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Bridget A. Lyons

I live five blocks from one of the oldest roller coasters in the world. Opening my windows to hear the screeches of “Giant Dipper” passengers brings me great joy, as does using my Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk season pass once a week or so for my own one minute and fifty-two second rush. It forces me to remember that I’m a passenger on a wild ride—and not just that one.

The Boardwalk closed in mid-March, along with just about everything else in town, so no one is throwing down six dollars to get jerked around by unexpected darkness, blind corners, and bottom dropping descents. They, like me, are getting enough of that at home.

How am I? My new roller coaster reality makes it hard to answer that question. Depending on when I’m asked, I might be at the peak of the first big uphill with the amazing ocean view, or I might be on that rowdy G-force turn where my head gets flung and my stomach lurches.

I generally awaken well-rested from having slept at least 8 hours. I start on an upswing.

Then, I listen and remember that the hush lingering over my typically busy street is a result of schools and businesses being closed, a third of the country being out of work, and everyone being pent up inside. Down I go.

The best way to get myself out of that pit is to surf for an hour or so at the break just down the street—an activity that has, thankfully, been allowed in Santa Cruz County for all but one week of the quarantine. I’m as up as I’ll ever be after that, even though the lineup is overrun with high school kids (aren’t they supposed to be on Zoom class meetings or something?)

After that, I’ve got enough mojo to brave the supermarket, so I align my Qi, don my mask, and hop on my bike. Then I stand in a line where I crane to look into eyes that are avoiding mine, notice bodies veering away from me as though I had a contagious disease (which, of course, I might), and try desperately to recognize someone through their face covering. Now I’m down again, and the checkout line red dots, plexigass cashier protection shields, and use of disposable bags (formerly scorned by this establishment) combines to soak my face-shielding buff with tears.

Back at home, my partner hugs me, thanks me for shopping, unpacks the groceries, and plays me a new section of “Help on the Way” (a really hard Grateful Dead song) he’s learned. I’m back up. Concentrated, focused time does have its rewards. Maybe this thing’s not all bad.

But it is for my work, as my empty inbox reminds me. I stupidly let myself think about how permanent that could be, how, as a freelancer, I don’t qualify for unemployment or PPP or any other kind of assistance, and I spiral downward once again.

Until I look around. I have a safe place to eat and sleep and the money to make a next month’s rent. I live in a beautiful environment. I have stellar company for as long as this weirdness lasts. I am healthy. I try to sit with the gratitude I feel for that, rather than diving deep into the pain cave created by thinking about how many people are not so lucky.

Good Buddhists would tell me that the roller coaster is my own illusion, that if I could cultivate inner equanimity, none of this would affect me. I hear that, and I know it. Still, I can’t seem to get off of the ride. I love the hundred-year-old, 55-mile per hour, rickety wooden thriller down the street because it reminds me that I’m alive. It might be closed, but its substitute roller coaster is doing the same thing. At a time when far too many folks are facing death, I want to feel my humanity at every moment.

So…how am I? I’m alive. The more I can keep that at the forefront of my antsy, frustrated, anxious, petrified, gerbil cage of a brain, the better.

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