The Roller Coaster
Updated: Aug 29, 2020
Hudson had been looking forward to this trip for weeks. This was more than the usual buzz and excitement about end of year trips. This was the eighth grade class trip! The last trip before high school, the best field trip, maybe the best thing, that middle school had to offer.
In sixth grade they had gotten on a sweaty bus and gone to Medieval Times. It was better than school, but Hudson’s chicken was gross and he didn’t like eating in the dark. And in seventh grade they had all gone to the local pool, which was more fun. But still. Who wants to see their teachers in swimsuits? And who wants to be in front of all their classmates in a swimsuit?
The eighth grade class trip was different. They got to go to Six Flags Great America, home to more roller coasters and games than any place north of Florida. Eighth graders didn’t have to spend the entire trip in groups and in lines. They got to wander around the park by themselves, free to do as they pleased for an entire school day. Considering that they were practically in high school, eighth graders didn’t need as much supervision.
Hudson’s best friend had even convinced his older sister, Tasha, to chaperone. Tasha was already home for the summer for college. She was also, apparently, bored enough to agree to chaperone her little brother Davion’s field trip.
Tasha chaperoning was the key to their excellent time. First, she had a car, so Hudson, Davion, and another friend of their choosing, would get to ride with her instead of being stuck on a sweaty, smelly bus for an hour. Second, Tasha was 19. Therefore, she was more chill than a parent. She wouldn’t try to stop them from blowing all their money on arcade games or eating too much cotton candy. Finally, and most importantly, Tasha was effortlessly cool. She was a singer, playing with a band at a regular gig every Saturday she was home. Hudson’s family had gone to see her with Davion’s family. She was fantastic. She’d even gotten Hudson’s reluctant Dad to get up and dance. Just the thought of her up there, in front of all those people, effortlessly enjoying herself, made Hudson’s palms sweat.
The truth was, Tasha made Hudson really nervous. But, in a good way.
And now, finally, after weeks of anticipation, they were at Six Flags Great America. Unfortunately, Hudson was really nervous. Not in a good way.
Hudson, Davion, Tasha, and their friends Trey and Justin were waiting in line for the Twisted Twister. In front of them, the coaster rose menacingly out of the ground. From the very beginning, the Twisted Twister lived up to its name. The black coaster tracks corkscrewed almost immediately. Then, the riders in the yellow cars were given a moment to catch their break as they were cranked slowly to the top of a hill. But the relief didn’t last long. As soon as the roller coaster cars were over the peak, the track twisted again. And again and again and again.
“I’ve heard that it turns so much that by the time you get to the end you’ve gone 1080 degrees around. That’s like 4 full circles!” Davion said, with a grin. He was holding cotton candy in his hand.
“1080 degrees divided by 360 degrees is three. So that’s three full circles.” Tasha said firmly, looking over at her little brother. Her hands were in the pockets of her shorts and she carried a backpack full of reusable water bottles for the boys. “What math are they teaching you at that school?” She rolled her eyes.
Ordinarily, Hudson would have made a joke about how they taught math at school, Davion just didn’t learn it. But, glancing at the Twisted Twister again, his stomach felt too tight to say anything at all.
“There’s a zero-G roll and a 12 story drop!” Trey jumped in, excitedly reading information about the coaster from his phone. “The twisted twister is absolutely epic!”
Hudson did not agree. He personally felt that the twisted twister was terrifyingly huge. And horrifically twisted. And absolutely the scariest roller coaster he had ever seen.
But Hudson wasn’t about to mention his fear to his friends. This was the eighth grade trip! He couldn’t be running around the park, too scared to go on the best ride. His friends would think he was acting like a little kid. That he was too much of a scaredy-car to go to high school with them next year. And Tasha? He’d seen her up on that stage. She wasn’t scared of anything. She’d never understand.
The sea of people between them and the twisted twister was steadily shrinking. Hudson smiled weakly as his friends cheered when they counted just three rope barriers to go. Then two. Then one. And then they were at the stairs. Davion, Justin, and Trey were nearly jumping up and down with excitement. Hudson was so scared he could feel it down to his toes. He started to worry he might throw up.
Then they were at the front. The people just ahead of them strapped in. Hudson was so scared now that he almost said something. He could feel his heart pounding. But then he saw that a little kid, who looked no older than 10, was excitedly grinning as he sat in the coaster seat right in front of them. And he swallowed his words.
