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It had been a long day.
Mark and I had woke up early – before 6 – and made the three-hour drive from Fort Wayne to Sandusky. Now close to 5, after a day in the sun and on the water, we were sapped.
We were spending the day at Cedar Point. America's Roller Coast, it calls itself. For me, it was a place that I had stared at from across the bay, in the backyard of my two bedroom rental in the northern Ohio city. For a year and a half, I lived and worked there – a copy editor at the Sandusky Register – studying the steel beasts on the other side of the water but never venturing down the causeway. I couldn't. I was drowning – in debt, in depression, in a lackluster relationship.
I had moved on, though. It was three years later, and I was on my feet. I had a better job, a better boyfriend and a better sense of self. So much so that I felt ready to return with Mark – to show him where I had been and how far I had come.
I said no to the Top Thrill Dragster (rode it once on a media day and that was enough) and yes to Millennium Force. We hit the Raptor and had lunch. We basked in the near summer weather as we strolled from ride to ride. It was warm, the sun bright but with the breeze off the lake, I sometimes wished for a sweater.
After a ride on Wicked Twister and night closing in, the looming drive home prompted us to decide that it was time to go. But as we walked toward the entrance, we approached the Mantis – a coaster we had bypassed earlier in favor of more popular, thrilling rides.
We looked at each other. "One last ride?"
With no line, we decided that yes, we had time for one more and headed toward the queue.
The silver metal fencing was warm underneath my hands as I swung happily toward the cars, my legs kicking in the air before my flip-flopped feet landed on the cement. I smiled at the messy-haired boy who was tasked with keeping out those who didn't meet the height requirement for the ride. His lips upturned slightly out of politeness and he waved me over.
"Do you want to try out the seat before getting in line?"
His question mortified me. I had lost weight, down about 50 or 60 pounds. I wasn't the fat girl anymore. And I was not with the boyfriend who knew me as the fat girl – I was with Mark. Mark – the guy with flat abs who could lose 5 pounds just looking at a treadmill.
But there I was. And there he was, the messy-haired employee, questioning whether I was too big to ride the coaster. He didn't know if the belt would buckle, the bar would click, the harness stay in place.
I shook my head no as I fought back tears. "Let's skip this one," I told Mark. "I think I'm ready to go home."
I've never been able to shake the memory from that day nine years ago. The sadness, the embarrassment are burned into my psyche. Even though Mark has invited me to go to Cedar Point multiple times since, I always find a reason to say no. There's cost, logistics, child care – all valid. But part of me still worries that I won't fit on the rides even though I know the guidelines state that women should weigh less than 200 pounds or wear a size 18 or smaller. I feel the roll of my post-partum belly and spot the stretch marks on my thighs, and I can remember the girl I used to be. The one who looked too big to ride the roller coaster.
Of course, that girl is one Mark never knew, one he never saw. He didn't even see her on that day at Cedar Point but rather a brighter version of me. Maybe a truer one.
So, for his birthday, I decided that I would get over myself. I would accept one of his invitations. And I bought us a pair of passes to the amusement park.
We won't be going to Cedar Point. There are real things to consider in terms of logistics, cost and child care, and Kings Island in Cincinnati is the best option. We have free lodging at my grandmother's house and can easily include the day at the park with a family visit. We have plenty of child care options for the boys – from my brother keeping them all day to paying a cousin to walk the park with them while we ride the rides.
But one thing is for sure. I will get in line for a coaster, and the only fears that weigh down the pit in my stomach will be those associated with G-force, speed and inversions.