Hitting Rock Bottom
The wind brushed against my face as I was 100 feet in the air, dangling by a cord. Looking over the black cement that I would crash into if I fell, a terrible feeling grew more and more prominent every second in my stomach. I can’t do this anymore. I want out, but there’s only one way down.
It was a Friday. One of the last Friday of my 7th grade school year. But on this Friday, the HKMS jazz band was heading to Lake Compounce to compete in their annual competition. I had my alto saxophone under my feet as I settled into my seat on the bus next to Milo Goldstein, one of my best friends. Some of my other best friends, Isabel, Peter, and Reed were all sitting near us. It was a start to a very good day. The bus ride was filled with talk, laughter and of course, my music teacher, Mr. Dolecki’s corny jokes. Once we made our first stop, the high school we were performing at, there was only one thing Reed and I could think about; the sky coaster. The skycoaster is just a 180-foot pole that has a wire connected to it. They put you in a two-person suit and connect you to the wire. It slowly pulls you to the top of the pole while you’re dangling on your stomach. As soon as you reach the top, you have to pull a string that will release you and send you flying at about 70 miles per hour. We had everything ready. Reed got the twenty dollars it costs (per person) from his mom, and I had my twenty dollars of “emergency money” that I claimed every student was told to bring. I usually don’t do things like this, but my mom previously told me I was not allowed to go through with this…but my dad loved the idea.
We ended up performing pretty well, so when we got back onto the bus, knowing Mr. Dolecki was in a good mood, Reed and I decided that this would be the best time to talk to him.
“So,” said Reed, “Remember when we talked to you about that bungee jumping ride. Did you ask people if we could go on it.”
“Oh,” He replied immediately and I already knew what he was going to say, “No. They won’t let you go on the ride. I’m sorry guys. I would let you if I could.”
Everybody could see the disappointment on our faces. I rolled my eyes from annoyance but it was nothing different from what I was expecting. I was still feeling slightly tired so I rested my head on Milo’s shoulder and closed my eyes. About ten seconds after I closed my eyes, I felt a vibration in my pocket. I grabbed my phone and saw a text from Reed.
“No way is he stopping us from going on that ride.”
I scrunch my eyebrows from confusion and looked over at him.
“Reed. Don’t be stupid, the park literally won’t let us go on the ride. I knew we shouldn’t have asked him.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t try.”
I did not know what Reed was thinking but I was definitely listening.
So, me being the pessimistic person that I am, I say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How can we try when the whole ride is shut down?”
I shake my head and chuckle at his crazy ideas. I had no idea what Reed was talking about, but whatever it was, I hoped it would work.
As we stepped out of the bus and into the parking lot, the only thing we could see was the tremendously tall trees…and the sky coaster. “Dude! That thing is huge!” I whispered to Reed while we both looked at the pole that was almost two hundred feet tall. He just nodded his head in amazement. Thoughts wheeled through my head, but the most prominent one was that no matter how scary or exciting or how much I wanted to go on this ride, it wasn’t going to happen. We all started running as fast as we could towards the entrance. We see thousands of kids circling around the park with a vast variety of colors surrounding them. I smell something sweet, maybe cotton candy. I’m not sure, though, I don’t know if I’ve ever had any. Smiles and laughter. All I see and all I hear. The kind of smiles that you know is real, not the fake kind of smiles that we see every day. I can’t be the only one who notices that fake thing. It’s inevitable, we mask things with a smile. That’s why real laughs are so precious, especially from those serious people. It’s so rare but it’s so genuine and so real. And in this park, right now, it’s pure joy.
Every kid was forced to buy food before doing anything else. To be honest, that just seemed extremely unnecessary.
“Mr. Dolecki,” I say, “Can we please just go on the rides? That’s what we are here for. Isn’t food optional, not mandatory?
“No,” he says firmly, “you’re eating, Tessa.”
