Being a Hero
The new Wonder Woman movie debuted which got me thinking about heroes. As a kid, you wonder if you’ll get the chance at some point in your future to be one. Life holds many possibilities when you are young and you wonder, what will it be? Will you push someone out of the way of an oncoming bus? Will you help someone who is drowning? Will you administer mouth to mouth resuscitation to someone who put a fork in an electrical outlet? You have no idea, but you hope you will get your shining moment one day.
As you move way past your teenage years, through the ups and downs of adulthood, you realize it’s kind of rare to have a clean-cut scenario where you’ve helped someone in a way that could be clearly recognized by others as effective, but is also something that didn’t take a huge toll on you where you almost regretted getting involved in the first place. It can be a fine line in the harsh light of adult reality. In taking stock of my life, it came as a little bit of a surprise to recognize that my clean-cut moment of heroism to date came at a very young age, at the age of nine in fact.
It happened at the Dade County Youth Fair. I loved the Youth Fair because it had fun rides and gross food that you thought tasted great at the time. I looked forward to it every year so I was excited to be invited by my friend Kelly, who was one of my favorite people from my fourth grade class. She also invited two other girls we knew, Katie and Tracy. Kelly’s mom was our chaperone.
At the fair, there seemed to be a lot of rides that took you in a circle at a high speed, around and around. All of them had the blaring music in common with each other. We spotted one that didn’t have much of a line which was the good part, but the bad part was that it was a dull green and beat-up, the section 8 version of the ride compared to the other more glamorous ones. We knew we would hit those cooler ones later, but here was a chance to get on one now, with no wait, however uninviting it looked. It had a green caterpillar theme and during the ride, a green cover would mechanically raise over the passengers and stay in place for a bit in an attempt to complete the caterpillar resemblance.
We divided into two pairs. I was paired with Kelly. After we climbed in, the man operating the ride clicked the metal safety bar into place. It went over our thighs where we could grab it with our hands. The ride started out slowly as it moved us around in circles. As it sped up faster and faster, something didn’t feel right. The metal bar wasn’t doing much to hold us in place. There was so much force from the speed, I was completely unable to maintain my hold on the bar. I slid all the way into Kelly and I was pinned there for the entire duration of the ride with all my body weight pushing against her. We both seriously felt like we were going to fly out of the side of the ride.
We were screaming for our lives and we could hear Katie and Tracy screaming behind us as well. Our screams that weren’t already drowned out by the loud music were further muffled by the caterpillar covering when it was raised into place. After a while, I stopped screaming anyways to just focus on gripping the safety bar
Following elementary school, Kelly and I went to the same junior high and high school. We reminisced about that ride for years. There was something exhilarating about that fearful experience, and our shared memory of it forged a deeper bond between us.
My heroic moment wasn’t on that ride though. If anything, I victimized Kelly by squishing her like I have never squished or seen someone squished by another person. She was lucky she got off that ride without a broken rib. It was after the ride when my heroic act took place.
After exiting the ride, we walked and talked comparing notes on how we all survived the experience. Then I heard Katie cry out and the next thing I knew, we were surrounding her as she stood with her back to a random fair tent with tears coming out of her eyes. Her jeans had split on the ride from crotch to knee. It was an enormous tear. Being in Miami in March, none of us had a jacket for her to use to hide the back part where her underwear was visible. I remember seeing such humiliation and anguish on her face, and Kelly’s mom was trying to calm her down.
In that moment, I remembered I was wearing shorts under my jogging pants. That could sound a little strange to wear in the heat, but as a kid, I couldn’t bare the thought of missing out on some sort of spontaneous fun moment because I wasn’t dressed for it. I think that phobia has followed me my whole life because I over-pack every time I go somewhere. I remember meeting my friend at the airport years ago to fly out to Europe together. When she saw me with all my luggage, the first thing she said was, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” And without regret, I dragged all those bags around for three months, going to various cities, moving around, having to unexpectedly pay 100 dollars extra to get it all on the flight from London to Madrid. So yes, I like to be prepared and it was Katie who reaped the benefits that day.
As Katie cried about the tear in her jeans, everyone looked surprise when I pulled down my pants and stepped out of them one leg at a time and handed them to her. We all got in front of her to make a wall of privacy as she changed out of the ripped jeans and into my jogging pants. We were then able to enjoy the rest of the day and have a great time.
I will never forget the panic of that moment though. And then the confusion and anxiety all vanishing with something as easy as pulling my pants down. That was true power. I felt it and loved it. I also loved when it was time to be picked up at Kelly’s house afterwards and her mom told my mom about how I saved Katie’s behind, no pun intended. I am sure Kelly’s mom, being responsible for all of us at the fair, was relieved there was a quick resolution to the matter.
You never really know what form your heroic moment is going to come in. Maybe you already had yours too, a moment that doesn’t get any better than that for helping to remove a threat to someone in such a black and white way. It was a great feeling and something I’ll never forget. Interestingly, I never saw that life-threatening ride at the Youth Fair again.
***I found the above picture on a webpage about a local North Carolina fair written in 2016. Underneath the picture was written, “Caterpillar: This classic ride, which I rode at Pavilion, still has the mechanism that operates the cover, although it is not in use.”
This seems to be a later version of the ride and the cover is still used as a part of the ride experience, but it still looks different than the ominous green one that we rode on that day.