Key Lime Cove Chronicles: Part Three

I’m taking you with me.

Toukey’s Big Deluge: The Reckoning Prelude: Paradise Lost Propers

Sundown.  Expressway.  The sky is a murky post-pink peach.  Indigo clouds smear up from the western horizon, appearing very much like the monsters that awaited us at the edge of a world we once considered flat,  bringing nighttime in the hems of their gowns.  In the darkness below, snaking chains of alternating red and white lights coil around the I-94/134 cloverleaf .  They slither  this way and that across an unseen landscape.  From the lower deck of a preposterous aquatic amusement contraption, a bottom-heavy Eve regards this rush hour serpent and the darkness outside the cathedral-sized water park windows through her water-speckled Buddy Holly glasses.  She sighs and returns to her so-called “chair of delight” to weigh her options.

She has been informed that a step toward knowledge equates two of the same toward death.  She’s not jazzed on that math, but isn’t a life of ignorance a death in itself?  To walk through a life overgrown with the inescapable shadows of the unknown, the unexplained, to always fear—what kind of life is that?  She rounds the edge of the armrest of her Adirondack with her big plastic beer cup and thinks of letting it all go. She reminds herself that the earth was flat until someone decided to let go of the fear to sail headlong to the perceived precipice, and then the monsters vaporized into clouds.

A shriek tears through the chlorinated humidity; the sound claws her gaze from the window and directs it to a day-glo green waterslide.  It vomits out a doughy, pre-pubescent boy who careens on his behind through a waiting exit flume at the bottom.

She notices that this boy’s breasts are bigger than her own.  Something in his womanly scream rings out like a call to arms. She downs the last of her beer and takes her first fateful two-step toward the kiddie slides.

A Word About Fear

Fear serves a purpose: it’s the alarm that bell that assures the continued survival of the creature harboring said fear.  Fear keeps us from, say, doing the Macarena in the path of oncoming trains or dangling our legs over the edge of the pirhana tank at our local aquarium.  This is obvious.  But the point I’m trying to make that is all fear exists to keep us alive.  Even the fear of kiddie slides.  Especially the fear of kiddie slides. These stupid fears—the weird ones, the obscure ones– serve a more nuanced purpose.  In this modern age, we are hardly ever in actual danger.  Yet the creature container we inhabit still has an instinctual compunction to defend itself against its own demise.  In ordinary everyday suburban life, the only thing we have left to fight off is the awareness of our own mortality.   If you were to untangle the anxieties balled up inside you, you would find yourself holding your end of a rope that connects you to the idea of your own death.  These gnarled-up knots of modern fear are designed to distance you from your adversary, which in this case isn’t actual death, but just the idea of it.  My fear allows me to steer clear of that which reminds me I’m going to die, hence the fear of Toukey’s Big Deluge.  Why anyone would want to kill their fear of death, since it helps you stay alive in your head and in your heart is a really difficult proposition to defend, but here we are at Key Lime Cove with a twelve dollar beer in our narrative hand, invoking Christopher Columbus, John Milton, Satan, and the Tree of Knowledge in a quasi-heroic attempt to do just that.

Adam and Eve, not quite suited up for their trip down Toukey’s Big Deluge

Chicken Ascendant

Given the fear of death/death of fear conundrum I’ve expressed, it’s hard not to describe the climb to the top of Toukey’s Deluge in the terms of capital punishment. It’s sadly unavoidable.

The rickety-shambles of  TBD’s pole-based architecture is just a Technicolor makeover applied to the basic concepts of your classic scaffold.  The stairs lead to corridors, the corridors lead to rope bridges, the bridges lead to more stairs–  all of which combine to usher the human body upwards toward ever greater gradations of elevation, to the summit, the end of the line.

Along the way, the condemned walks the gauntlet of parting shots:   curtains of warm, heavy liquid jets  piss down, squadron-style, creating an obligatory checkpoint of humiliation ,  chlorinated broadsides blast at  flank-level, and buckets dump unceremoniously on her head like so many chamber pots.  All the while, a roulette wheel of vessels keeps a steady tattoo of water pounding on the platform.  It sounds a lot like the drum beat accompanying a military execution, only faster and cracked-out on kids’ cereal.  It also keeps perfect time with the heartbeat of an irrationally fearful person ascending to the zenith of her terror.

Letting Go (Special Guest Star: The Voice)

I’m not afraid of kiddie slides per se; I’m afraid of hurtling. Even though I knew this waterslide would not kill me, I knew that it riding it would feel like death, or what I’ve come to believe death to feel like, and that being launched into nothingness.

The earth in its place, the sky in its place, and me, doing my voluntary- neural-systemic locomotion thing in between—I associate these things with being a living creature.  Hurtling runs completely counter to this: the sensation of the loss of control, loss of gravitational context.  So I’m not afraid of kiddie slides; I’m afraid of hurtling. Yet, kiddie slides are the world capital of hurtling, so there you go. The Voice delighted in this absurdity.

As I made my way up to the top of the same day-glo yellow slide that had expelled the chesty lady-lad, The Voice jeered me on.  It crowded the off-beats of the aforementioned exo-internal thunder-pulse of eminent doom and degradation with the alternating refrains of “DO! IT!”  and “CHICK! EN!”

My fear of hurtling has been lifelong. It began when I was six with a dream.  In it, I piloted my sled down a blank hillside wall of blinding white snow.  I saw myself from the outside: I gripped the handles of the planks-and-rails contraption—a Midwest Radio Flyer—my stocking hat flying cartoonishly behind me.  The tableau had all the weird visual signifiers of a Sesame Street alphabet interlude: the enormity of the hill, the liberal interpretation of the laws of physics.   It was all good times except instead of scripting an elegant S on the face of the snow, the little redhead on the sled careened into a depression concealed beneath the tundra, leaving her vehicle gravity-bound behind as she hurtled helplessly though infinite space, nothing.