I scrunch my eyebrows and put my hands out in front of me to show my confusion. I just walk away. I’ve never really understood this whole food thing. I know it sounds extremely unintelligent because I can’t go against the science, I’ve just never noticed a difference from food. People say they feel so much more energetic after eating and the day just seems unbearable without it. Me on the other hand, I feel the same, so I might as well just skip the eating and go right to the roller coasters.
After everybody got their food, we were all huddled by the stairs. Our chaperones were surrounding us but they still couldn’t hear the conversation taking place between Reed and I. We were looking over at the skycoaster when we noticed something. “Did you see somebody go on that ride or was it just me?” I ask.
“No. I saw it”
Reed and I chose to talk to our chaperone and ask her if we could walk across the park to talk to the people who are in charge of this ride. After some convincing, they finally let us leave.
We arrived at the skycoaster and didn’t know what to say to the person working there, so Reed just got right to the point, “Are we allowed to go on this ride?”
“Yes,” the lady said with a tone of confusion.
“Because our school told us that we are not allowed to go on this ride,” I attempt to clear everything up.
“Nope. You are definitely able to go on this ride if you want to.”
I can feel my heart beat faster as I come to a realization that this might be happening.
“And we don’t need any permission slips or things like that?”
After about five seconds of silence, she asks us, “So, do you want to make a reservation?”
“Do we want to make a reservation?” Reed asks me frantically but I don’t even know how to answer.
Mr. Dolecki was in the back of my head. Although we thought that the ride was shut down, since they were letting us on, we should just go. Right? But I also knew that I would not tell my music teacher what we were doing. So that probably meant that what I was contemplating doing was the wrong thing to do. It sounds terrible, but in that moment, I just really didn’t care.
My head slowly moved up and down with a blank expression on my face.
“Your reservation is at 1:18 but you can be a little early just in case anything happens.”
After we set everything up, we both handed her the money and walked away.
“Did we really just-”
“Yes.” Reed cut me off.
We joined the rest of our group, and they decide that they want to go on their first ride. During this ride, all you do is sit in a log that slowly goes up a hill and goes back down. The only fun part is that there is water. The line was extremely long (as usual) and after about 30 minutes of waiting, I started to get anxious. I was anxious the whole entire time, but for a different reason. It was almost one o’clock.
“If we aren’t on this ride in ten minutes, we have to go,” I informed Reed and my other friends who were in line.
After 10 minutes passed, we were not even close to being on the ride, so we decided to leave. I gave hugs to some of my friends like Claudia, Rachel, and Peter, but all they said was “don’t die!”
There was a tent next to the ride, the only thing that separated them from each other was a small gate. But the tent was the place where you would get ready. Right as we were about to step inside of the tent, we noticed a couple of our friends sitting on a bench near us. Tyler, Diego, and Lexi. We didn’t have too much time, but they just spoke to us quickly and wished us luck. I gave Lexi my phone to videotape us, so they were all standing by the fence.
I was barely sitting down on the bench inside of the tent considering how much I was bouncing up and down. There were cubbies in front of us, so we put all of our things in there. And since I’m diabetic, I checked my blood sugar approximately 5 times in just a couple of minutes, despite the fact that it remained the same every single time. I did this mainly because being shaky is how I know that I’m low…and I was definitely shaking. I put some sugar in my back pocket just in case we got stuck or something like that.
“Reed are we actually going to do this?”
¨I don’t know.” We both said these things obviously knowing that we were going to go on this ride. We already had our harnesses on.
I sat down next to him, “I feel like I’m going to throw up,” I said truthfully.
He grabbed my hands to try to comfort me but I continued fidgeting. I was shaking so much that I started to feel my lip quiver.
The next thing I know, somebody was grabbing Reed and I and we were walking through the gate. We stepped into something called a scissor lift that was not escalated upwards yet. The first thing they did was connect our harnesses together and attach us to the cord that would be pulling us. We felt the surface rise until the lift was fully extended. The people that were previously on the ride had just gotten off of it.
“Was it fun?” We ask.
