July 8, 2016

Odyssey of Light Series: Part 4

Odyssey of Light Blog Series
Part 4: Installation Day (Or, "Why Did Millennium Force Break Down?")

This is part 4 in a five-part series, in which I finally tell the truth about myself, my music, and my identity in Christ. For this entry in the series, I am building around a paper I wrote for my senior year English class (hey, I was told I could write about ANYTHING) which gives an account of August 16, 2005. Lots of you have read this version before, so I include it here, along with the proper rest of the story. Read the entire thing all the way through for the best experience. Also, this the longest entry, so buckle up, guys.

Same outfit, different park! Carowinds, 2009.

I woke up on August 16, 2005, with it starting as a normal day. 

I remember exactly what I wore: a blue Arizona t-shirt with a daisy in the middle, khaki capris with pockets in the butt, the only sports bra I owned, and tennis shoes with socks. It was an overnight trip, so I had a bag packed for the next day. When I checked in with my mother, she asked if I had a purse, and gave me a small cross-body strap purse to hold money and my brick phone.

I still have these clothes. I wish to be cremated in these clothes.

The old school bus bumped along the road as we headed north towards our destination.  I closed my eyes, waiting.  Before embarking on our destination, the driver, also our youth pastor, told us the trip would take three hours.  We were only an hour into our trip and I was bored.

We all gathered at North Terrace, saddled up in the Barney bus, and started our three hour trek north. Someone played music over the speakers, and the bus was filled with chatter and teenagers doing generally teenage things. I took up the right seat near the front and watched Ohio roll outside my window, fading from hills to cornfields. At some point we stopped for a break, then had to stop again before we got there because my friend Katie had to use the bathroom.

My youth group was headed to Sandusky, Ohio, to visit an amusement park; Cedar Point to be exact.  Unlike many of the other kids who were on the bus, this would be my first time at Cedar Point.  I had joined up with my friend, Lauren, and a pair of red-haired sisters, Megan and Katie, who would show me around the park.  I did not know what exactly to expect, but I had visited another amusement park the previous month, and knew I would easily fall asleep that night with a serious case of vertigo.  

Lauren, Katie, Megan, in case you’re wondering, ta-daaaaah. In a way, this is as much your story as it is mine, but I doubt you’ve ever really realized what happened. I’m sure in the days to come, you figured out something was kind of weird about me, but either kept it to yourself or shrugged it off.

I hope you’re all happy in life. I know I am.

Imagine a small town on the shore. You know, something picturesque and Americana, with the town hall and small shops and ice cream stores in the summer, with a long strip of developed cornfield outside town home to everything from Walmart to Goodwill to Buffalo Wild Wings. As you drive down the strip and watch the buildings go by, you notice there are more hotels in this small town than usual. Some of them have signs for special ticket prices and shuttles to Cedar Point.

You follow most of the cars over a ramp and then to the right, driving through town. There are strange stoplights over your head. If it’s early in the morning, the entire street is one-way, directing you to the right and then to the left. This will change later in the day to assist traffic to and from the park. As you get to the left, there’s a huge sign here for Cedar Point. But there’s no amusement park to be seen.

You follow the cars past more hotels and campgrounds to your left, and water to your right. There’s no sign of anything anywhere, but there are lots of cars driving on this road. Then, suddenly, without any warning, the hotels disappear, and there it is.

Far out to your left is what appears to be an island in the middle of Lake Erie. The causeway you’re driving on is one of the only links between this peninsula and the real world. And on this island are towers, rides of all shapes and sizes, trees and boats and swooping roller coasters of heights unimaginable. The Statue of Liberty would see eye to eye with some of these rides. There’s an energy in the air that you can’t deny as you realize you’re going to spend the rest of your day on this island, this little oasis of thrilldom.

This is Cedar Point.

Little did I know how real the case would be as we arrived on the peninsula that held the park.  We climbed out of the bus, taking everything with us, and I met up with my friends as we entered the park.

As a new roller coaster junkie, I was looking forward to the Point. I hadn’t really done any research, mostly because this was 2005 and I didn’t know where to look on the Internet. But there was one roller coaster that I knew I could handle: Millennium Force. It was taller than any coaster at Kings Island, 310 feet above the skies. It sounded like the perfect challenge. I had also heard a lot about the really really tall one, but I didn’t want to waste my entire day waiting in line. The consensus was that I’d be waiting three hours in line for a sixteen second ride. Nope. Millennium Force all the way.

