I’m nine, and I’m at an amusement park near my house. It’s gotten dark and I know this ride will be the last one of the night, but there’s hardly any line for the ferris wheel and I run up. My sister is crying and tired, the timing is perfect, and I grew three inches this year, just barely scraping the You Must Be This Tall sign. I get to ride by myself.
Little colored lights dot the sides of the wheel, and I’d swear the stars are almost as bright, almost as close. We go around once, twice, three times, and I think that if I jumped out, I would fly.
I don’t jump out.
I sit there as the wheel stops, me at the pinnacle in my empty car, swinging gently in the breeze. The park below me is lit up like a fairyland and I think that if I could just find the right direction to wander off in, the right angle, I could be lost forever. I tried all day, though, and never found that angle, no matter how many times I devised excuses to slip away from my parents.
Though, speaking of excuses… when I get off the ferris wheel, my parents are nowhere to be found. I know, I know I should stay there and wait for them to turn up. I still know all about stranger danger. But I also know the park doesn’t close for another hour even if they want us to leave now. And they’re not here.
So I’m gone, looking for one more ride on the Viking ship that makes me weightless at the highest point, and the spinning room that holds me against the wall with no floor, and the biggest roller coaster I can ride without an adult. I keep going deeper into the park. The crowds are getting thinner and the night is getting darker, if that’s possible. All at once I realize there’s no one else around. I should go find my parents. I’m going to be in so much trouble.
The man in the top hat is waiting outside the dark ride. He waves me in.
One more ride can’t hurt, I tell myself.
I wake up in the car, the only sparkling lights coming from the occasional oncoming traffic. It’s pouring rain and my dad is assuring my mom that we’re almost home. I could say something, but they’re both focused on the road and my sister is asleep beside me. I close my eyes again. I want to go back.