Molly Fisk: Ferris Wheel

When I was 14, I developed a short list of requirements for being a good girlfriend. Heaven knows where I got this idea, maybe from reading Seventeen Magazine. You had to be able to gut a fish and cook it. You had to be brave enough to go skydiving (but only once per boyfriend).

In my long career as a girlfriend, I’ve only gutted two fish and I have never gone skydiving. I can’t fly without Dramamine, so the idea of skydiving is just silly. You might as well throw me out of the back of the plane and be done with it. At 14, I was eager to have a boyfriend but also a little scared, and I poured my trepidation into the list. A big fear like skydiving was easier to talk about than a big fear like sex.

I don’t know if other pubescent girls made lists or not, but I think it’s a feature of our culture for us to feel there are some things we ought to do — that are required of us. Some people need to have tidy yards to keep up with the Joneses. Families with old money seem to need to give lots of it to charity, while families with new money don’t. We even choose our clothes using cultural cues we never think about. If you saw me in baggy knee-length shorts with a baseball cap on sideways you’d think I was ready for Hallowe’en, but generations of kids have dressed that way and no one blinks an eye.

One of the great things about middle age is that the culture loosens its grip. Or maybe we’ve lived long enough to value our own preferences more than any outside standard. Which brings me to the county fair, where I was last night, gazing fondly at the ferris wheel.

I love the way ferris wheels look: that simple shape, a circle, a wheel, so huge against the sky. Its iconic stature as a symbol of summer and fun. How it’s a thrill but a mild one, not some loud, fast, jerky, screaming ride. My impulse to get on the thing is overwhelming, almost magnetic. I want to be a happy American and sail above the earth in a little bucket, looking down over treetops and Safeway’s parking lot like an eagle.

But I know better. Two years ago my sister and 12-year-old niece convinced me to join them on the ferris wheel and then got to watch me have a full-blown panic attack. I thought maybe things had changed but by the time we were five feet off the ground I was on the floor, my legs and arms wrapped tight around the center pole and my eyes screwed shut, hyperventilating. They were laughing hysterically. After a while they figured out I wasn’t kidding and then patted me occasionally on the head and described the view. I don’t think my niece had ever seen a grown-up decompensate before, so she was kind of fascinated.

I’m just going to have to be a happy American on solid ground because getting airborne isn’t my thing. Fish guts, maybe. Ferris wheels, nope. And skydiving? I must have been out of my mind.

Skydiving is for the birds.

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  • carol ann hoorn July 22, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Your Ferris Wheel essay is charming, endearing, funny,yet revealing of your fragility, As one who can not even ride a Carousel( note-I use “carasel” as my email, as maiden name was -Carol Sell), and other kids called me- “Dizzy” in derision, I empathize, believe me, but smile as well in appreciation of your skill in the telling.

    • Molly Fisk July 25, 2017 at 3:50 pm

      I hope I’m not unduly formulaic, but I think telling other people about my human foibles and phobias is good for both me, to stay honest and unashamed, and them, as either an example of openness or a dire warning, whichever they might need at the moment. 😉

  • Elizabeth July 22, 2017 at 11:01 am

    My feelings exactly! When our boys were young, we used to to hire our babysitters for the weekend on Memorial Day when the rides came to town; I did not want them to not have the experience because their mom hated heights. We would town leave to go to antique shows.

    • Molly Fisk July 25, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      Sometimes the prices at antique shows can make me dizzy, but it’s a whole different thing… 😉