We got off the bus and went as a mass exodus to the group ticketing counter. While Brent got our tickets, I stayed in a group with Lauren, Megan, and Katie. I was excited until I saw the standing tent sign in front of the main ticketing area.

“Rides Closed For Today: Millennium Force.”


I panicked for about fifteen seconds, compounded by Katie’s revelation that she hadn’t really been on a roller coaster and was kind of afraid of them. I wasn’t going to get a chance to ride anything! But then I settled down. Calm your jets, Emily. You’ve never been to Cedar Point. Everything is going to be new and exciting for you. So what if you can’t ride Millennium Force today? Go have fun.

And in hindsight? If Millennium Force had been open that day, I would have rushed right toward it, ridden it, and had an amazing time, I’m sure. And August 16, 2005, would still be a good day in my memory. But the beauty of this day, and the reason why it is the most important day of my life, is that Millennium Force did shut down and stayed down all day. There is something very important God chose to use at Cedar Point, and I would have missed it entirely had Millennium been open.

Instead, I looked toward the front of the park and noticed a wooden coaster, not too tall, painted blue. As someone from a regional park full of wooden coasters, it piqued my interest. I poked Megan. “We should go on that one first. I think it would be great for Katie.” And as we went up Blue Streak, my first ever roller coaster at Cedar Point, I felt myself smile inside. It really did feel good to be back on a roller coaster, reminded again of God’s grace and how He was transforming my life into something beautiful that I no longer recognized.

I quickly realized that Cedar Point had nowhere near enough park maps; the only place you could get one was the entrance.  As I grabbed my park map, Lauren, Katie, and Megan pulled me towards the first roller coaster.  Through a period of about two hours, we waited in line for three coasters, riding each one.  As we climbed on one of the coasters, I could feel the excitement building inside of me.  Inside, it felt good to be back in an amusement park, but I wasn’t sure why...yet.

Lauren then recommended the Iron Dragon, a small steel coaster with cars that swung, and then the Wildcat, a tightly-woven small-footprint coaster across from the Dragon. After this, we were hungry, but the others were concerned about price. I simply told them to drink water to save money, and then footed the bill for a pizza we shared, probably with money my parents gave me. (At which point, present day me thinks, “Wow, some things never change.”)

I unfolded my park map, which had been sitting in my back pocket, and flagged down a waitress. “Excuse me, can I borrow a pen?” With that, I looked over the map and circled every single roller coaster’s name I could find. From what I heard, there were sixteen of them, and I wanted to find every single one. This was back when Cedar Point and Kings Island weren’t owned by the same company, and I found the Point’s map really hard to read. I picked out the ones I knew -- Top Thrill Dragster, Millennium Force, Blue Streak -- and had the other girls help me out. Lauren pointed out Mean Streak, the wooden coaster in the back that was her favorite.

I got to the point where I had one left and noticed a reddish colored roller coaster, tall, on the right side of the map. I looked at all the names, but couldn’t figure out what it was called. This was also before smart phones, so I couldn’t just look this up. Eventually, I decided it had to be called Magnum XL-200, because while that was a weird name, I knew it couldn’t be the Matterhorn.

To this day, I still don’t know how I survived on two pieces of pizza, a glass of water, and some late-night fries at the Point. I mostly chalk it up to Jesus.

After that, we stopped in a pizza place to have some food before we embarked on our next coaster.  I paid for the food, instructing the girls to order water to drink in order to save money (a trick I learned from working in the food business).  After we left, we headed toward one more roller coaster, which was near the tallest coaster in the park, Top Thrill Dragster.  

Megan recommended the Corkscrew next for Katie, which was small and only went upside down a few times. We approached a sitting area with the coaster over it. Before our eyes, the train did two corkscrews over our heads. I hoped nobody threw up on a regular basis.

This area will also be important later. 2008.
Across from the Corkscrew’s queue entrance was the park’s biggest roller coaster, the one that broke all those records in 2003, the three-hour-wait-sixteen-second-ride lawn ornament of doom: Top Thrill Dragster. A huge grandstand had been set up, Indy 500 style, with the open-air station decorated with racing flags. I had heard the roller coaster would go from 0-120 MPH in no time flat, and one of the trains was rolling out of the station, visible to the crowds below.

I stopped walking. “Hold on for a second, guys. I wanna watch this.”
“You’re not gonna ride that, are you?” one of the girls, probably Katie, asked me.