I can still feel the pit of my stomach fall out when I think back on this dream.  I can still hear the winded grunt hanging in the air in the damp darkness of my bedroom in the basement of my parents’ house back in Ohio. So what began as a jerk-awake dream of a sledding accident at the age of six blossomed like a Citizen Kane rosebud into an empire of avoidance:

a pre-empted driver’s license at twenty-one, a first solo trip on a plane at the age of forty-two, and a lifelong abstention from amusement rides exceeding 10 mph.  Yet all the detours taken have led me to the top of Toukey’s Big Deluge.  The Voice is my copilot: “WE’RE HERE!” she announced through crackling, phlegmatic static.  Nuances of triumph italicized her words, for this is by far the stupidest thing she has ever put me up to.

As I stood at the apex, under the sunny yellow canvas tent-top, I savored the non-slip pebbling of the platform under my feet.  The reassurance that some part of me was grounded to a level surface of some kind steadied me, even while the rest of my body and mind was differently situated— airy and barely-there and wavering like a mirage of myself– some twenty feet above Paradise Lost, and preoccupied with the pulse-pounding business of hurtling.

Did it occur to me to feel foolish when a scrawny little ferret of a five year old cut in front of me, just 3 steps away from the mouth of that first slide?  Nope.  I was too busy trying to catch my breath in tiny panicky pants.  One moment, she was sitting in the gaping cradle of its horrible, toothless maw and the next, she was gone.  Horribly and utterly gone.

Did it occur to me to appear shame-faced and shruggy when the lifeguard  gave me a snappy, aviator-style “all clear” that positively oozed with sarcasm?  Nope.  I was too busy getting my head around the fact that soon, I, too, would be horribly and utterly gone.

The Voice was probably in her glory, but I couldn’t hear her anymore.  Nor could I hear “Some Guys Have All The Luck”, the inescapable anthem of Paradise Lost, (not by the original artist).  By this time,  I had an annoying, rubbed-raw, Kleenex-to-snotty-nose kind of relationship with this song.  It had been playing when I had initiated my climb, but it, too, was gone.

Gripping an overhead bar, I took my seat in the mouth of that greenish-yellow day-glo tube of destiny.  Water gushed frothily around my legs—my pale, white, substantial middle-aged legs.  My thoughts were too many and too frantic for me to even understand at that moment, let alone detangle and articulate in alphabet synthesis.  My brain was a buzzing beehive, and the queen was in danger.

My final, pre-hurtle breath was more chlorinated than all the others somehow, warmer, and heavier with humidity. I held onto it.  It was rich, because it contained the last of the gravity, the last of my physical autonomy, the last of my fear. I let it go.  All of it.

Geronimo!

The plan was to pretend that the water slide was a good, old-fashioned playground slide like the ones I grew up with: I would take my ride in a seated position.  This was not an option, for you see, when you ride a water slide, you are Gravity’s bitch.  You do not ride her like a parade route convertible; you capitulate to the velocity of her agenda.    She will sculpt your body to her specifications, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

First, she clotheslines you with momentum and lays you flat on your back.  Your hands and their inexpedient, foam-rustling fingers are frankly in the way.  The resistance they put up is quaint, but nonetheless an inconvenience.  Gravity folds them kindly across your chest.

A fellow pilgrim, assuming the position at Disney’s Summit Plummet.

These modifications are done with the utmost elegance of the inevitable.  Fighting is out of the question.  There is no question, actually.  You are given over to a force of nature; it is enormous beyond your concept of enormity, timeless beyond your concept of time. Your internal organs, no longer dog-piled within your ribcage, flutter apart like freed birds.  Feet together, hands over your heart, you assume the position preordained within the marrow of your very bones.  You are an arrow slicing through your allotted time and space.  You are a shooting star flickering within the unblinking eye of the cosmos.  You are as you should be.

Your individual anxieties and defenses and the very consciousness that houses them?  Blown away like a teepee in a tornado.  But this is not a bad thing.  This is not a good thing.  This is a thing that is, was, and always will be, regardless of how we, as tiny flecks of living warmth, conceptualize ourselves within its incomprehensible framework.  The skull is silent, serene.

In short: you succumb.

I had embarked on this day-glo snot-colored water slide looking to confront my idea of death and I was certainly not disappointed.  Trussed up like a mummy by a mortician called momentum, I was a creature shot into the infinite from whence I came.  Careening crazily up the side of one curve after another, luge-style, I must have issued almost a dozen grunts from top to bottom.

Amazingly, the entire trip from life to death and back again probably clocked in at barely over 3 seconds, max.  I was dismissed from the beyond as soon as I glimpsed its merest molecule, expelled from the tube like a time-traveling turd. Blasting on my ass through the long aqua-trough at the foot of the slide, I received a water wedgie as a reminder of my place in the universe.

The ride was over, but then again, it was ongoing.  The fact is, I had been hurtling before I ever went down that stupid slide, and I would continue hurtling, along with everything else in existence.  Even with my equilibrium restored, and everything returned to its place, all of it careened through its temporal trajectory.  All of it–the box of tubes known as Key Lime Cove and its slippery inhabitants, the teeming expressway, even the closing glow of twilight–hurtled though the unknown in an ever-expanding universe.

My feet pushed down on the floor, the floor pushed back, but that was only another one of Gravity’s creature comforts, an impersonal courtesy that is our birthright on a planet she had set spinning long ago.  I returned to my life as a visitor, just passing through, letting it all pass through me.  All that was familiar unfolded like a new frontier, all of it, each breath a once-in-an-infinity opportunity.

Trip #∞

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