It was one boy and one girl. They were definitely older than us…maybe a freshman or sophomore in high school. This boy looks at us with wide eyes.
With this thrill of excitement as if he was still free falling. “It was so fun. The worst part was what’s about to happen right now, but it’s so amazing.”
Reed and I look at each other not knowing what is about to happen “right now,” but our question was answered before we even asked.
The lady working escorts the two teenagers off of the ride, and she tells us what we were going to do, “Right now, you are about to lean forward, the wire will release and you will fall very close to the ground, but we promise you that it will catch you. You will want to put your hands in front of you, be we are asking you not to. Could both of you please lock your arms together?” This lady could not sound like more of a flight attendant if she tried.
We tilt our bodies forward and shortly after, we head right towards the ground. I feel ice rush through my veins. I truly thought we were going to faceplant until it caught us when our heads were about two inches away from the ground. Our feet left the platform so we were completely dangling, flat on our stomachs. The ground started to get farther and farther away from us. I noticed a yellow line on the cement. It was probably tape. Considering that the scissor lift was directly in front of the pole, and the cord was at a diagonal angle, we would be getting pulled upwards and backward until we were aligned with the pole.
There was a girl on the ground. We were only about ten feet above her at this point. The number of instructions that she was giving us made me feel quite unsafe. Like something could go wrong if I moved the wrong way.
“You two can unlock your arms once you pass this yellow line underneath you. Make sure you do not pull the cord until you are sure you have gotten to the top. Once this ride is over, we will hand you something that looks like a pool skimmer and you will grab that so we can pull you back in.”
We reached a point where it was clear that we had passed the yellow line. Maybe 30 feet in the air. No instructions. Nobody else. It was just us.
“Reed. You know that they said we could uncross our arms, right?”
Reed didn’t say anything. Maybe he was more terrified than I was. Even though our arms were locked, he was holding my hand too. His grip kept getting tighter and tighter. It’s funny to see how much we can interpret just from one’s body language.
Fifty feet is high, but one hundred feet was my breaking point. I’ve always been the risk taker. I go on the back of roller coasters because that’s the bumpiest part. I go swimming with sharks. I scream things that I should not be screaming. I go cliff jumping when I can touch the bottom of the ocean. It’s not smart but it’s fun. It’s never bothered me either. So I didn’t know why I was freaking out when we reached halfway. Reed wouldn’t be able to tell. We didn’t say a word to each other. This was pure fear. Terrified. I did not want to do this anymore. I think about what Reed told me to do earlier. Do not look down. I decided to ignore what he said mainly because there was only one way down. I was on this ride and I’m about 120 feet in the air, there was no backing out, so I needed to just accept it.
My hair was in its classic bun, but I still felt the wind blowing against it. I heard the same kind of laughter that I did earlier. Real laughter. It was comforting to hear in this moment of panic. Everybody looked like ants. Tiny. But we probably looked the same to everybody else around us. It’s just perspective…but it’s difficult to think about. How I could see everything in the park. All of the rides were in my sight. We were above everything else. Yet everyone else was looking at something different, from a different angle. We are living in the same world at the same time, yet we are all viewing things so differently.
150 feet. We were almost there. It felt like an hour, but after repeatedly watching our video, I’ve noticed that it only took around 2 minutes to get to the top. The scary part was almost over. I felt a pit in my stomach. Out of nowhere we just stopped. This is when we were supposed to drop. I looked around. I wanted to treasure that moment, I wouldn’t get a feeling or a view like that again until I hopefully go skydiving in college. I looked at all of the people around this park living their own life experiencing their own thrill on some other roller coaster. My head turned towards Reed. I put him on the right because whoever was on that side would have to pull the cord that detached us from one of the wires, and I knew I could never bring myself to do that. By that time, he should have pulled it. I was about to ask him if he was okay, but unexpectedly, we dropped. The first two seconds were a true freefall. Losing connection between every solid, comforting. I didn’t feel the wire catch us at all. We were falling. I felt my body tighten and tense up. We started shaking and tilting straight downwards. I screamed at the top of my lungs. Half of my scream was from worry, the other half was thrill. All of the sudden, I felt all of the anxiety and doubt I previously had just disappear. I felt so free. There was a little bit of tug from the cord but not much. We’ve been falling for a few seconds…at 70 miles per hour, and the ground was in sight. The anxiety came back to me as fast as we were flying through the air. I wanted to feel more of a tug from the wire. I wanted to go slower. If not, the top of our heads would be crashing soon. I sighed in relief when we missed. But I started to worry again when we swung up because we swung higher than the trees. There is really no way to describe the feeling of free falling. The butterflies in my stomach and feeling my gut drop.
