When I was 16 years old, I dated a guy who was 21. He was a sly dog, courting my mother as much as he courted me. She loved him, and the fact that he was so much older than me didn’t seem to matter to her. At 16, I was intrigued with him because he was not like the boys I knew.
He was also a preacher’s son, and his family had moved around a fair amount. His life experiences were very different from mine. And he drove a red sports car.
But I was not in love, and I somehow knew that even at 16. Infatuated, certainly, but not in love. The night we went to the county fair started as a normal date. I think we may have even double dated with his younger brother. We rode a few of the rides: The Scrambler and the Tilt-a-Whirl. We ate junk food and maybe we even played a game or two. Then he said he wanted to go on the double Ferris wheel. I said, “Have fun.”
“No, no,” he said. “You have to ride it with me. Are you chicken?”
He thought this was an insult. I smiled and said, “Yes, I am a chicken. Have fun. John will ride it with you. Not me.”
I am afraid of heights. Once when I was small, I had to be rescued from a miniature Ferris wheel. The double Ferris wheel had two regular size Ferris wheels at either end and the whole shebang turned on the connecting arm, going twice as high as a normal Ferris wheel.
He would not give up. He pouted. He shouted. He wheedled. He threatened to leave me at the fair without a ride home.
Finally, I gave in. I don’t remember why, except that I was tired and wanted to go home.
The guy strapped us in and I got a death grip on the bar that was lowered across our laps. He wanted to hold my hand, but I would not let go of the bar. He rocked the car and I screamed. This was before we even left the loading spot.
I closed my eyes and wondered if I could throw up without letting go of the bar.
I felt the car move and he said, “Look, look!”
I opened one eye and felt my stomach clinch. I closed my eye and tried to breathe deep. He rocked the car again, laughed, and I screamed, “Stop. Please stop.”
He was excited, ignored my distress and talked about the view or something. I tried not to think. The next thing I knew, the Ferris wheel lurched to a stop. I halfway opened one eye. We were on the very top; the car gently rocked in the breeze. He put his arm around me and again tried to hold my hand. I still would not release my death grip on the bar.
I gulped, tried to swallow, and not throw up. I was sweating. He leaned over and said something, whispered it in my ear. I had no idea what he said.
Finally, he said, “Did you hear me?”
“No,” I said “What? Just get me down from here.”
“I said I love you,” he said.
I was furious. I opened my eyes and looked at him. “Just. Get. Me. Down,” I said.
He looked hurt. At the time, I was not sorry. I was terrified. “Aren’t you going to tell me that you love me?” he said.
“No!” I screamed. “Get me down. I don’t care. Just get me down.”
Finally the wheel lurched and started its descent. I was out of the car as soon as the guy lifted the bar, and I staggered away from the mechanical monster.
He stalked away with me trailing after him. We didn’t speak all the way back to my house. We went in the house, and he went to talk to my mother. I went to my room and went to bed.
I cared about him, but that was the beginning of the end of the relationship. He thought he loved me, but he was clueless about how to really make me happy.
Every relationship, romantic or not, teaches us something. If we are open to the lesson.