“Nah, I just wanna watch. Like, seriously, who wants to wait in line for three hours for a sixteen second ride?” I can hear you all in the back laughing already. Let me get there.

The train rolled up past the grandstands, where people were seated, watching the coaster like it was a real life drag race. The entire air rumbled with drag-racing sound effects. Vroom. Vroom. Then, with no warning, the stoplight next to the train lit up -- yellow, yellow, yellow, green. The lights on the tower lit up in the same configuration. VROOM.

And the train took off like Elijah, plucked from Earth by a golden chariot and whisked to the heavens in a vertical arc.

The design of the ride looks simple: take off, go up 420 feet, travel over the top, then come back down the other side. But videos and pictures do not do it justice. This thing flew, it raced for the sky, and I was gobsmacked. It took my breath away. I had never seen anything so fast, so powerful, in my entire life.

The other girls were too chicken to ride this ride, and I did not want to wait in line, but as we walked past, I stopped the others for a minute, anxious and curious.  I wanted to watch the coaster launch.  Before I could blink, it did, speeding past at breakneck speeds, mounting a huge curve in the sky and then returning to the earth as fast as it had left.  I merely stared, rooted to my spot.  While we waited in line for the next coaster, I watched Top Thrill Dragster run a few more times, often holding up the line in doing so because I was so entranced.

When I say I held up the line, I mean I literally pissed people off. I was so adamant about not taking my eyes off of Top Thrill Dragster that Megan had to drag me through the line. When we got to the point where I couldn’t see it through Corkscrew’s queue, I sulked until we got to the station, and I watched it there. Time after time, it did the same arc in the sky. Vroom. The drag strip lights shining 420 feet in the air. Vroom.

My heart, light as a feather even from watching it. Vroom.

After Corkscrew we took on Gemini, a racing coaster, and wound around to the back of the park. This was where the Frontiertown was, in addition to Lauren’s favorite coaster, the Mean Streak. We first rode the Snake River Falls flume ride, upon which we all got drenched. We then rode the circular swing ride to start drying off. I’m fairly certain we rode Raptor and THEN rode Mean Streak, because I do remember the tight wooden turns set against the sunset sky. So much of the middle part of the day is a blur to me.

What I do remember is this: the entire time, no matter where I was at the park, I still watched Top Thrill Dragster if it was in view, still raptured, still awestruck.

The day continued with more fun events.  Megan and Katie insisted on riding a few water rides, which resulted in the rest of us getting soaked.  After that incident, we rode a huge swing ride, which made the other three girls laugh when I dripped water the entire time.  Lauren insisted on taking the four of us on her favorite roller coaster.  Then, Katie wanted to ride the Ferris wheel.  Her reasoning was that she wanted a romantic ride in the sunset, but we insisted that would not happen because, simply, there were no members of the opposite gender to be found.  


It was past 9 PM, and Brent had told us that we were all meeting at the carousel at 10 PM sharp, closing time. We all figured our romantic Ferris wheel ride would be our last activity for the day. Meanwhile, Cedar Point lit up underneath our feet. The entire midway blazed with electric lights, the sign of summer.

I looked down below us and saw a roller coaster I did not recognize until I remembered it was the Magnum. I checked the time on my Fossil watch: 9:15. “Do you guys think we could go ride one more coaster?”

Lauren and Katie shook their heads, but Megan was game with standing in line with me, and so after our Ferris wheel ride was done, we split up. Lauren and Katie were going to find food, and Megan and I would wait in line to ride the Magnum. Magnum was also right by Top Thrill Dragster, and you can guess what I started doing in the queue line.

That actually looks fun. I guess I’ll just have to come back at some point and ride it. Along with Millennium Force.

Megan and I talked for a while, and I told her about some of my creative plans. I wanted to come out with a new album, and then also possibly participate in National Novel Writing Month for the first time in November. Losing Studio LRPLI meant I didn’t have any ideas on what to write, but I didn’t want to give up. I had tried that already -- I had quit creating anything in July for three days to make my dad happy, which worked until my mom told me to snap out of it.

I had always felt out of sync with my dad. April’s events had just driven that home.

Toward 9:45, Megan said she was leaving the line to go find our friends. I nodded and told her I’d keep an eye out for her and a hand on my cell phone. (This predates text messages.) I looked up at the big red-colored roller coaster, hoping I’d get a chance to ride it. I didn’t want to leave the park without getting a chance to. I’d stayed in line this long.

