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It was nearing the end of our eighth grade trip at Great America. Everyone was giddy, chatting away about their favorite rides, pondering which one was worthiest to revisit during our last hour in the park.
I hadn’t been upside down yet. The rest of the class had all been upside down, round and round, over, under, at speeds of 70 miles per hour. But I was afraid of roller coasters. I had never been on one besides the Whizzer, which was a lame-ass kiddie ride. I was about to finish grade school and say goodbye to the class of 35 kids I’d known since kindergarten. I was moving on to high school, where there would be way more kids, tougher classes, more trends that I couldn’t keep up with, fiercer peer pressure. And I was too chicken to go on a roller coaster.
Instead, I hung back, watching all of my friends go on rides without me all day long. I wanted to join them so badly, but I was so scared. As I stood on the pavement and watched the rides fly through the air, screams ricocheting all around me, I felt a balled-up fist in my stomach. I was holding myself back. I was missing out on something, all because of fear.
It was time to be brave.
Finally, I worked up the guts and got in line with my friends for the Demon. As we waited in line, my teeth chattered from nerves. While everyone else complained about how long it was taking, I secretly wished that the line would move even slower. But of course, we eventually reached the front of the line, and I climbed into a car and pulled down my safety bar, probably praying in my head the entire time. The ride started, and the climb up to the top of the hill was the worst part of all. We crested over the top, then began the plummet down the drop. I felt my stomach fall and my body float up against the safety bar, and before I knew it we had soared into the first upside down loop.
I loved it.
After the ride ended, I walked away from the car with shaky legs and adrenaline jangling in my veins. It had been amazing, and now I kicked myself for being so afraid earlier and missing out on all of the other rides.
I thought back to all of the other irrational fears I had as a child. For some reason, I was afraid of a lot of things. When we were little, my siblings and I would hide behind the couch shrieking during the first time Pee-Wee showed up during the opening theme song of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. I would panic if someone turned the lights off on me while I was in the basement by myself. And I became traumatized enough to share a bed with my youngest sister for months after watching the movie Topper, a 1937 romantic comedy(?!) where Cary Grant turns into a ghost and haunts his old friend. I was like Cringer, Prince Adam’s scaredy-cat feline companion from the cartoon series He-Man, afraid of everything in life.
When I look back at my past, the things I would want to change are the times I let fear hold me back. Each and every time, when those paralyzing thoughts kept me from moving forward on something, it ended in regret. What if I had asked someone to Homecoming myself instead of missing 90% of all high school dances? What if I had tried living abroad after college in a non-English speaking country? What if I had been more aggressive in pursuing opportunities that were out there when I was first starting my career and moved to New York or L.A. on my own? It was time I transformed myself from someone scared and cowardly, like Cringer, into a brave hero like his alter-ego Battle Cat.
Now, when something scares me, I try to attempt to try it at least once. This is how I’ve ended up doing things like rock climbing, trying out for roller derby, performing stand up, submitting my fiction to literary journals, tent camping in grizzly bear country, and taking motorcycle lessons. I have yet to swim with sharks, fly in a helicopter, or stay in a clown motel, but I’m not ruling anything out. I may not stick with each of these hobbies after giving them a try, but for me, it’s about the conquering of that fear, the act of getting through something in order to be able to look back and say, yeah, I did that. I can look back up in the sky at that place 250 feet straight up, knowing that once I soared through the air with only a safety belt holding me in place. And whether or not I enjoy it, at least I’ll know what it was that I almost missed out on.