The sticky sweat of the groaning asphalt, our Osh Kosh and our pigtails plastered to the cotton candied wishes of our daydreams.
Condors used to be extinct, and yet learned how to eat pebbles, other scraps of living. And so they are coming back, hearts beating, for more seasons than they were meant to see.
Let’s come back to this ride later, I always remember her saying. We always would, for she would grab my hand and offer me her on-brand chapstick, and we would split rainbow sprinkles. Pretend that we knew the gravity of who we were going to be. Put our hands in pockets, I’d borrow her jeans, we’d bring nickels that would clank around for safekeeping.
I was just escaping seven, and I was anchored in the idea that going on a ferris wheel, bucking your knees at a tilt a whirl, or accepting all the invites of my young, dewy cheeked classmates, would make me feel like I belong, forever. For home was silences and crevices and long awnings that collected dust, for they were made of pine. I lived in a home where when you sat on the ground, and looked up, you thought you were in trees. The dark spots mottled and placed together, almost so you could see faces. So much so that my friends would come over – sleeping bags bulging – just to anchor ourselves down, get settled, look up, and see what we could see.
Maybe that’s why I soared with birds in my mind. I was used to looking upward, to flocking with a bunch of others: not sure where we were headed, or if we’d always fly together.
Or maybe, because I was so lonely, pretending to be a bird made me feel less hollow, less pecked open, more serene. Only as an adult would I learn that my parents not hugging me – ever – might mean something more than benign longing.
Condors too, made nests laid out on open facing cliffs, bare. No safety from predators, no love and care of twigs and nesting. Let the young scurry: learn what toughness is – beaking love – instead of caring.
So, I went to theme parks with noises too crowded for my own brain to properly think. If you found a snapshot of me there, I’d be all eyes, pointed skyward, hoping for the clouds to downpour, or to give me a sign.
My friends ate cotton candy and hotdogs, while I gnawed on gobstoppers, or Dippin’ Dots, or pretzels with beer cheese. Always the friends' moms carralling me, bringing me to the great escape. Never my mother, for she shuttled me off to my friends, an infinity loop like swooping flocks about to eat.
I thought if I kept going, if I was tall enough to ride, my friends would really see me, and they would never leave.
The Condor ride was Dani’s – my fair weather friend’s– favorite. She would insist we trek up marblecased stairs made out of twine, made to look like cabins newly planted, although they looked slightly gaping and rotting. Sometimes she’d bring others, and we’d shuffle to figure out where we were upon the wingspan of Dani’s light. She, though, always in the center: the orbit for which we flew around, a baby’s mobile.
The eyes when approaching the ride were cavernous, painted yellow, even though I knew they should be marked differently. I’d studied birds under covers spilling, trying to understand why we liked the ride so much. Condors gregarious when they needed something: retreating after they all shared a meal together. I understood the need to left before being left, and so, I figured, I would fit in as a Condor: splayed open, unpopular, scavenging for love where I could find them, found somewhere between the scraps and the damp air.
To get to the ride of the bird with back splayed feathers, inked and dripping, we’d have to shed a layer. Sweating off what we were when we were still on the ground.
We’d huff there and we’d wait, and the ride wasn’t even as scary as the rollercoasters. Yet Dani wanted this ride the most all the same. This ride didn’t dip, and didn't make our bellies upset. Our first time ever, long before, we’d first asked the ticketer what a Condor was. We’d been shaking and somewhat scared.
He pointed to the birds, crocheted on each trapdoor, each awning, each little buggy car.
They’ll get ya dizzy, he said.
And, so, when we climbed in, we didn’t have to seatbelt ourselves in place. Yet, we – like the birds– had to share the metal bar, the offering split between two full bellies. The bar was hot and blistering, nestling us there, in the shared space. The way we were both tucked in with the same safety wire made me feel like we were part of a necklace, beaded and threaded together, forevermore.
You’re my best friend, Dani uttered when we got skyside. She’d wait until the ride reached the atlas, the highest altitude and point, until no one could hear us except the cooing of the birds. Some were cantering around in circles, just like the feathered ones did, high above us in the actual vertical clouds. It was nearly approaching sunset, and the ride wouldn’t be what I remembered. My memory was found in swirling devotion: the birds painted on with angelic care, upon the sides of the cars, whizzing. That was how I remembered them.
The way the people below us became specks, so only the two of us mattered. The gravity of the Condors’ way of flocking and diving into mini circles, spreading apart then back in – never crashing – that I’d remember first. That movement was phenetic and felt like a throng of something you could almost touch, a belgoning almost homed by wanting something badly enough that you’d risk colliding, going sky high until your chin wavered, becoming birdlike for ninety seconds. All of us, especially us two, careening to a stop long before you wanted to be free. Wailing, screeching, those birds that always were meant to find the other one’s feathers. To preen them, to see them, to molt when they were no longer of use to them.
Come back to me, I’d whisper near my window, as soon as I got home again.
I didn’t learn until much later that I didn’t have to forage to keep people close. I didn’t have to preen off my fears, in order to feel safety.
Leslie Cairns holds an MA degree in English Rhetoric. She lives in Denver, Colorado. She has upcoming poetry/flash fiction/short stories in various magazines, including Coffeezinemag, Pink Plastic House, Broken Poetry, Cerasus Magazine, Millennial Pulp, Wishbone Words, and others.