Solo queue time was a time of reflection. Just four months earlier, my father had condemned me and my mother had misunderstood me. Since then, God had changed me from the inside out, claimed me as His when I had chosen Him above all else during SITS. But that was something my parents couldn’t see. For all I knew, they still believed I was a deviant who spent all of her time in the basement. And I was certain my relationship with my dad would never heal.

I knew if I could just get to college, then I’d be free to make my own decisions. I’d feel a lot less shame about myself. Being at home felt like being stuck in a bird cage...which was the exact opposite of how I felt in Christ, how I felt on the Vortex at Kings Island, how I felt now while standing in line for Magnum, watching Top Thrill Dragster race for the sky again and again.

I reached the station, then was next in line. From the other side of the station, I saw Megan. “We have to go now!” I glanced at my watch: 10 PM sharp. I was out of time.

So instead of sitting down, I climbed over the train’s seats and headed toward the exit. I looked back at the roller coaster I should have been on. “I’ll be back for you,” I whispered under my breath. Then, I joined up with Megan and began what would become the most important run of my life.

Finally, we tried to squeeze one more ride in, but the park began to close.  The youth group had to meet at the front of the park; my group found ourselves situated in the back with no time to waste.  We began to sprint towards the front of the park, but for a second in time, as we passed Top Thrill Dragster, I stopped, looking back at it and watching it launch one last time.

Okay okay okay. The senior year paper puts this waaaaaaaaaay too mildly. I’ve got your attention, right?


Because this next part is, as they say here in NYC, mad cray. Throw your expectations in the back of the Barney Bus and suspend your disbelief. Let’s see this situation through seventeen year old Emily’s eyes.

Brent had warned us that if we weren’t at the front of the park by 10, he would be leaving us behind. Obviously he wouldn’t actually leave us behind, but we knew he was serious. “Lauren and Katie are getting us fries,” Megan told me. “We’ll meet up with them.” We then took off in a sprint together, heading out of Magnum’s exit line and back onto the midway. Most of you know I’m well-endowed, so I was thankful I had worn my sports bra. I focused on the area in front of me. Cedar Point was still packed with people, and I didn’t want to run into anybody.

Megan took a lead, which doesn’t surprise me in hindsight, as I’ve never been that athletic. Meanwhile, the commentary went on through my mind. Wow. I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to ride Magnum. We approached Top Thrill Dragster, on my right side, and I ran right past the grandstands. Okay, so when I get there, I’ll say I’m sorry, and then I’ll probably get scolded, but it will be okay. Because I’m sorry. I’m always sorry.

I raced right past Dragster and toward Corkscrew’s huge turns. There’s nothing else I can do. I’m trapped. My dad won’t let me be myself. But I meant what I said to Megan. I’m gonna keep going and keep creating, and keep making music and writing. Even if my dad tries to stop me. Even if anybody tries to stop me! I know that God’s ahead of me, leading my path. I’ll be free someday and create on my own, for Him.

To be free, to be able to fly like that --

Freeze time.

Imagine Cedar Point, frozen, ten o’clock PM. People fitting their last rides in, rides lit up. Then me, stopped in mid-air, running towards Corkscrew. I pause here to reassess because I must now attempt to explain what I haven’t been able to for eleven years.

The moment my foot hit the pavement after thinking that, to be able to fly like that, I felt an explosion of power unlike anything I had ever felt before. It was God, I knew it had to be -- but this was more than just God’s presence. This was God’s will, God’s power, entering and changing and shifting much in the way he had on Remembrance Day. But instead of taking something out, He was putting something in.

I kept running. My feet stopped hitting the ground, and it felt like I was running on air. I was still being propelled forward, but in this moment, I wasn’t concerned with being on time. I wasn’t thinking anything at all. I was certain it was just my imagination, but I swore I could see a huge light coming from inside of me, like I was being struck by lightning.

I ran like this for the longest five seconds of my life, glowing like the Stardust I had been named after. As the lightning faded, I stopped running, partially to catch my breath and partially to figure out what in blue blazes just happened to me. In that moment, all was silent in my mind, all was silent around me, and then.


I turned to the right just in time to watch Top Thrill Dragster ascend toward the skies, and I realized that the power from before hadn’t left. I didn’t feel like I was being electrocuted anymore, but I felt a drive, a -- a feeling of flying, inside of me where my soul should probably be. And it felt exactly like what I was watching in front of me.

