Turnstile Tourture And Overcoming The Fear

Like a moth to a flame. That's the only way I could describe it.

St. Louis, 2010. The Gateway Arch. My fear of heights, swirling in my belly, telling my bladder that a bathroom might want to be close. The desire to conquer my fears, trumping it all.

I don't know how I did it, having a palatable fear of both heights, small spaces, and a periphery distaste for crowds. A trip to the top of the Gateway Arch involves all three. I was with my child and his friend, both teenagers, both able to sense my discomfort, but unaware of the extent I was truly battling.

See, fear has driven many of the decisions I've made in the past 10 years or so of my life. Anxiety over the unknown, of the possible, and of the absurd. All equal, all giving reasons for me not doing this, or avoiding that. Embodiment of who I am, who I've become.

It is exhausting.

I haven't taken my kids to amusement parks because of the fear of not being able to fit on rides. I would have gone, long ago. But I know better. Not... that I couldn't take them and sit, watch. We do that at our local fairs, the kids go on rides and we watch them ride. But the big-daddy parks that are few hours away? No.

Surely there's more I've avoided, but if you're fat--and maybe if you're not-- you get it.

So, the day I ventured to the Arch was a day purely inspired, because it didn't come naturally.

I realized it might be my only chance, and made my move. We arrived, we walked up the stairs, past the metal detectors, and I steamed ahead, without asking many questions. OK. I lied. I went up to the lady in the Information booth and said:

So. About 4 minutes to the top, huh? And you sit in what? I mean... how many people can sit together? And what about a big girl? Could a large momma fit? Yes, me, I'm the big girl. Really? You think so? No problem, eh? Mmmkay. Oh? That's a replica over there? OK I'll check it out.

I quickly scuttled over to a small, globe-like cage; the simulator. It looked like a full circle version of those globe chairs? But it seats five. I climbed in it taking the corner seat. My neck had to bend down, the ceiling too short for me to sit straight. Wave of claustrophobia.

I bought our tickets before I could back out. I figured if she sold me the tickets, I must not be too big. Right?

We waited in line and I scanned the crowd for people with girth comparable or larger than my own. Radar tuned; state of perspicaciousness. Zeroing in on any and every fatty that walked past us having already survived the experience.

As we closed in on the front of the line, I noticed a fat persons bane of existence: a turnstile. I looked to the workers as they shuffled around, commanding the people in line, asking how many riders and handing us our car number. I locked in on their eyes for any signal of distress -- any hint that they may be questioning my ability to fit, to ride, to be caged in with four other passengers. Images of walkie talkies and secret conversations about having a rider to big to fit playing over in the back of my mind.

I prayed. Prayed just a fervently that I would fit through that turnstile as I would live, and not be blown up by terrorists while at the top of the Arch. Both were equally as important, at this point. If I had to be turned away by the Gateway Arch employees for "failure to fit" right in front of my kid and his friend, I would literally throw myself off the top of the Arch anyway (after climbing up the outside of it), so it was a lose-lose situation.

I nearly broke out in a cold sweat. Mouth dry, bladder screaming, I began to grow concerned that the entire line was wondering the same thing I was: Would She Fit? More than likely nobody else cared or even gave it a second thought, because they weren't fat and they had other things to concern themselves with. More than likely it was me, thinking the world revolved around my circumstances, and if I noticed, then surely there was an audience taking note as well.

For ten long minutes, I held in my nervous pee, glancing from turnstile to worker, back to worker (one of whom I engaged in nervous, poodle-like chatter, in hopes that they wouldn't deny me). Between my yippy comments to the worker, my child, the friend, the wall, the carpet, I played over and over in my mind how I would own that turnstile and defy the odds. There was, after all, an escape. Right next to the excruciatingly narrow turnstile that was not made for childbearing women (seriously, it was abnormally narrow -- I had already resigned to the fact that there was no way I'd fit head on and I would need to shimmy through sideways), there were 3 crate-like boxes propped between the turnstile and the wall. Oddly, peculiarly, propped. As if an escape hatch for the rejected fatties to exit through.

I'm sorry, sir. You won't fit, therefore you can not ride. George?! Move the crates - a reject needs to make way for the rest of the riders!!!

A wave of the hand from the supervising Arch worker, a well-crafted, thought out move by this Gordita, and I was through the torture device.

What? I was going to ride?!

I made it!!!

There were 2 more checkpoints to get through, but none as painful as the first. The final stop before riding was to stand, waiting in front of one of 8 doors for your round spaceship to take carry you to the top. But it isn't worth discussing, as I made it, it's over. I rode it to the top, and I made it back down. I conquered a fear that I did not think I could. Literally. I still, looking at pictures, have no clue how in the world I made it through all that, given the anxiety and fears that I have.

Prayer. I prayed a lot.

I am proud of myself. And, more than making it to the top, I learned a lot about me, and I felt like a person again. I didn't have to give something up because of my fatness and my fears.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just want to say I loved this post. As someone who used to fear the turnstile (and who is still amazed at her ability to go through one head-on), and who had her fair share of humiliating experiences at amusement parks and tourist attractions, you had me both laughing and crying. Keep it up - both the weight loss and the blogging :)