Tuesday, July 13, 2010

choking on pizza

My first roller coaster was The Screaming Eagle at Six Flags. I remember standing in line, for what seemed like ages, trying to catch glimpses of every climb, drop, and turn the coaster made. My anxiety built as I heard the teenage ride operator repeat the safety instructions over and over. I kept thinking, "They wouldn't offer safety instructions if they weren't needed... This isn't good. Maybe we should all turn back. Save ourselves while we can."

We pressed on. Like cattle being driven to the slaughter we made our way through the germ-infested, ever-winding stanchions. In keeping with the park's theme, Looney Tunes were looping on the mounted monitors above our heads adding to the crazed nightmare. "Is this really happening?", I asked myself as we approached the loading platform. A firmer commitment was needed. Unaware of the sorting process I found myself in lane three separated from my mom and sister. I was alone, and trapped between two germ-infested railings. Things started moving fast, and feeling an overwhelming sensation of nausea/vertigo; I stepped into the coaster. Not sure if I was buckled in right or if the lap guard was secured, I held on for dear life. The clickety-clack of the ride had become familiar as I stood in line. It now brought a renewed terror as I sat emotionally and mentally unprepared for the next two terrifying minutes of my life.

You're maybe wondering at what point I choke on the pizza. Flash forward Christmas Carol style to a new scene at the hospital cafeteria in downtown Minneapolis. It's a snowy, December day. I'm at least fifteen years older. Sitting by myself at a large round table in the back of the room trying to find my appetite. I take my first bite of an oversized piece of pepperoni pizza and every emotion from the story above comes rushing into my gut. I set the pizza down and wonder how I will survive the loss of my two boys. The pizza freezes in my throat. With a quick sip of my third caffeinated beverage of the day I quickly wash it down. Sitting up quickly, I glance around to see if anyone has noticed the crying, choking, mess-of-a-man in the corner, but no. Everyone is absorbed in their little worlds of chicken wild rice soup, smart phones, onion rings, bad Christmas decorations, and Jimmy Buffet holiday tunes on the PA system.

The rest of the world didn't stop, but for me it might as well have. Nothing else mattered. Relationships, work, church, Christmas... it all seemed pointless. I felt like turning around and running back through the "stanchions". I really felt like running, but I pressed on. And just as I survived to write the story of my first roller coaster ride, I have also survived to write about losing my two boys. I may have stumbled, I may have choked on some pizza as I moved forward, but I moved forward.