I have always been terrified of high places.
As a child, when I went to the playground, I sometimes had to be rescued from the roof of the climbing structure because a dizzy spell would overtake me just as I got to the top. I couldn’t stand to ride the monorail at the state fair because it was too far off the ground. Now that I’m a grown woman, I get vertigo if I walk too close to the atria in malls and museums; I have nightmares about falling off of sky scrapers.
One of my most frightening childhood memories was the time I was almost forced to ride the gigantic Ferris wheel at Hershey Park.
I was there with my grandparents, my bad cousins and half a dozen aunts. I liked Hershey Park for the candy, the virtual factory tour and the carousel, but I didn’t even want to go near the Ferris wheel.
My aunts, for reasons best known to themselves, had randomly decided that we would all go on the Ferris wheel– all of us except for my grandfather, who got to make his own choices.
“I don’t want to go,” I said. “I’ll stay with Grandpa.”
“It’ll be fun.” My aunts weren’t looking at me. They never looked at me when they tried to make me do something I didn’t want to do. My tears embarrassed the family; they thought they could shame me into stopping by ignoring them.
“I don’t want to GO!” I protested.
“NO!” I cried, but they would not listen or look at my terrified face. They came to the amusement park to have fun, and here I was not having fun. That meant that I was being hysterical, and I was going to be forced to have fun for my own good. The more I struggled, the more they would force me to have fun. I knew that routine very well by now.
I panicked as if I was being led to my execution. I felt like I was being led to my execution. I would rather be executed than ride on that gigantic wheel, but nobody would listen or look at my tears.
“It’s too late to get out of line now,” they said, still staring straight ahead.
“I don’t want to go! I don’t want to go! PLEASE don’t make me go!” I sobbed as we got closer and closer.
“No, you can’t get out of line now,” my aunts replied. “There’s no way to get out of line except to go on the ride.”
“I can let her out,” said a kindly ride attendant who had bothered to look at me.
A moment later, I was standing with my grandfather outside the line, watching my aunts go up in the Ferris wheel by themselves.
My grandfather waited until they were far off the ground, unable to see him. Then he went to a nearby vendor and bought ice cream.
By the time they were back on the ground, the ice cream was eaten and my breathing had returned to normal. I never trusted my aunts again.
That was more than two decades ago, but I can still feel my stomach lurch with terror at the thought of high places. Every time I think I’ve grown out of it, I get myself into a situation where I’ll look good and foolish and end up panicking on a high place.
It happened again today.