Learning to Journey Together
Breaking through the protective shell.
“Are you almost ready?” Ashley asked as her family prepared to leave for the amusement park.
“Yeah, almost,” Jermaine answered his wife.
Things had been tense between them lately. Jermaine was used to solving problems with his mind at work, but nothing he had devised had rectified the pain in their relationship.
She stepped into the bathroom to begin brushing her teeth. Jermaine slid behind her, grabbing his brush and the toothpaste after she was done applying it. They stood there together in what would have been an awkward silence had it not been for the bristles scratching back and forth in their mouths. Jermaine glanced at her a few times, hoping to exchange a mood-lightening smile. She looked straight ahead and would not meet his eyes. He assumed that she was aching as much as he was, though his assumptions had not aided him in the past.
She spat the toothpaste and water out of her mouth before exiting the bathroom. An effortless sigh emerged from Jermaine. His stomach felt as though it would snap from the twisting tension. He rinsed out his toothbrush and locked the door. Leaning back against the wall, he stared at the terrified man in the mirror, though he could barely meet his own eyes.
He dropped his head into his hands as memories pulsated through his head. Screams still echoed after decades.
“I can’t take this anymore,” his mom yelled. “Why do you do this?”
“If you don’t like it, then leave. Get somebody else,” his dad retorted.
They pulled into the parking lot as Ashley gazed up at the sky-piercing roller coasters. Her family had made a second home of this park over the years. She jumped out of the car and wore the biggest smile on her face.
“It’s been so long since we’ve been here,” she commented.
“I know, I’m so excited,” her mom squealed.
Jermaine watched as they skipped up toward the entrance. He loved seeing Ashley so happy, but a crippling thought stung within him. “I wish I could make her feel that way.”
An instinct took over, one that had tagged along with him for as long as he could remember. He had often played aloof to life around him, wanting to jump in but believing that he failed to meet the prerequisites to qualify. He hung back a few feet behind Ashley and her parents, watching with envious admiration.
He was still as perplexed as he had been with Ashley in their recent conversations. Every word they said seemed to need an interpreter.
“You’re trying too hard,” she often told him.
He tried to sort out everything she said, attempting to fix her pain and make everything right. Anything less would require him to let his guard down.
She claimed that all she wanted was him. He knew that wasn’t enough, and wanted to spare her the disappointment.
“Are you coming?” She asked when they would reach a new ride.
“You guys go ahead; I don’t handle roller coasters well.”
This was true for the most part. It was also a convenient excuse for him to sit the day out. He felt as if he was being asked to play basketball against a prolific star. There was no way he would win that encounter, and there was no way he was enough for this woman at that moment. Why even try?
As the day wore on, Jermaine continued to pull back from the fun. Every time he turned down an invitation, a little light would leave Ashley’s eyes.
“Are you okay?” She inquired on a few occasions.
He assured her that he was fine. She resisted pressing any further, though she wore her suspicion like overdone makeup on her face.
Their day was over half over. They all stood in line to take the train to the other side of the park. Ashley grasped his hand and pulled him close. She pressed her cheek against his shoulder.
“Are you having a good time?”
“Yeah,” he replied as enthusiastically as he could.
“I hope so. I have always loved this place.”
She squeezed him tight as the train arrived. They climbed up the stairs and filed into the closest bench.
“There’s another roller coaster on the other side of the park,” she informed him.
“Oh, I don’t know…”
“I know you don’t like them, but this one was my favorite growing up. I’d really love for you to try it.”
Jermaine wanted to continue in his cocooned state, but he couldn’t deny Ashley’s plea. “Okay, I’ll go with you.”
They arrived at the other side of the park and jettisoned the train. Ashley clasped onto Jermaine’s hand and pulled him toward the roller coaster as if she was afraid that the timer on his agreement would run out. Jermaine struggled to keep up.
They reached the roller coaster and joined the others in line. Ashley used the wait to share all the wonderful times she enjoyed with her family and friends on the upcoming ride. Her enthusiasm began pulling Jermaine from the negative quicksand that had engulfed him for most of the day. She never let go of his hand, and repeatedly buried her face in his chest and pulled him closer.
It was their turn to enter the coaster seats at last. Jermaine slid in next to Ashley. To his surprise, there was no apprehension contorting his soul. Instead, there was only the excitement of an upcoming adventure, and the gratefulness of embarking on it with the person who saw his true potential. He buckled himself in and turned to gaze at his wife, who was still wearing a huge grin. He returned the gesture and reached for her hand. They faced the track and leaned forward, embracing the journey together.