You’re going to throw up. You’re going to throw up.
I chanted these words to myself, praying that the mere Statement of Fact might somehow alter the inevitable course of events about to transpire as the girls and I walked up the ramp to our very first ride at Storybook Land near Cape May, New Jersey.
We’d driven an hour and a half to get here, filled with the promise of storybook princesses and strange animatronic storybook dwarves that, upon pushing a button, would sing and dance and repeatedly bend over from their strange animatronic storybook waists. What more could we ask for? It was just a tiny, wooded amusement park that catered to kids under six. I assumed there’d be a train, bumper boats, one of those airplane rides you make go up and down by pushing and pulling on a metal bar.
Maybe a carousel.
Maybe a very small Ferris wheel.
But not this.
Not … The Turtle Twister.
I tried to stop the kids, but it was too late. They’d already slid into the deep cove of one of the green cars shaped like a turtle head. They left a space between them for me, my thighs instantly becoming one with the black pleather, which smelled of oil, funnel cake, and the ghosts of vomits past.
“What if we need to stop?” I asked the 16-year-old who, between texting about very important matters like how she wields the awesome power of making people puke on themselves, lowered the bar onto our legs and locked us in.
“Just yell,” she said, and then pressed the big red button.
Immediately, I flashed back: Haggarty Park playground, circa 1977, that metal merry-go-round, that neighbor girl pushing the merry-go-round, those very orange BBQ potato chips. All of it going around. And around. And around.
Compared with The Turtle Twister, that merry-go-round was a Lazy Susan.
“This is sooooo funnnnnn!” I yelled, laughing way too loud as our turtle swished uncontrollably to the left, trying to convince the girls that this was, in fact, fun, and not what happens when people die.
“Yaaaay!” 5-year-old Blair yelled and, because she is her father’s daughter, she meant it. The car, at the time, was in a tail-spin, rotating 14 times, 15 times, 16 times at such speed that the centrifugal force pushed us against the back of the car. I swore my skull had started to expand. I let go of the bar and reached my arms out in a T, bracing my hands flat against the inside of the turtle’s cheeks, as if my arms alone could stop the pain.
“Wheeeeee!” I yelled, thinking about only two things: The very orange BBQ potato chips, and Drew. Because Drew wasn’t not yelling “Yay!” She was not yelling anything. She’d folded in on her little 3-year-old self, crouching into my right side, surely wondering how a mother who claimed to love her could possibly allow The Turtle Twister to exist in what she’d just discovered was a cruel, cruel world.
“Close your eyes,” I whispered to Drew.
“Soooo fuuuun!” I yelled to Blair.
“It’ll be over soon,” I whispered to Drew.
“This is coooooool!” I yelled to Blair, certain that, since we'd been on The Turtle Twister for approximately 37 hours, barf was nigh. I calculated our speed, the spin, the likelihood of splatter.
Then I heard it…the clang of the engine turning off. The speed of the ride slowed. Our turtle did not. It kept twisting. And twisting. And twisting. Even when we came to a stop, the turtle refused to release us, twisting and twisting until the 16-year-old grabbed hold of the edge of its green turtle mouth and forced it to submit.
Blair didn’t want to get off.
I didn’t either, but for entirely different reasons.
Drew didn’t know what she wanted, not until the girl lifted the bar and reached in to grab her hand and help her climb out. Drew did not take the hand, but stared into her eyes, long and hard. She blamed the girl. I could see it. It was wrong to blame the girl. And I might have explained that to Drew, if I wasn't so happy that she was blaming the girl, and not me. Blame that girl! Evil turtles! Evil girl! But blame alone wasn't enough for Drew. She had a message to deliver.
“That," she told evil turtle girl, "was not fun.”