July 10, 2016

Odyssey of Light Series: Part 5

This is part 5 in a five-part series, in which I finally tell the truth about myself, my music, and my identity in Christ. Special thanks to my awesome roommate Tamsin Silver for reading this over and making sure this was coherent! You are the reason I've made it through this city in one piece, and I wouldn't have made it without you. :)

James Fineran was my eleventh-grade English teacher, who taught me basically everything I’ve ever learned about writing papers. He always said that, at the end of your paper, your summary should say, “So what? Why did I just waste all my time reading this big long thing?”

Over the last four parts, I’ve delved into my history and my past. Now, we reach the “so what” -- and how this affects me today.

To be honest, though, it’s never stopped affecting me. Even after the tape rooms switched back on, I still tried my best to find God in everything. And they did not switch back on until people in my church asked me what I was doing, wondering why I was so “on fire” for God. It wasn’t appropriate to be so. I had to be quiet and meek and mild and all of this roller-coaster-Jesus talk wasn’t flying with them (no pun intended).

Most of you know at least the immediate aftermath. I became so obsessed with Top Thrill Dragster my senior year that I let the people around me take my fire for God. When I got back to the Point on August 7, 2006, I no longer felt anything but empty. I waited in line for two and a half hours, rode Top Thrill Dragster, and wondered what it was all for.

I finally left for Miami University shortly after that. Adjusting to college was harder than I thought, but I figured out what was missing. I joined a local college ministry and did everything I could to stay close to God in this physical world. During my sophomore year, I met Jake, my college sweetheart and (for a time) my coaster riding partner. We got to the Point on June 30, 2008, and raced for the sky together...only to fall backward to Earth again.

Yes, I got a rollback on Dragster the second time I rode it. I actually consider it God reversing my stupid, self-focused first ride from back in 2006.

My college days were filled with fun and friends and lots of roller coaster rides. I was 45 minutes away from Kings Island, so I would go frequently and take people with me. I wouldn’t always get the relationship thing right -- which makes more sense in hindsight, because I probably shouldn’t be having relationships with guys if it’s not natural for me to. But I don’t have any regrets. I spent so much time with God and roller coasters that I feel like I got three degrees -- one in music composition, one in theology, and one in what I call “Gravitaitonal Studies.”

I played my senior recital on April 18, 2010. Two days later, I met a boy who wanted to go to New York City after graduation. I had always wanted to go, but had let fear get in my way. What followed, slowly, step by step, was the dismantling of everything I believed about God. And it wasn’t necessarily because I had a shallow faith -- far from it -- but it was because I could no longer see myself in the family of God. Throughout my youth ministry career, I often butted heads with people because I liked to ask questions and look outside the box for answers. And I didn’t necessarily ignore my feelings for women; I just didn’t act on them because I knew I’d be kicked off the team if I did.

So instead, I started looking outside the box on my own. And on September 6, 2011, I flew on a one-way ticket to New York City, which was the worst thing I could have ever done for my faith. NYC is not known as being a city for Jesus. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing -- its beauty is in its diversity, and it has unity on its own. People here look out for each other. But those who preach Jesus in the streets are usually ignored, and it’s usually because they’re the most radical, those who like to say everybody’s going to Hell.

I worked on Sundays. I didn’t find a group in the city. I only had my boyfriend, and he monopolized my time and energy. We broke up in July of 2012, got back together in September, broke up again in November. In addition to that, I had quit my job in April, so I no longer felt secure simply working for a temporary agency. I was a mess.

For every bad thing that people say now about Garo, he did stabilize a lot in my life. Did he bring me back to Jesus? No. Did he protect me from the outside world? That he did. Did he do it maybe a little too well? I’d agree to that. We dated from January of 2013 until October of 2015. We lived together. We had sex. It didn’t matter to me anymore -- I had let my previous boyfriend take it from me and felt so broken, so failed, so far away from God. It was just an act, right? Just something people did when their hormones were just right.

During that time, I tried to make music and mostly failed. I wrote a book series, tried to promote it, and mostly failed. I watched too much TV, slept too much, and ate way too much Chinese food. I finally found employment at Equinox in December of 2013, and we all know how much I love that place. Equinox + Garo = me being secure in my identity...just, you know, not an identity in Christ. My ex-boyfriend was using that against me in an effort to get me back in his life, and others were starting to hate on me for my lifestyle, so I put it all on the back burner and flat-out ignored God for a solid two years.

But I didn’t forget August 16, 2005. The damned roller coasters wouldn’t leave me alone, so I’d drag Garo anywhere and everywhere. We took the NJT bus to Six Flags in Jersey. We rented a car and drove out to Dorney Park in Pennsylvania. We went to Washington D.C. to visit my friend Catherine and stopped by Kings Dominion. And we went to Cedar Point. It was still my wish to go to Cedar Point every year, to remember the day that everything changed, despite the fact that I felt so far away from it all.

In February of 2015, I realized I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer: I was as gay as Dragster was fast. I told Garo, he didn’t mind, and we were still committed to working on our relationship together. In July, I also realized I couldn’t run from God any longer, so I did what I could despite having no church, no support system, and no hope. Later in the summer, Garo told me he did not want to go to Cedar Point, that we had been there too many times and he wanted to try something new. It’s the biggest regret I’ve had in a long time, not going to the Point, and I should have realized it was a huge red flag. (And now you know, Mom, why I’m so adamant about this year.) In October, he broke up with me, which I was fine with until he told me he’d been cheating on me.

