As I walk down the familiar venue of Myriad Boardwalk, I realize that this shoreline amusement park is different from it once was. I remember the bright, rich colors of the tents as vibrant displays of red and white. Colorful flags always flapped in the cool ocean air. At its prime, this popular retreat hosted locals and travelers nearly every weekend since its opening in the summer months of 1945. Now, with its dwindling number of guests and lack of ambiance, the Myriad is quite literally dead.
I continue forward, only passing a few others every now and then. None of them look familiar. Today is unlike most; the sky is gray and spotted with shadowy clouds that block the sunshine rather than welcoming it onto the beach. Most of the concession stands and games are closed. Only a few offer a moment’s amusement for a hefty price and a high chance of failure. To be quite honest, it is sad. The staff that now patrols the boardwalk reeks of oil and the sick stench of bitterness. The rides are useless in their mechanics. Nobody rides them anymore. With the passing times, the Ferris wheel became the symbol of amusement parks across the globe. At the Myriad, it is the symbol of a faded era.
When I was a little girl, I loved Myriad. As a small girl bouncing around in a yellow sundress, I went from stand to stand and begged the cheerful men to slip me a free treat. The first stop on my routine Myriad run was the cotton candy stand. The man who operated the machine, Pops, as I called him, always patted my bouncy curls and handed me a large swirl of pink cotton. I would thank him in my own girlish way and go off to bother someone else. Then I made my way to one of the numerous games. The staff all looked the same in their white suite jackets lined with red stripes, but that did not stop me from creating personal nicknames for each one.
I can remember this place as being grand and filled with life. I sometimes wonder both how and why I end up back here even when I know the memories I’ve made have died. Back then, my parents were young, jubilant, and in love. They took me to Myriad nearly every weekend. My mother always wore her high-waisted denim shorts with a polka dot bikini top. My father, the business man, wore a stunning brown suit with sleek pinstripes. I would later come to know that my father played a large role in the organized crime ring upon which Myriad was, more or less, founded. When he wasn’t placing loving pecks on my mother’s rosy cheeks, he was usually somewhere inconspicuous with his colleagues. Too young to thoroughly enjoy most of the rides at Myriad, my parents were sure to take me on the giant Ferris wheel. If we happened to get conveniently stuck at the very top, I squealed with delight. Then, against the setting sun, my parents would share a loving kiss that always made me feel as if I was the luckiest girl in the world. I knew heaven had to be real, because the Myriad Boardwalk was nothing short of paradise.
Even though the ocean was only a few feet away from the Boardwalk, I cannot say that I spent much time in the water. Sure, on the hotter days, my parents and I would splash around in the cool water, but most of the fun occurred on the Boardwalk itself. It was something that had become a part of me. The Myriad was a part of my life, and when I wasn’t dancing down the Boardwalk in my yellow dress, I didn’t feel like myself.
I haven’t since. It has been a good number of years since I have been back on these very same sandy planks. And like I previously mentioned, nothing is quite the same. It is depressing, really, to see such a vital part of my childhood eroded away by time.
Still wandering around, I spot off in the distance a couple holding hands and strolling down the shoreline. They look familiar to me, but I cannot see their faces. From behind, the couple seems old, but their love is still obvious as they share warm smiles and hands. I quicken my pace to have a better view. As I finally recognize who they are, my breath hitches in my throat. I start to jog, thinking that the faster I reach them, the better of a reunion it will be. It warms my heart to see their faces again.
I reach out to them, to place a hand on the older woman’s shoulder. Before I touch her, the woman stops and looks back at me. She studies me for a second as I say, “Momma?”, but she turns away. My father asks her what is wrong. Her brow furrows, and she says, “I thought I felt something, but it was nothing.” They continue their stroll down the beach. I jump to grab my father, to beg him to stop and turn around, but my hand grabs air.
Some time ago, I strayed too far from my parents’ watchful eyes. Not because I disobeyed, but because I was a teenager. I thought boys were cute, but my father made boys nervous, so I often wandered off to meet my friends during our routine weekend trips to the boardwalk. My parents were particularly preoccupied with my father’s business affairs. He and his colleagues had gone too far in their quest for complete control of the city. It was around this time that my father had struck up a lucrative deal with the local police. In exchange for some exaggerated information about a rival family and a good amount of cash, the police effectively eliminated my father’s rivals from the city, killing some and jailing the others. My father and his associates walked away from the deal completely satisfied and with no blood on their hands.
The rival family’s remaining immature members raged at the news. Suddenly their fathers, uncles, and friends were behind bars or buried underground. Cash stopped flowing; instead it was rerouted into the pockets of my father’s fine-tailored suits. The struggling rival gang formulated a plan for retaliation, ensuring it would be painful, effective, and yet extremely personal. They decided on a course of action. When the time was right, they planned to load a car with weaponry and men and drive until my father lay dead in the streets. My father caught wind of this plan but chose to ignore it. He scoffed at the idea of such a public retaliation. He refused when my mother persuaded him to alert the authorities. Instead, he insisted my mother and I get into the car for another weekend trip to the ocean.
I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye. What my father’s source failed to tell him, because his source was a rat, was the intended target was not my father or his friends.
It was me.
On a warm sunny afternoon, I stopped believing the Myriad Boardwalk was heaven. I died with a pink swirl of cotton candy in my hand. For now, I aimlessly wander here, stuck in this wasteland of memories, transparently observing life from the other side.