When I was little, my dad would try to take our family to a water park once every summer. Even though he worked 40 hour weeks, he always tried his best. The water park wasn’t very far from our house, only an hour away, but with each minute that passed, my body quivered with excitement. My mom would pack sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly for me, wrapped in parchment paper and a chicken breast sandwich for her and Dad. The only bad part I hated about the water park was when my mom slathered sunscreen all over me. Sometimes it ran into my eyes and stung. “Mom! There isn’t that much sun out today! I don’t need it!” I shouted, struggling to run into the park, but she yanked me back. “Paul Asher Duflo, you’re going to regret it when you’re older. Now stop jerking around or I’m going to get sun screen in your eyes!” she would always say. I would stay still for five seconds and she would give up. My dad would shout after me to meet at noon at the usual gazebo for lunch and I would stick my thumb up, my grin too wide to be contained. I rode the water slides as many times as possible, darting up the stairs past the teenage couples, past the friend groups, and past the young married couples. I was the fastest Paul Duflo on the slides. I loved the orange one more than anything because of the sharp turns and it always felt longer. I never wanted the fun to end. When it was around noon, I would dart back to the gazebo and scarf down my sandwich leaving sticky residues of peanut butter and jelly down my bare chest. My dad would either be dozing off or happily sitting with a beer in one hand and my mom would have a book in her hand. Once I caught them riding the Lazy River hand in hand and even as a child, I knew I shouldn’t intrude. Something about them stuck with me. Our family usually stayed the entire time until an hour before the park closed. They would usually have to drag me out kicking and screaming, but I knew we were coming back next year.
Unfortunately, I had to go to college, so for a couple of years, I never stepped foot into the water park. Things got busy and four years turned into ten. My parents were still happy, but it became evident that the 40 hours my dad worked was proving to be straining. Whenever I visited for the holidays, he was propped up on a mound of pillows. “What’s with all the pillows, Dad?” I asked. His mouth twitched into a smile before he said, “I’m learning how to be a princess. There’s a pea under all my pillows.” I laughed and playfully punched him on the shoulder. I knew he was having back problems by the way he walked and by the appearance of his swollen feet. My mom tried to find a job, but because of her age, no one would take her. Every time I returned home, there was a big ball of stress looming above the house. All my parents wanted to do was talk about how I was doing. There were times when I straight up lied about having a girlfriend, having a job and being happy. It became a habit and I spun my stories around my successes just so I could hear my Dad laugh and my Mom look like she was put together again. For one moment, I was the fastest kid in town, Mom and Dad were the happiest couple and our worries were nonexistent. In reality, the Duflo family had too much pain, but we just became experts at hiding it.
One summer day, I had another round of disappointing interviews. Everyone politely said thank you with that smile full of pity before sending me on my way. Before driving home, I crumpled my résumé into a ball and flung it at my car. “Why is it so hard to be happy?” I drove furiously home, stopping at the store to pick up a case of beer. “I don’t care if I can’t afford it. I deserve better than this shit hole.” I muttered, making my way to my car. The rattling beers in the passenger seat mimicked my thoughts and my shaking hands. Tears started flowing uncontrollably down my face and I started screaming at the traffic. “Fuck this shit! I’m stuck here in what is the worst place ever and all I want to do is go home and drink 5 beers until I pass out! This world has turned me into an alcoholic because that’s the only thing that will numb out this wonderful thing you call life! Fuck it all!” I accidentally hit the steering wheel sending a loud blaring honk to the car in front of me. Without a word, the driver stuck out his arm and flipped me off. At this point, I pretty much lost all of my senses. Tears and snot run down my face and my hands are too slow to catch it all. It was like the traffic light pitied me, it turned green and I was on my way. My tears blurred the road turning all the cars into colorful moving blobs that threatened my existence. Even through my tears, I saw a bright neon sign of the water park I went to as a kid. I muttered to myself, “I may be almost 44 and my life sucks right now, but I remember the days when I felt like Superman.” I remembered darting through the slides and epically emerging from the pool. Lifeguards were my nemesis and I escaped their hold. I remembered my parents, their faces so serene as they drifted around the bend of the Lazy River only to hear my mother squealing when she encountered an unexpected waterfall. My lips cracked into a smile and I whispered, “Why the hell not?”
I drove home with a new goal in mind. As soon as I stepped through the door where the house was usually too quiet to bear, I raced to my parent’s room where they usually were now and loudly said, “Let’s go to the water park again! It’ll be great!” My mom looked up from her self-help book and squinted at me. “Paul, have you been drinking?” I shook me head and knelt by her feet like I used to as a kid. “No mom! Smell my breath. I really think we should go! It’s so hot outside and the water is so cool.” She didn’t crack a smile and my dad didn’t move. “I know you mean well, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.,” my dad sadly said. It pained me to hear his voice so lifeless, but I had to bring his younger self out of him again. That was my new goal. I took my parent’s hands and begged, “Please, I beg you. Just one more time, one last ride, one wild one for the Duflo family.” Tears brimmed my mother’s eyes and she cracked a smile. “Why not, Hank? For good times sake?” her voice shook with emotion.
We packed our lunches. I spread the smooth peanut butter and jelly and carefully wrapped it in parchment paper and made my parent’s sandwich with my mom happily looking on. We bought our tickets without a care in the world and walked hand in hand into the park. The familiar shouts and screams filled me joy once again and I had an urge to run deep into the park, but I stayed put. Since my Dad’s back was troublesome, the only thing we could go on was the Lazy River. I would give everything to see my parents smile and laugh again. It was like we all became children and everything was okay again. Dad and I couldn’t stop laughing when Mom went under that unexpected waterfall again. We ended up going on the Lazy River so much that the staff recognized us. “Paul, why don’t you go on those slides you’ve always loved? Isn’t the Lazy River just too slow for you?” my mom said, her face glowing from the sun. I shook my head and said, “I’ve had my fair share of wild when I was little. Now’s the time to be lazy, a well deserved ride.”