“Let’s fly!” Reed said, meaning to uncross our arms.
We were right above the trees and we spread our arms out like birds. I heard Reed’s laugh. The most hilarious and happiest laugh I will ever hear. I closed my eyes in comfort from hearing him so happy. I grinned, needing to cherish that moment.
We both looked left to see our friends videotaping us. They were even taking videos on their own phones. We both gave them a thumbs up and screamed. The feeling. This sight. The thrill. It was so breathtaking.
The rest of the day was what we were expecting. It was fantastic, but the skycoaster made it ten times better…only for Reed and I, though. No matter how much we gushed about the ride to all of our friends, only Reed and I truly understood what we experienced. I went on all of the other thrilling roller coasters, but it couldn’t compare.
The HKMS jazz band came in first place. Our whole group was screaming and jumping up and down and hugging each other. I thought that my day was over by then. Unfortunately, I turned out to be wrong.
Everybody was on the bus, and we were almost back to our school, where our parents would be picking us up. I was probably doing something irrelevant when Mr. Doelcki came to the back of the bus. He sat in the seat directly in front of mine. He turned around and was sitting the wrong way, meaning he was looking directly at me. He put his arms on top of his seat and rested his head on his hand…still saying absolutely nothing. I remember my mind trailing off. Did he find out? Did he see us on the ride and he just wanted to wait to embarrass me?
“Everybody is okay back here?” He smiles at us.
My heart slows down but I still feel the rest of my body trembling.
“We’re all fine,” I try to assure him a little too quickly.
“Hey, Mr. Dolecki! Did you hear?” I turned around to see a boy in my jazz band. He was just previously talking to me about how our teacher wouldn’t mind if we went on the ride because the park allowed us to go on it. I still was not planning to tell him
“No. Stop!” I screamed at him, already knowing what he was going to say, but all he did was laugh.
“Reed and Tessa went on the skycoaster.”
I covered my mouth out of shock and embarrassment, but there was still a stupid grin I was trying to hide. I looked over to see my teacher who widened his eyes bigger than the moon.
“Reed!” Mr. Dolecki screamed to Reed, who was sitting near the front of the bus. “Did you go on the skycoaster?”
Reed said yes. He wasn’t going to lie. Not only did someone rat me out, but another person also showed my teacher the actual video of me on the ride. All he did was stare at me with his chin resting on his hands like before. I felt so anxious and so uncomfortable. I made that man hate me more than he already did before.
The only thing he said to me was: “When we get back, you two are coming to my classroom.”
Of course, there was a punishment, but it really wasn’t bad at all. I just had to file his music, considering it was the end of the year and it needed to be put away. It was more awkward than anything else. I don’t even think he was that mad at us. He even said that he would have done the same thing at our age. He also made sure that we had fun and that we would do it again if we had the chance. Punishments were just the reasonable thing to do. Reed still hasn’t even made it up to him. He definitely forgot by this point. I still smile at the thought of going on that ride one more time, even if we got caught again. No. I’m not the perfect child, nor do I have the desire to be. I will make decisions that I know will get me in trouble, and I’ll make decisions to not do some things that will come with consequences. I just need to decide if it’s really worth it, which this absolutely was.