A week later, October 28th, 2015 became the second best day of my life (after, well, you know) because I told my parents I was gay and they did not hate me for it. Time changes people, for better or for worse. And life is too short. My relationship with my dad had gotten a lot better ever since being in the city. And I'm sure he had things he had to work on as well, in his life. Whereas the Emily of seventeen was afraid her dad would kick her out of the house, twenty-eight year old Emily knows better now.

Recently I’ve come to find other like-minded individuals like myself who have started blogs online. They speak of a God who shows love above all else, who gives us mercy when we mess up, and of a theology that spreads grace no matter what. At the same time, I didn’t know if I’d make it back to Cedar Point this year at all. But I knew my relationship with God couldn’t falter.

And so, I did the only thing I knew how to do. On June 7th, I set aside my day and headed to the only other place on Earth with a strata-coaster.

This is pretty accurate. April 2014.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: whomever built Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, had to have been on something.

The park was built in the 70’s after the huge boom that Kings Island started. It’s a rather small park -- I can be from one end to the other in about 10 minutes, if I know where I’m going. And that part is crucial because everything is haphazardly placed. It’s hard to tell where you’re going, the signs are vague, and there’s usually only one pathway to a ride that’s hidden or doesn’t look like anything in particular. It took me some practice to figure out where Kingda Ka was.

Top Thrill Dragster is classified as a ‘strata-coaster,’ breaking the 400 foot barrier. There is only one other roller coaster that does this, and it’s located an NJT bus ride away from me. Called Kingda Ka, it is slightly taller (456 feet) and slightly faster (128 MPH) than Dragster. It’s not themed the same way at all, there’s no area to watch it shoot off, and in recent years they’ve also attached a drop tower to the structure (which was a horrible idea because it kills Ka’s queue line).

Kingda Ka is not Dragster. But it’s kind of sort of like Dragster. Ish. And they have a few other decent coasters, as well. So it was that I arrived, as of this writing, three Tuesdays ago in Jackson fresh off the bus and headed straight to Kingda Ka. 

Kingda Ka, mid-drop tower install, and El Toro in the foreground, 2014.
People worry about me when I go to amusement parks by myself, but it also means I can take things at my own pace. I ran around and rode whatever I wanted, doing laps on Nitro on the other side of the park before noticing a huge storm cloud. Uh-oh. I ducked into a shop on Main Street just before it started to pour, staying inside for an hour, talking to people on my phone and looking at stuffed animals.

When the rain let up just a bit, I moved back outside, from one shop to another to the carousel to just under Nathan’s. The doppler didn’t say how long the rain would last; we were still under cloud cover. Was today shot? Should I find a bathroom to camp out in until the bus arrived later? I needed something to do. There was supposed to be a show near Kingda Ka, so I headed over that way, but the area was roped off. Too rainy for the show, apparently.

I thought about heading back over to the main section of the park, but then felt a tug back in Ka’s direction. All right, fine, you only live once. And it wasn’t like I had anything better to do. So I walked back over toward Kingda Ka. Strata-coasters won’t operate in any rain what-so-ever, as raindrops at 128 MPH feel more like pinpricks. But a small crowd had gathered near the lockers, and a few ride operators were shooting the breeze, so I listened in.

Eventually, the rain stopped. Rides re-opened. And finally, I heard the regular sound of hydraulics engaging and magnetic brake fins lowering. There’s no countdown on Kingda Ka, no vroom, but I know the style of coaster well enough that I know when and how it launches. And up, up, up it went, an extremely fast tiger on its own race to the sky.

We stormed the station, and I single-ridered my way onto the first train. I wondered if I’d get a rollback, since it had just rained and the tracks were wet. I pulled the restraints down and we rolled out of the station. Kingda Ka loomed over us, and as I looked up, I swore my vision shifted for just a second. The tower was no longer lime green, but yellow, and a voice in the back of my head said the words I had heard time and time again:

“Arms down, head back, and hold on!”

And that’s when I realized why I was there. I remembered why I rode. Because of God, because of Jesus, because of my identity. I remembered who I am -- not just a lesbian, not just Top Thrill Dragster, but a child of God. Loved. Whole. And I belonged here, just like everybody else. And it’s something I won’t let anybody take from me ever again.

That last line rings truer in recent days, because shortly after my visit to Six Flags, the city of Orlando would catch fire. And in the words of David Crowder, “I will not be silent. I will not be quiet anymore.”

June 7, 2016. :)

If you’ve read this series all the way through, I want to thank you for your time, for your patience, and for your suspension of disbelief in the interesting parts. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

From here on out, it’s my commitment -- both to myself and to you, my family, my friends, my fans -- to be more honest, more open. Louder. As loud as a vroom on a summer day. And after all that’s happened, there will be a bit of a pushback from my tape room. It’s easy for me to stay quiet. To not create. To be “normal.” But I refuse that for myself and for you all any longer. So, I invite you into my life. I intend on writing here more often, and publishing more often, to Bandcamp, to YouTube, to Soundcloud, to anywhere where my voice can be heard. And I’ll finally come out with all of the music I’ve been hiding. I’ve been working with my engineer to master it, and I hope to have an album release party as soon as it’s done.

I’d love to see you there, of course, but I’d love to have you along for the entire ride. If you’d like, we can go home, to Cedar Point. And if you’ve never raced for the sky, well, there’s never a better time to start! We’ll play rock-paper-scissors every time Top Thrill Dragster launches and I’ll tell you the story of how God works in all of our lives. And then we’ll arrive in the station, buckle up, and head toward the stars, this summer, every summer, for eternity.

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)