All the Ups and Downs

Three minutes. Thirty people. A 205-foot vertical drop building to 70 mph. That’s the basic thrill-seeking formula for the Griffon rollercoaster in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The neighbor children’s shrieks of delighted play echoing from across the street are whispers compared to the collective high-pitched scream as we hurdled toward the ground. This weekend was Charming’s first time on the Griffon. But it wasn’t mine.

As a season’s pass holder, Busch offers me one free spring pass for a friend. Having waited in vain for a warm, sunny day, Sunday was the last chance to tempt my beau into an afternoon of fleeting adventure before free fizzled away. It was chilly and sprinkling. I lent Charming his own hoodie and wore the one I’d purchased on our second date at Hallow Scream when Busch Gardens was also uncomfortably cold.

The weather kept away less-devoted rollercoaster enthusiasts, which amounted to minimal wait time and clear pathways. While we tackled half a dozen assorted tracks, we chatted in line and reminisced on our last visit in October. Our time was limited then, and the park had been transformed into a scary Halloween movie set, so this May afternoon was different experience entirely.

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Every visit to Busch Gardens seems uniquely different to me. The rides and faces may run together, but invariably certain attractions remind me of my various companions to the park before. When I see Bert and Ernie’s Loch Adventure, I think of my nieces and nephews. The gelato vendor in Italy conjures images of my sister-in-laws laughing together. I rode Tempesto, the newest rollercoaster, for the first time with my friends Angela and Rob. And I rode Alpengeist with some of my former students.

While most of my memories at Busch Gardens are recalled with an involuntary smile, the Griffon elicits a rather grim expression. Because I honestly didn’t remember having ridden it nine years ago, the day after my brother’s wedding here in Hampton. That was until I was recently riffling through an old box of important papers in search of an impertinent receipt; suddenly, in my hands I was holding a picture of me and my ex-husband before we were married.

His eyes were squeezed shut, mine were wide open, but we were both smiling as Griffon’s camera caught us on that ride. I like to keep a souvenir for experiences like this, and on that Sunday, it was the park ride photograph, framed in fiery colors to mimic the rollercoaster. We had been there before, of course, how could I forget? It was that visit that inspired our amusement-park themed honeymoon in Orlando.

Though time may not erase memories, when assisted by subconscious pleas, I think it can bury them when they no longer carry positive connotations, helping us move on by tethering unhelpful past moments in opaque wrapping. Our view is clear, unobstructed by memories that might creep in and weaken our resolve.

When I was soul-searching before my divorce, it was a collection of moments like those at Busch Gardens that rightly plagued the horizon. I saw all we had been. I saw what we were. I could never reconcile the two. But time, between then and now, softened the emotional attachment to some of our memories together. I feel no anger or bitterness despite the events which led to our eventual separation. I still think of him as a generally good guy.

I rode Griffon again last year with a different man. We were together too long to consider it a rebound relationship, but when it began, it was simply about having fun again. In the months following my divorce, I was desolate and lost. I met him at work and he asked for my number. We texted for a month before going to a movie together. The weeks that followed included Enchanted Forest Water Safari, local carnivals, the New York State Fair, my casino initiation, hiking in the Adirondacks… it was one adventure after another.

After I moved to Virginia, we seemed to successfully navigate the long-distance thing for a season. Last spring, we broke it off. Our last day together as a couple we spent at Busch Gardens, and we rode Griffon. And time hasn’t wrapped that memory up yet. It still has a powerful emotional attachment. Why can I forget strapping in next to my husband who I was with for nearly a decade but still vividly remember the smile of a man who was just passing through my life?

Griffon is a rollercoaster, designed by man to produce a great thrill factor. The suspense builds as the car climbs to the top. That was like my relationship with my first husband, always fighting its way upward but never reaching the top. We made promises and expectations. We planned for a certain future, but complications ended our ride before we realized any of them. My subconscious and time, thus, bury the memories when considering the loss connected with them could cripple me.

In an article for The Virginian-Pilot, Preston Wong wrote, “Griffon is floorless, giving riders a sense of vulnerability and, for those in the front row, an idea of how it must feel to fly.” A month after our ride on that rollercoaster, I found out my long-distance boyfriend had been cheating on me. And the floor dropped out like it does at the start of the attraction. When the rollercoaster is made of steel, we welcome vulnerability.

When the rollercoaster is our lives and the floor drops out, we hit the panic button. I wanted off the ride. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year. It feels like so much longer. Our relationship centered around creating memories, so it makes sense that with the wealth of moments we collected that time will have to work a little harder, that my subconscious might have to start begging.

But I think I remember our moments together because they are still helpful in combating the grief I experienced in the wake of that fated revelation. I feel no anger or bitterness despite the events which led to our eventual separation. I still think of him as a generally good guy, too. Our rollercoaster relationship ended after a year and a half. The Griffon only lasts three minutes.

Charming is the third man with whom I’ve shared the Griffon experience. We shrieked and cried with delight as we made our own memory. After the ride, we looked at our attraction picture on the big screen and laughed at ourselves. We didn’t need to buy the picture. This moment is fresh and etched in my mind.

We don’t get on the rollercoaster for the floors to drop out or for the climb to the top. We’re seeking the thrill of the drop. That’s a blink of an eye for theme park ride, but in life, I’m hoping for a half a century or so. They say the third time’s a charm.

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