With an incredibly loud whoosh the group in front of them was off. He could hear them screaming. He couldn’t tell if the screams were the result of delight or terror.
Their car pulled up and the barriers glided smoothly up. Justin, Trey, and Davion rushed forward, whooping. Hudson felt his feet lock up. He couldn’t move. The image of the roller coaster car seemed to swim in front of his eyes. All he could think about was the roller coaster twisting off the track, spinning off into the sky. And he knew, suddenly, that he could not do it. He was too afraid.
Without a word, Hudson turned and bolted. He pushed past the crowd and ran out of the line. Their faces blurred in front of him. He could hear people’s upset exclamations, but he was moving too fast to notice or care.
He’d made it down the stairs before he stopped to take a breath. He was still in the line, standing next to two families he didn’t know. He took another, deeper breath. His heart was racing, He wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and ran a hand through his hair. Now that his fear and panic had started to fade, embarrassment was creeping in. Of course the roller coaster wasn’t going to fall off the tracks, he thought. The park wouldn’t be allowed to operate it if that was a problem. He put his hands in his pockets, shifting his feet.
He couldn’t go back. What would he even say? The only thing more embarrassing than getting scared once was getting scared twice. Unsure of what else to do, he kept walking, past the seas of people. He sat down on a bench near the bathrooms and put his head in his hands.
“Hey!” He looked up. Somehow, Tasha was standing in front of him. He looked around for his friends, but Tasha was alone. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“Oh, uh, yeah, I just started feeling, um, sick.” Hudson responded.
“Yeah. Too much cotton candy. You know.”
“Mmm” Tasha said, sitting down next to him. “I get that….but, you know, it looked to me like you were a little nervous about getting on the ride.”
“Nervous? Of course not!” Hudson said, shaking his head. “I was fine!”
“You know, it’s okay if you were scared. Everyone gets scared.” she said.
“Yeah right,” Hudson muttered. “You don’t. I’ve seen you on that stage, you’re fearless.”
“You think I’m fearless?” Tasha said with a laugh. Her eyebrows were raised as she looked at him. “Are you kidding? I get such bad stage fright!”
“Yeah, right” Hudson said. He rolled his eyes. “You don’t need to make that up to make me feel better. You couldn’t get in front of that many people if you had stage fright.”
“I’m not making it up! I get so scared before shows that I can’t eat for like 2 hours before we go on stage.”
“What? But you….look like you aren’t scared of anything up there.”
“I’m glad it looks like I’m not scared,” Tasha said. “But, that’s not true. I get really scared and nervous before I perform. But, singing is important to me. And I want to share what I love with people. So, even though I’m scared, I do it anyway. I push through the fear and just get up and do it.”
“I wish I could be brave like you are.” Hudson said, surprising himself with his honesty.
“I think you could be.” Tasha said. “Let me ask you something. Is it important to you to get on the roller coaster?”
Hudson thought about it for a minute.
“Yeah,” he said finally. “It is. I’ve been looking forward to this field trip for weeks. And I want to be able to look back and remember having fun with my friends. I don’t want to look back and remember running away and sitting alone by the bathrooms.”
“Well….then I think we should get back in line. But, if you decide you don’t want to, that’s okay too. I just want you to make a decision based on what you want and not what you are scared of. Everyone gets scared. But brave people don’t let it stop them.”
Just then, he saw his friends coming towards them, big grins on all three of their faces.
“That was awesome!” Davion said. “Are you okay? Why did you run off?”
“I got a little nervous. But, I’m okay now. And I really want to ride the coaster. Would you guys mind waiting in line again?”
“I would LOVE to ride that thing again!” Davion said. They charged off. Tasha stood next to Hudson as they waited in line this time. She smiled at him every time he looked over at her. He felt encouraged. When they got to the stairs, his stomach started to clench again. But he screwed his eyes up and made himself take each step forward. He could feel himself wanting to bolt again when their turn came. But he stood his ground and took deep breaths. And he got in the car.
WHOOSH! It seemed like the whole ride was over before it has even started. They twisted and twirled so much, Hudson didn’t even have time to be nervous. When they got out, Tasha had them all pose for a picture by the ride’s sign. Hudson’s grin was so big that it looked like it would break his face. He put a copy of the picture in his locker door. It stayed there through all four years of high school, a reminder of a great day.