It was only a small gap in the trees that separated us from the open field on the other side. A halo of light hung inches above the top of the tree line, undulating to the irregular beat of music blasting from every direction and ricocheting before finally clashing somewhere in the middle. Warm, sweet air brushed past me, propelled by something just behind the trees. The soft earth surrendered underneath my feet and wrapped around my new shoes, the hay put out to control it already trampled and buried beneath the thick sludge. As we neared the entrance, I thought about the regret I’d felt the last time I passed through the opening in the trees, headed back to the car with an oversized pink elephant stuffed under my arm and a cheap KISS mirror in my back pocket. Neither one was able to serve as a ransom for the one thing I didn’t have-the satisfaction of knowing I'd conquered my fear.
I won’t chicken out this year.
I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I stepped through the gap in the trees-teetering between excitement and fear.
“Watch where you’re stepping,” Mama’s voice shot past me a moment too late as I tripped over one of the many black cables spread out on the ground, running from large trucks where generators roared, drowning out the music and screams as we passed. I scanned the crowd through gaps in the lines and between rides as they spun and jerked around me, but I couldn’t find what I was searching for. Tired workers beckoned to the crowd with promises of cheap toys and even cheaper compliments. Teenagers walked arm in arm with new love, pretending their parents weren’t keeping a close eye on them from the other side of the crowd. Mobile food booths plastered with bright, weathered signs advertising funnel cakes and corn dogs ran through the middle of the rides and games. Lines ran from each of them like spokes on a wheel. I reached up and pulled on Daddy’s shirt.
“Daddy, can I ride on your shoulders?”
“No, Sherri, why can’t you just walk with your sisters?” he replied.
I only stared at him, knowing that was all it would take for him to cave. In one swift movement, he grabbed me from behind and raised me above his head, settling me onto his shoulders. Almost instinctively, I hooked my feet behind his back and grabbed the top of his head to steady myself. That’s when I saw it-right past the rainbow colored tent covering rows of fish bowls. Bonnie, a girl from my class, saw me and held up an arm. Dangling from her clinched fist was a plastic bag full of water. Inside, an unfortunate gold fish slammed against the sides of the bag as she waved. I waved back as I looked over her head-just in time to see the circle of brightly colored horses, each suspended from its own golden pole, come to a stop.
My arms relaxed and, while my hands began to move to Daddy’s shoulders, my feet slid apart to hang loosely at his sides. Sensing my shift in position, Daddy reached underneath my arms and once again raised me above his head-this time to plant my feet on the ground. Fear enticed me to stay, but regret begged me to go. My nails cut into the palms of my hands as I clenched my fists tightly and ran-leaving both fear and regret behind. I could feel Daddy chasing after me but couldn’t hear him calling. I heard nothing but my own voice repeating the same three words over and over to the rhythm of the haunting pipe organ music as I ran toward it.
It is time.
It is time.
It is time.