My last post described the depression and emptiness I’ve been feeling with both the change of weather (because I have fall/winter SAD), and the return of painful feelings of emptiness triggered by the memory a perfect week long vacation now receding from short-term into long-term memory, its details beginning to fade and merge with other, more distant memories.
But sometimes you have to create your own joy. You have to find a way to have a good time right where you are. You have to build your own little enclave of joy within the confines of everyday reality.
All week long my daughter has been begging me to go to the North Carolina State Fair with her. I kept finding excuses: I’m too tired, it’s a weeknight, I have to be up too early, I’m too old to enjoy rides anymore, the food will give me indigestion. I sounded like I was 90 years old and ready to enter the nursing home!
Tonight I finally ceded, because she’s going out of town for four days and the fair will be over by then. She was already there a few nights ago and told me it was a blast. Why not have a little fun, especially as depressed as I felt?
I bought tickets, enough for a few rides. I wasn’t sure I would go on any, but I actually went on three. The first one, the Himalaya, is a ride I fondly remember existing when I was 18 and used to ride on it at Coney Island, the Jersey Shore, and Rockaway Beach in New York. I remembered it being fun and somewhat exciting but not overly intense. Back in the day, disco music was played during the ride; now it was EDM. But the ride itself has not changed at all and I found I enjoyed it as much as when I was 18, and I didn’t get sick either.
But that ride was tame compared to the next one I went on. It was called the Cyclops and I would never have gone on it except I was strong-armed into it! I was not given a choice! I stared at it for awhile in horrified fascination, watching the two circular, neon-lit ends spinning wildly while gradually going higher and higher until the people in them were almost upside down. And screaming. Resigned to my fate, I insisted on having the middle seat. Once the tickets were handed over and we were inside the gate and ascending the metal ramp, I shook with terror. What was wrong with me? I used to go on rides far scarier than this during my teens and twenties: the Zipper and the Hammer came to mind–rides so intense and potentially dangerous they have actually been banned in many places.
What finally gave me a little courage was an eager smiling seven year old boy ahead of me in line. Hell, if this little boy wasn’t scared, then why should I be? I felt grateful to him and hopped on into my seat. The operator pulled down the big metal restraint down in front of me and I got a tinge of fear again when the ride began to move. At first it wasn’t too bad, sort of relaxing even, but soon it got really, REALLY intense as the circular contraption I was in began to go vertical so I was sideways, looking down and spinning crazily at the same time. I lost my sense of bearings, and shut my eyes tight. I began to scream, “Oh shit! Oh Jesus! Oh shit! Oh Jesus” over and over and over. I could hear my daughter, who was next to me, laughing hysterically. I felt like my organs were being rearranged as centrifugal force alternately plastered me against the side of my seat, then the back, then pitched me forward so I felt like I was going to go flying out of my restraints and meet my death.
One end of “The Cyclops” reaching maximum intensity. At its peak, its riders are nearly upside down as the circular portion spins crazily.
“Open your eyes!” she screamed. “No way!” I yelled back, clutching the bars in front of me in white knuckled terror. I kept my eyes squeezed so tightly shut they hurt.
Slowly the ride began to slow down, and cautiously, I opened my eyes. I saw the fair down below, all the flashing lights of the rides and game booths and the people down below watching us from an insane angle. But it was bearable now and I could keep them open and look. I realized I’d been hyperventilating and my fingers felt numb and tingly. I was grinning like an idiot as I got off my seat and drunkenly made my way down the metal gangplank.
“You want to go on it again, don’t you?” my daughter teased.
“Maybe next year,” I said, and I meant it.
“Next year you have to promise to keep your eyes open the whole time,” she said.
I know I will next time, too.
I felt victorious. Passing through the throngs of other fairgoers on the way back to the car, I spied a snack stand. I needed a soda because my mouth felt like cotton batting, but I also wanted to try a fried Oreo. I’ve never had a fried Oreo before. It was artery-clogging and delicious. Another new experience.
These are the kinds of things that can relieve depression. Sure, great memories recede and fade, but they never leave you. And they’re not all that is. You can always make new happy memories. Riding the Cyclops tonight was something I’ll remember for a long time, and as scared as I was, I’m so glad I did it. I guess I’m not too old after all (but I’m glad I ate the fried Oreo after the ride and not before!)