l’appel du vide (the call of the void)
It’s a shock to my hamstrings climbing into the cold seat, which has no give. Hard and slick, it’s made of carbon fiber and space dust, as far as we know. This entire adventure is an exercise in impossible faith.
As the safety bar thuds into place over our knees, we trust the makers of this ride have taken care for our thrill and for our lives. Once the car has jolted into motion, and we have left the terminal, my anxiety softens; the burden of decision has lifted. From here, all that’s left is to live or die.
Dying, of course, is rare.
We had to have the front seats every time, my mother and me. When we reached the heights, our hearts motionless and anticipating the fall, we wanted to forget we were on a coaster. It was practice for the final free fall we always feared.
My chest would tighten with each clacking rung of the chain that raised us. Nervous, my mother would grab my hand and repeat her roller coaster mantra. “What goes up,” she would say with a pregnant pause, “must come down”, timing the last word with that moment when our bodies evaporated into anxious apparitions and when gravity was briefly overcome.
I think of a rising helium balloon; they fly away. Yet I consider what I read about the town which released thousands, only to find flaccid rubber sacks littering neighboring farms. Surely, it’s true. Everything truly does come down.
This occurs to me often now, although it’s been years since I’ve been to a theme park. One day, on my porch, when I’m soaring, and a soft breeze sweeps the humidity off my skin, I will remember. All birds land.
The Kingda Ka coaster in New Jersey drops 418 feet from its highest point; departing passengers leave the platform and return again in 28 seconds, roughly as long as it takes to get situated with a cup of coffee on a morning commute. Some seconds take longer, I suppose. In some moments, we live.
And living is rare.