Maybe this is just my experience, but graduating high school has made me nostalgic like nothing ever has.
I guess it’s because graduating high school is the first huge change I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I’ve graduated from schools before – twice, actually – but elementary school into middle school and middle school into high school wasn’t that huge of a change. School was still school, and the people were mostly the same, as was the place. My role in the world stayed pretty constant as well.
But now, leaving behind high school, I also leave behind the majority of people I know, the place I grew up in, and I’m taking on more personal responsibility than I’ve ever had before. I’ve been an “adult” but never before have I had to prove that by living independently.
I’m thankful I have the summer as a transitional period – I feel like it’s helping a lot, believe me – but there’s still a really loud, huge part of me that takes joy and comfort from turning away from the very real, very scary future staring me down and clutching onto the places and things I loved in the past.
After all, the past is done. It’s already happened. I don’t have to deal with the struggles and the hardships of the past anymore, now I can just focus on the good things that are past. It’s easy and comfortable.
And so… Holiday World.
For several summers in my childhood, my family made it a tradition to go with a few other families to Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. We would camp at the park’s official campsite, Lake Rudolph, and spend one or two days in the park while spending the rest of the time cooking meals over the campfire and enjoying “nature.”
That tradition more or less fell to the wayside with the arrival of marching band, and the fact that all of the families got busier and busier as their kids got older, but it was enough of a monolith of my past that it remains one of my favorite places in the whole wide world.
It was Holiday World where I rode my first roller coaster. It was “The Raven,” the smallest of Holiday World’s three major wooden coasters. I was goaded into it by my friend, and I prepared by watching first person ride videos and talking nervously and incessantly in line to distract myself. I enjoyed the ride, but felt that I had fulfilled my quota of big rides and didn’t ride any others for the rest of that trip. I vowed to take on the next two biggest coasters in the following two years, but I enjoyed the middle-biggest coaster “The Legend” so thoroughly the next year that I also took on “The Voyage,” the biggest and baddest.
Now, I love roller coasters and thrill rides. They fulfill a need to feel brave in a controlled and almost 100% safe environment.
It was at Holiday World that I first got a taste of independence. By the time I had been to the park two or three times, my parents decided I was old enough to wander it with my friends without their supervision. I was probably only in middle school then, possibly even younger, so it was the first time ever I was allowed to dictate exactly where I wanted to go and when and how without my parents. It was liberating.
So I guess, in that way, it makes sense why I approached the summer after my senior year of high school with the desire to go back. Holiday World was a place of childhood fun and innocence, but it was simultaneously a place where I grew up and came into my own. It was, in a way, like dipping my toe into what independence feels like, into what courage feels like.
And now I’m going again with two friends. One was the one who goaded me into taking that first ride on “The Raven,” while the other isn’t too fond of roller coasters herself (but who knows, Holiday World has a habit of changing people’s minds on that topic, as I know firsthand).
I will, for the first time, be able to drive the golf carts around the campsite since I now have a drivers’ license. Now, that independence I felt in the park will be available to me at the campsite too.
Now, I’ve got the keys and the license to go wherever, whenever. I’ve got decisions to make, and thrills and dangers around every corner. So I suppose while it is a place of nostalgia and childhood happiness for me, it’s also feels a little bit like a microcosm of the world I’m living in now.
(Well, except for the free soft drinks and sunscreen. That’s not, in my experience, something that happens in your adult life too much.)