“That kid’s gonna blow like Vesuvius,” warned the amber-haired man, backing away.
“Someone grab a trashcan!” shouted a crabby mother of three. She seemed likelier to explode than the twiggy middle-schooler who swayed precariously in line for the Kingda Ka.
“You alright?” Tricia asked, the girl’s eyes turning up like cavernous moons of helplessness; she had jet-black hair against preternaturally pale flesh.
Within an instant, the kid’s face turned, chameleon-like, from ash-white to toxic waste green, the same hue as the roller coaster towering over them, the tallest in the world.
“Kid, can you hear me?” Tricia barked. The girl winced as if Tricia were a too-bright object, then lurched forward as if possessed. The crowd skittered back to encircle her like she was a sideshow act.
“Is she choking?”
“Maybe she needs the Heimlich!” people shouted.
The poor kid belched guttural hiccups with horrible spasms, like a dog horking up a bone.
“Can you talk?!” Tricia demanded, the only one to breach the circle. Where were her stupid parents, anyway? Tricia stepped forward gingerly, holding up her hands as if the girl were a wild animal she hoped to calm.
“I— I—” the girl sputtered, panting.
There were a thousand ways to finish the sentence: I’m having an anxiety attack! I lost my parents! I shouldn’t have eaten three hot dogs for lunch!
“What, kid? What?!” Tricia said. “What is it?!” Maybe the girl was terrified of the Zumanjaro Drop of Doom. Oh jeez, maybe the girl had already gone up and shit her pants?! Tricia sniffed the air suspiciously, but only detected the stale-fart odor of wet popcorn on the sticky asphalt.
Just as she placed her hands on the girl’s shoulders, the kid retched, “Bleeeeeeeeeech!!” spewing cotton candy barf all over Tricia’s faded Six Flags T-shirt, coating it in regurgitated syrup and bile.
Suddenly, Tricia was five.
She was crouched under the dining room table, cloaked by the long red tablecloth, shoving a can’s worth of pitted black olives into her mouth. As her family assembled for dinner, she ralphed gray-green intestinal tapenade onto the carpet, making a dark stain that none of her mother’s scrubbing would ever remove. “Five! No more than five!” her mother shouted every Thanksgiving thereafter when Tricia reached for the glass serving dish.
Tricia was eight, sick with flu.
“Momma…” she wavered in a voice that sent her mother running.
“Wait for the bucket!” her mother shouted from the kitchen, fumbling frantically beneath the sink. Tricia heard her bounding down the hallway, holding out the blue rubber bucket in slow-motion, but it was too late—she projectile-yakked all over her mother, the yellow bedspread and the buff white carpeting. Again.
Tricia was fourteen.
Joe, a gorgeous senior she was totally crushing on, passed her his cigarette behind the performing arts building after practice. “Don’t inhale,” he warned, since it was her first time, but the smoke found its way into her lungs anyway. Before she knew it, Tricia blew chunks all over Hamlet’s new Topsiders.
Tricia was sixteen.
Her best friend had snuck a bottle of Smirnoff from her parents’ liquor cabinet for their Halloween sleep-over. They mixed it with grape Kool-Aid and sipped it all night, laughing like hyenas each time Tricia’s mother came in to shush them; they finally passed out after midnight with their costumes on, black wigs and all. The next morning, the two teen witches fought each other for the bathroom where they puked streams of purple sick into the tub of peeled grape eyeballs.
Tricia was twenty, feeling queasy after finals.
She was strung out from all-nighters of study and partying; sleepless and exhausted, she couldn’t keep anything down. Wait for the bucket! she could hear her mother scream, chuckling through the nausea in the Student Health Center. She expected the nurse to say it was the flu or mono, but instead she confirmed that Tricia was, in fact, pregnant, and was this planned? “No,” Tricia whispered, staring down at her scuffed Keds. She had forgotten about the hot blond guy from UMass that she hooked up with over spring break. She promptly vomited Cap’n Crunch chunks into the wastebasket.
Tricia was thirty-eight and divorced—no husband, no babies, no house, not even custody of her cat—eating black olives from the can and drinking vodka martinis alone.
It was the first Thanksgiving since her mother died. Tricia had spent the summer at her bedside, watching her attempt to puke delicately into the hospital’s flimsy plastic tureens. “Wait for the bucket!” Tricia teased, handing a fresh one to her mother, who coaxed what would be her last laugh. Tricia wasn’t feeling particularly festive, nor was she looking for pity—no way was she sharing a rickety card table with her friends’ kids—so she microwaved a Swanson’s turkey dinner and passed out in front of the yule log on TV.
The next morning when she arrived at Six Flags, she hoped the crisp air and the force of the Kingda Ka traveling at 128 miles an hour would restore her spirits. Her mother used to sign her out of school to ride the roller coasters when they needed a day away; it was the only place they both felt like they could scream.
On her first ride, Tricia conjured her mom’s Palmolive-soft hand in hers at the apex of the curve, and an instant of weightless freedom as the car fell away. She had just rejoined the line for another go when the girl puked on her.
“I’m—sorry,” the kid burped, wiping the vomit with her sleeve.
“That’s okay,” Tricia shrugged. Maybe God was saying she’d feel better if she let it all go—her mother, her ex, the life she had been building. Unlike her upchuck reflex, Tricia wasn’t sure if that was possible, or if she had enough faith in her to start again.