“The State Fair.”
That’s what my college-bound daughter answered when I asked, “Is there anywhere else you’d like to go before you leave next week?”
She said she wanted to ride the rides, and when she said “rides,” her eyes lit up like they did when she was four and wanted to ride “Sandy,” the mechanical horse in Meijer that gently galloped while she held onto the leather straps and stared straight ahead, focused. A ride on Sandy cost a penny.
I bought $20 wristbands for my daughter and her siblings and took them to the Indiana State Fair where—after pausing for a snapshot in front of the World’s Biggest Popcorn Ball—they rode the rides for hours, taking only two breaks: one to slurp a chocolate milkshake from the Dairy Barn and another to eat an elephant ear.
While they rode, I sat on a bench next to the Deep Fried Twinkie seller and read a book. I looked up every once in a while at the tallest rides that rose above the roof of the Ag building, imagining the kids swirling, spinning, circling to the top.
By this time next week, that girl on the Ferris wheel snapping selfies with her sister will be spreading out her comforter on the twin bed of her dorm room and propping up the pink plush pillow we bought at Target. She grabbed the pillow and hugged it when we rolled past it in the store.
“Can I get it? For my bed?” She leaned her face against the fluffy fabric, and I nodded and she grinned and put it gently in the cart on top of the extension cord and Kleenex boxes and shower caddy.
I couldn’t see the kids from where I was sitting, reading, next to the Deep Fried Twinkies, but I saw their snapshots later taken on the swings and the Ferris wheel. They came back to me when they had ridden every ride as many times as they wanted. When I asked about their favorites, and the kids described a ride called “Alien Abduction,” and how they couldn’t tell from the outside what the ride would be like. They climbed inside without knowing what to expect, and it started spinning, pressing them against the wall until it was spinning fast and they started to rise up, as if floating in space.
“I saw the other seats going up,” my daughter said, “so I could see what was happening, but you don’t realize you’re rising until all of a sudden you realize you’re not on the floor anymore,” my daughter said. “You try to lift your arms but you can’t do anything and even though you know they test it, you’re still a little afraid.”
I laughed, and as I walked to the car with the daughter I’ll leave on a college campus for the first time ever with her pink plush pillow and her comforter and her Kleenex boxes, I realized I’m not on the floor anymore—I’m floating in space, and I can’t do anything, and even though a million others have been through this before, I’m still a little afraid.