, “Okay. We’re halfway up.”
No amount of soothing from Ryan could pacify me now. I could do nothing but wait for the car to reach the top of the hill. When I could finally see the peak, I knew there was no turning back now. This was happening. A voice inside me suddenly began to drown out the illogical voices that were telling me I would most certainly be ejected from my seat and fall to my death. You’ll make it to the station it said. I allowed myself to look down at the Connecticut River for a brief moment. I imagined dipping my feet in the cool water and feeling that beautiful thing called the ground that I had left a minute ago. I tried to grasp that feeling of calmness as much as I could as our car reached the top of the lift, but as our car began its descent, that feeling was torn away as we plummeted down the track.
The next two minutes are still a blur to me--a terrifying, exhilarating blur. But what I do remember is stepping off that ride with my curls blown back, feeling like I could do anything. Later as I nibbled on fried dough, I realized how much time and energy I spend imagining these worst case scenarios and how much I let these scenarios snowball. (Oh my God--a spider on the ceiling! What if he lands on my head and crawls in my hair? What if he bites me? Or lays eggs in my skin while I’m sleeping? I don’t want to die now--not in this bathrobe covered in yellow ducks! That’s it. I’m sleeping on the couch instead.) How many good things in my life have I missed out on because of my foreboding?
Yes, there was the possibility that everything that I planned for my life could crumble, but why dwell on that? Isn’t it more likely that someday I’ll look back on this time in my life and wonder why I spent so much time fretting? Because, like spiders or the Bizarro, underemployment is probably not going to kill me. And if I stop listening to my doubts, I might hear that optimistic voice inside me that reminds me in its gentle, reassuring way that no matter what, I’ll make it to the station.