Perhaps we should've gone earlier, or not at all. Every year since she was tall enough to ride The Octopus, we've taken the little angel to Worlds of Fun for roller coasters and barker games. She's nearly fearless when it comes to eye-popping drops that scare adults. But we never went after the Halloween decorations went up before.
The little angel didn't make it through the first Harry Potter book or The Lord of the Rings movie. She was existentially scarred by a P!nk video. I thought we could detour around most of the scary stuff at Worlds of Fun, but at one point we exited a coaster into a brightly lit area with resting fog machines and extinguished strobe lights ... And baby dolls splashed with red. She saw them before I directed her to look at the cement while I led her through it. She couldn't look at the scary part at one-tenth intensity.
She heard the theme song from Dr. Demento while eating dipping dots by The Mamba, her favorite roller coaster.
They're coming to take me away, ha ha!
I'd never heard it before, but I hated it. It's a little chilling, especially when you're aware of very real mental illness. She mentioned several times how scary that song was, and inside, I agreed. I take no pleasure in imagining losing my mind.
She wanted to play the game where she won Tiny the giant gorilla last year. We had to set Tiny out for the trash man after the room in the basement where he was flooded, and he got saturated. There was no choice. He would've molded. I think in her head all she had to do was get back to that game and play again, even though the game is so impossible that the only prizes available are taller than a kindergartner, even though it was a fluke of life she won the first time.
After her first round, she cried. I'd given her a budget and she blew through it in ten minutes, the last few throws as reckless as a sports fan up too late in Vegas, playing the spread with the mortgage. When it was over, I saw on her face how very hard this reality was to stomach, like when she found her baby teeth in my closet and buried her head in my shoulder at the loss of the Tooth Fairy.
She cried for a long time, tried to blame me for the loss off Tiny, for her inability to win another, making us that family fighting in public. We shut her down, and it was a long and silent ride home.
She couldn't get to sleep for an hour and a half tonight. She appeared downstairs and asked for my help. As I smoothed her hair, she told me she kept seeing those baby dolls, but it wasn't just the dolls. It's how hard it is to grow up. To love the coasters and be scared of clowns with sharp teeth. To want to dress up but jump at things that spring out at costume shops. To ask yourself, as I see her asking herself, if you should be able to hack this stuff now and knowing in your heart the answer is "no." I know because I keep asking myself the same thing as we careen around this corner of childhood and see adolescence as the next exit on the freeway.
I told her to imagine touching the creepy dolls when they popped into her thoughts like she does the games she plays. Imagine them turning into kittens when she touched them. I am running out of tricks as she gets older and begins to see things I can't explain away. Sometimes people do things that are ugly. Sometimes you see a trailer for a scary show while you're watching something innocuous. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you run out of money without winning a giant gorilla. I can't change that.
"What if I run out of kittens?" She asked, tossing and turning as the sheets twisted around her sweaty face. It's that weird, in-between season when it's too cool for fans and too hot for blankets.
"You can never run out of kittens," I said. "Haven't you ever seen the Internet?"
It took another half hour before she finally fell asleep, but she didn't say anything more. I lay there, waiting for her to find peace in sleep and hoping I was doing it all right.