Forget about trifocals, or sagging knees that lock each time I bend down to pick up the newspaper from the front steps every morning, or even being on a first name basis with my pharmacist (Hi, Wally!). He fills my prescriptions so often he swears he sees me more than he does his own kids.
None of these really make me feel – dare I say it – old. After all, I can put in an entire day of housework, errands, cooking, volunteer work, and writing, and still have enough energy to keep up with my daughter’s almost daily round of after school activities. No, the final nail on the coffin of my youth was hammered in, ironically enough, by a trip to that quintessential symbol of youthful abandon – the carnival.
The ride was called “Flipper,” which conjured up the graceful, almost lyrical movements of a friendly dolphin in my head. How bad could it be, I thought, as a rosy-cheeked tyke, his tiny frame barely able to contain his excitement, begged his dad to go on the ride — again. I should have spared a glance at the unfortunate adult holding on to the boy’s hand. My daughter would later comment that she never saw such a perfect shade of puce on a human face before.
At any rate, we gave the man at the booth our tokens for the ride, and we were bolted to our seats. I was a pretty hardy carnival ride enthusiast as a teenager. I rode the Ferris wheel, the octopus (which, I suspect, was Flipper’s forerunner), and the juggernaut of all rides in any carnival, the roller coaster. I rode them all, and immediately ran to the end of the line when my turn ended so I could ride again (and again and again).
I thought, some 30 odd years later, that getting back on a carnival ride would be just like riding a bike after not having been on one for a while. You’d be a bit wobbly at first, but then your body would remember what to do, and in no time at all, you’re 10 years old again, riding like the wind down the dusty roads of summers long past.
Oh, foolish woman! Somewhere in those 30 years, someone switched stomachs on me. It must have been when I had my C-section to give birth to this now 13 year old daredevil strapped next to me, screaming at the top of her lungs, not out of fear, but for the sheer thrill of being alive, while whirling, twisting, turning upside down and every which way but still.
I tried closing my eyes, but that only intensified the lurching of my stomach as my small intestine was sucked right up my esophagus along with my last meal (was I ever glad I passed on the chimichanga bonanza for lunch). When I found the courage to open my eyes, my entire life flashed before me as we hurtled straight down to earth at the speed of light, only to be spared the fate of a squashed bug on a windshield with a sudden lurch upwards and an immediate 360 degree turn. Somewhere between the hurtle and the lurch, I lost my voice screaming from the unmitigated terror of it all, got my innards rearranged and shaken like a Bond martini, and bid my youth a sad adieu. I was way too old for this.
For the rest of the evening, I sat on a wobbly bench (or were those just my knees?), dispensing tokens as my daughter and her friends went on ride after ride after ride screaming all the way up, down, sideways and over. The pure exhilaration of youth glowed in their flushed faces and ear-to-ear grins.
Did my mother, sitting on a carnival bench all those many years ago, once look at me the way I look at my daughter now with a twinge of misgiving over a childhood that seems so infinitely out of reach? Ah, but I had a great childhood. (I grew up in a chocolate factory, but that’s a story for another day.) I want my daughter to be able to look back fondly on her childhood some day, as she sits on a carnival bench dispensing tokens while her teenager conquers the carnival rides. With any luck, I’ll be sitting right next to her, but only if I never get on another carnival ride again for as long as I live!