I turned and ran behind Megan. We found Lauren and Katie, and I got fries covered in ketchup. Then, we all ran together to the carousel at the front of the park. Brent wasn’t mad. I sat by the carousel and tied my shoe. What was that? I put my hand to my chest. Was that real? What’s going on here? Where am I? What am I?

I looked back up, toward the park. Cedar Point was still lit up for the night, and far in the distance, the tallest roller coaster in the park glowed bright in its launch colors. Yellow, yellow, yellow, green. And in that moment, I think my soul knew what my brain took a few years to process. I started to cry, then I started to bawl, losing the Dragster through my tears.

I didn’t want to leave.

I wanted to go back.

I wanted to ride the Magnum, then the Dragster. I wanted to ride them for God. But I wanted to ride them for me. I wanted to break free, to race for the sky, and I felt powerful and driven enough that it just barely seemed possible.

Ezekiel 36:26 in the Bible makes mention of an old heart of stone being removed and it being replaced with a new heart. To me it felt more like a computer, where my old operating system had been deleted and wiped, and a new one had just been installed. The seven weeks in between my Remembrance Day and this new Installation Day were ones I had to spend leaning on God, and now, with this new drive, I could stand on my own two feet again, running eternally behind His lamp leading my way. And those of you who know my past know that I would go on to do so. Without this drive, I would have never come out with Heaven’s Light, or passed National Novel Writing Month, or made it through my senior year and onto Miami. And this drive remains to this day, even after I’ve forsaken God and turned away for my stupid reasons, and you want to know why?

Because God, in those five seconds, the most important five seconds of my life, tied my identity and my wishes to something that would inspire me to do just that. I wanted to fly, so I should be inspired by something that literally raced for the sky. Even when turning away from Him, I’ve been unable to turn away from my love for roller coasters, and particularly my love for Top Thrill Dragster. It became an item of obsession up to the point where, a few years after this incident, my brain caught up with my soul and I realized something that is going to sound incredibly hokey.

I am Top Thrill Dragster.

Okay, I know I’m not literally a roller coaster. That would make me certifiably crazy, and I’d be writing this from a mental ward. I’m human, through and through. But there are people who have called me out on it. More than once, someone has started to meet me, learned about my story, and then turned to me and said, “You’re a roller coaster.” And I usually stare at them in shock, and up until now I haven’t confirmed it. But I figure, so what? If I’m Top Thrill Dragster, that means that the power and drive that still lives within me is the same hydraulic system that’s used to power Dragster throughout the summer. If it can launch a train up to 120 MPH in 4.2 seconds, it can launch my career -- as long as I’m on the starting block and in place. It’s as part of my identity as being a lesbian is. I may not shout it from the rooftops, but I won’t be afraid anymore. I’m Top Thrill Dragster, and God made me that way.

Plus, there’s one more thing. When we left Cedar Point as a group that night, I kept my distance from the other girls. I didn’t want them to see me cry, or make them think I had a horrible time (far from it). As we climbed onto the bus, one of the adult chaperones asked if I was okay. I nodded. “Overwhelmed?” I nodded, hardcore, then got on and slipped back into my seat, looking out the window. Cedar Point remained, the Blue Streak, the front gates, the Dragster far off in the distance. I touched the window, desperate to get off, desperate to stay, to remain.

And then, in the back of my mind, I heard the voice, in the same cadence that had given me my new name: Home.

It was then that I realized why I was so hooked on the coaster, and the other coasters of the park as well: because of the speed it had, topping a hundred and twenty miles an hour.  Back home, I was just a girl who seemed outgoing on the outside, but was really shy on the inside and did not feel like she could do much of anything.  In a place like Cedar Point, however, I could truly fly, thanks to rides such as Top Thrill Dragster.  It was then that, since I did not get the chance to ride, I vowed to return to Cedar Point and ride Top Thrill Dragster...and in promising that to myself, I seemed to give myself a drive inside of me, one that I would not realize until much later.  This drive, however, would fuel my desires and truly propel me to ‘race for the sky.’

And I fully intend on returning to do so.

PART 1: The Before And The How (July 2)
PART 2: Remembrance Day (July 4)
PART 3: The Vortex Complex (July 6)
PART 4: Installation Day (July 8)
PART 5: The After And The Now (July 10)