I always cry on roller coasters.
Standing in line at an amusement park is self-inflicted torture for me. Not because I'm in a slow moving line (though that part ain't too hot either), but because every time the person in front of me moves, I find my feet shuffling forward a bit too. I will dutifully shuffle my feet forward until soon enough I'm at the top of the ramp. And at the top of the ramp I'll wait to be the next person to be strapped in. I do this even though I know that as soon as I'm strapped in and the ride begins to click and clack its way forward, that I'll start to cry.
I always cry when the roller coaster slowly makes its way to the top of the first hill.
I usually sit in the middle of roller coasters. And when I can see the first few cars have already made their way over the first hill, and when I can feel my car picking up speed, my crying usually turns into a terrified scream. When my car goes over the side of the hill, the wind will take the breath out of me and I'll lose my voice. I'll still be screaming inside, but nothing will come out anymore.
And then, without fail once we've passed the first hill, I'll start to laugh. All of the tension of going up the first hill, the what ifs and the wonders, melt away as the cars race their way around the track, up and down, upside down, forward and backward again. I'll find myself laughing throughout the rest of the ride, so much so that my cheeks will hurt from smiling so much when the ride finishes.
Unlocking the harness, I'll race to get to the next coaster. And then the whole process starts over again.
I've realized I do the same thing with travel. Before every plane ride, every bus ride, every border crossing, I'll start to worry. What if our plane crashes? What if our bus goes off the side of the road? What if something bad happens at the border? I'll work myself up into such a frenzy that I can easily convince myself that this time something bad is going to happen. And yet I shuffle my feet forward in line.
When we get on the plane, I'll squeeze Tim's hand so much it turns red. Tears usually spring to my eyes and I'll start worrying that we won't make it, that something will go wrong with the take-off or the landing or during the flight. Seeing the fear in my eyes, Tim without fail will reassure me that everything's going to be alright. When we taxi down the runway, my grip on Tim's hand gets tighter, I find myself holding my breath, and I feel my feet pressing hard onto the floor of the plane, as if there were imaginary brakes there that could make it all stop.
And then the plane's wheels will leave the ground and we'll feel that split second of weightless while we soar upward. My grip on Tim's hand will loosen, my legs will relax, and I can feel myself breathing again. During the flight, I'll try hard not to think about the fact that we're in a metal tube high in the air. Instead I'll focus on the clouds or the in-flight movie or daydream about where we're going. Sometimes I'll even snooze. When the plane lands, I'll feel myself getting tenser again though usually not quite as tense as when we take off. And soon enough, we're told to unfasten our seat belts and gather our belongings.
Stepping off the plane, my first few steps will feel so light, so airy because everything turned out alright. If we've arrived at our travel destination, I'll quickly lose myself in the intoxication that is travel. I'll soak up as much of the place that we're in, breathing it in, feeling it in every ounce of my soul. If we're arrived home, I'll find myself excited about seeing our dog and cat again or about curling up in our cottage by the sea.
The moments after a flight, particularly when we've landed in a new country, that is the moment I'm laughing on the roller coaster. That is the moment that everything becomes worth it, when moving forward in line meant I could feel the exhilaration and excitement of traveling the world.
I wonder if one day I'll be able to completely relax before a flight, to completely trust that everything will be alright? I wonder if one day I'll never cry on roller coasters, never be scared in anticipation of what's over that first hill? In some ways, I hope that never happens. That rush of joy I feel is so wonderful, it almost makes the tears worth it.
Though I'm not sure if Tim's crushed hand would agree.