Helter Skelter

When I was a kid, roller coasters did nothing for me. They didn’t terrify me; they didn’t lure me. I went on a couple, as I recall. No big whoop.

Our son, when he was 3 – yes 3 – saw one of those “Slingshot” rides at a local theme park. One of those two-seat open-air cages that gets flung 150 feet into the air and then, tethered to the earth by two bungee cords, gets flung back toward the ground, and then bounces, gradually, over about a minute, to a stop, rotating upside down and right-side up all the while. He literally broke my grip and ran toward it, and spent about twenty minutes just transfixed. After which, he announced – finally, certainly, and definitively – “Dad, I have to go on that.”

He was tall enough.

I took a gulp, and so began my adult relationship to thrill rides.

Initially, the slingshot terrified me. But my terror was no match for the thrill and rapture it brought my son. Over the subsequent years, we returned, over and over, to the slingshot – and to every roller coaster and thrill ride we could find. This all began right around the time I began meditating. And meditating opened up a whole new way of experiencing thrill rides for me.

I experimented. Sometimes, I rode with my eyes open. Sometimes, I would close them. I would focus on my breath. Or on the sounds. Or on the sensations in my belly as I was flung around. Sure enough, within a year or two, any terror I felt on these rides became an interesting part of the experience. I would watch it, watch my experience of it. I became a student of the terror, trying to understand which parts scared me the most (always, always, the scariest part for me ends when the ride begins) and which parts thrilled me the most (drops – when my stomach leaps up to my throat and the world disappears for a moment).

Rollercoasters brought my son and me closer together, an extreme experience we could share – and not just share in the moment, but talk about, afterwards.

I use women to build my own thrill rides.

I build dips and loops; I get flung into the air, and I hurtle toward the ground. Just as with the real thing, I know, on some level, that I am, essentially, safe. But oh, man, what a ride.

I build defective thrill rides, though. Or rather, if the point of a thrill ride in a theme park is the thrills, I’m less clear on the point of these thrill rides I build myself. Is it the thrill? I don’t think so. The contours and design of these rides? Not so interesting. They all have the same features. But oh, man, is my bodily sensation of the rides fascinating.

I think I build the rides so that I can show myself my ability, triumphantly, to survive. As the ride progresses, I have the experience – over and over again – of being alive, even when I was convinced (and, throughout the ride, remain convinced) that annihilation lay/lies just around the corner.

On the Slingshot, though, I had company.

These thrill rides I build for myself?

Ultimately, I ride them alone.

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