Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lap Bar

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago and was going to post it right away. Then Rosa Irene Ayala-Gaona fell out of a roller coaster and died at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington.* A very sad event. I didn't know Rosa, and held off posting this piece for a few days out of respect for her.

I grew up near Arlington and remember when Six Flags opened in the 1960s, a major event and a thrill to have nearby. We kids lived for opportunities to go to Six Flags with friends, family, cousins, and various social and religious youth groups. Six Flags was the first experience many of us girls had trolling for boys outside of school. Mine was so small we all had each other's number within a couple of weeks to become more or less easy or weird friends. Six Flags was an endless supply of thrills and heartthrobs, sunburns and heartaches. But I never did ride the really scary stuff. The Texas Giant at its peak is 14 stories high. In my mind Rosa was a brave, brave soul to get on that ride.

Me? I white-knuckle clench the pole just riding on a Merry-Go-Round, and can easily have a panic attack at the top of a Ferris wheel. If the kid down below operating the ride starts pushing the lever back and forth so that all the gondolas are swinging, which those guys often do, I freak and start yelling. The last time that happened I managed to look down at the operator, a kid with a shit-eating grin on his face. He was enjoying himself, tossing people around. It took several minutes for the seats to stop swinging back and forth. After we'd had our few minutes of glory on the ride, he began the process of stopping to let passengers out, and jerked the ride to a stop each time, setting all the seats swinging again. I was too beside myself to say anything to him. 

I haven't been on a Ferris Wheel since then. I can drive 95 miles an hour down the flat roads of South Dakota, but don't expect me to get on another Ferris Wheel, much less a roller coaster.

I'm so sorry Rosa died and the way she died. She knew something wasn't right. The first eyewitness account described hearing only one click when the attendant helped Rosa into her seat and folded over the lap bar. Rosa heard the difference between the sound of her lap bar’s click and those of other lap bars being secured. The others clicked more than once. When she heard hers click only the one time she said something, questioning the procedure. She was brushed off as if she didn't know anything.

I wonder about this event; if the attendant heard more than one click, or if that person was tired or rushed. I wonder if there was an expression of prejudice ( Rosa was Hispanic) in not responding to her concern about the clicks. It would be obvious to trained and conscientious staff that Rosa's lap bar wasn't properly secured. Rosa knew, but trusted the attendant.

I want to be heard loud and clear, stand up for myself, speak up and repeat myself if I need to. Doing it for me feels risky enough. Doing it for someone else is way riskier.  There’s a “little voice” that often speaks to us from our subconscious that’s important to pay attention to.  This was one of those times for Rosa to make a scene.

I recently saw a woman in her late 30s/early 40s walking up to a street corner with her children, two boys. One was about seven or eight years old, the other a teenager. A couple my age were walking behind her, talking animatedly and involved with each other. It didn't appear the two groups were together. I was already standing on the opposite side of the street corner with my 13-year-old twin grandsons, waiting for the light to change.

As the mother and her children were walking up to the corner, she was yelling at the younger boy. When they stopped at the corner, she raised her hand and threatened to hit him. I heard the word "again" in her words. She raised her hand and her voice higher. After a moment's delay, I yelled across the street:

"You're not going to hit that kid, especially in public because some people will call the cops!"

She dropped her hand, looked over at me and stared. The light changed and my grandsons and I started crossing the street. As the woman stepped off the curb she started yelling at me about how she could " any damn thing" she wanted to her kid, and raised her arm and hand again to hit him, obviously hoping to get another reaction out of me. We passed each other. I didn't say anything, and thankfully didn't hear a slap. She called me a bitch and a dummy as I passed by. 

My ears became hypersensitive  as I listened for a possible change in her footsteps  if she decided to turn back and escalate the situation. She didn't. She just kept haranguing me, looking back at me as she walked down the sidewalk with her kids. My grandsons were flabbergasted. I surprised myself, too. 

In hindsight I thought I'd had a spontaneous reaction, but  it really wasn't. It was surprising how much I took in while making my choice - whether or not I wanted to get involved, or follow through; safety factors, gender factors, whether there might be a potential threat from the other son, the flow of fast traffic on the street beside us, her clothes, the size of her purse, her body language, the energy she and I both were generating, the fear of her younger son, the face of the older son.  I don't remember being fearful, because I've spoken up before in other situations, though maybe not as often as I might have or wished. I could tell she'd had a hard time at some point in her life, maybe always, because I could feel it and it showed on her face, in her attitude, her words. I figured that hitting her kids was probably her main form of discipline. The couple behind her seemed oblivious to the situation and were chatting and laughing, until I spoke up, then they watched as the situation unfolded.

Intervening in family issues is risky and dangerous and there's no way to guess possible outcomes. I wanted that mother to stop, to give her something to think about and hopefully remember the next time she lifted her hand to hit her kid, either one of them. There's nothing anyone can do about what happens behind her front door. But in the bright sun on a public walkway, there was something I could do. So, I opened my mouth and made noise. I don't know if I helped at all, and really hope I didn’t make things worse and that she didn't take out her anger for  me on her young son.  I hope he is safe. Should I have kept my mouth shut?

This wild ride called Life gets wilder and faster as we swoop and spin and rush headlong into the unknown. I try to make sure the bar clicks twice and is securely resting across my lap. If not, I gotta speak up. I figure the best we can do is try to keep our hands on that lap bar at all times. If we let go and raise our arms and reach for the sky and scream and laugh and scream some more, the present moment will be infinite, everything before and after will be forgotten.

They say that's the only way to ride a roller coaster.

*For more information about this event: 

1 comment:

autumtexas said...

Guess we all need to check each other's lapbars when we can.