Riding the Octopus: a metaphor about anger

Red Angry - by kleer001 via Flickr

The carnival is in town, and I walk through its myriad amusements to the back of the lot where they keep the rides.  My arms are loaded with gifts for others; I’ve had a full day and want to get home. I pass the Ferris wheel, the tiny rollercoaster, and the funhouse, and eventually my feet bring me to the gates of the Octopus–a sprawling, mad contraption with eight pneumatic arms ending in creaking, revolving carts.

I hate this ride. The rotation, the speed, the height, and the perilous seats make me sick every time. It roars from nothing to a blur, veering on all three axes, threatening to break me into pieces with its force. I’ve never ridden it of my own free will.

This time is no different.

The operator catches my eye, grinning at the dread on my face as he approaches and seizes my wrists.  My arms are full, making it impossible to shoo him away.  It happens so quickly that my breath deserts me; I can’t protest, can’t shout that I don’t want to ride.  I go limp at his touch and am unable to fight him off.  Everything I’m carrying tumbles to the ground.  He pulls me around the fence and through the gate, shoving me roughly into a cart and locking the safety bar into place.  I’m the only passenger, but he races back to the controls and fires up the machine.

I squeeze my eyes shut and feel hot tears already brimming as the Octopus spins up.  I know what’s coming.

The arms zoom up and crash down.  The cart twirls and twists maniacally.  The tinny music fills the grey air.  The scenery blurs.  I start to scream, but the sound is whipped away by the slicing wind.

My panic skyrockets the longer I spin–the operator isn’t stopping the machine.  The Octopus continues to pump and whirl, faster and more sickening as another minute that should not be goes by.

Limbs thrashing, shoes flying off, I continue to scream as the tears come free, heavy, and fast, reddening my face. I writhe and squirm against the iron bar imprisoning me, knowing that freedom would mean blood and broken bones.

Suddenly, I’m still.  The Octopus continues to fly, but I’ve given up the fight.  My body switches from violent panic to dead weight.  A litany of shame trickles from my lips in horrible, quiet tones as the machine plummets me down, only to shoot back up again.

If only I hadn’t been at the carnival.
If only I hadn’t been carrying so much.
If only I hadn’t walked to the ride.
If only I hadn’t been carrying so much.
If only I could have talked to the operator.
If only I had fought back.
If only I could break out of the seat.
If only I had someone with me to keep me safe.
If only I weren’t so stupid.
If only.

The loop continues as I sink further into my seat.  I do my best to become tiny, to scrunch my senses and self into an invisible ball so I can stay safe.  I’m soaked in tears and covered in bruises and cuts.  I wait.

Not long after, the Octopus rumbles slowly to a stop.  I hardly notice. The manic music fades, and the cart comes to ground level.  The lack of motion leaves me vibrating and dizzy, as if I were still moving.  When my seat rotates towards the operator’s podium, he’s not there.  No one is at the controls.

Every molecule in my body is made of lead Jell-O.  I slide easily underneath the bar that shackled me to my cart and land in a pile on the cold concrete where I sit for a minute? an hour? a day? staring blankly into nothing while the world continues to spin.

The ride is over, but I can’t shake off the experience. I’m empty and weak.  Delirium overtakes me, and I daydream about sitting here forever, forsaking everything else for the respite of the hard, unforgiving ground.  Every time I’ve ridden the Octopus, I’ve lingered here for a long while after, unwilling and unable to move.

But this time is different.

This time someone is there.

A figure approaches, blurred at the edge of my vision. I flinch instinctively and my whole being tenses, thinking it’s the ride operator returning to force me back into the cart.  Tears flow again, and I feel a new wave of defensive flailing coming on.

A hand on my shoulder, the lightest possible touch, a familiar voice:  “It’s okay. You’re safe now. I’ll take you home.”

At first, I resist, fearfully pushing away the arms reaching for me.  I don’t deserve comfort.  I don’t deserve understanding.  I don’t deserve a home.

The hands stroke my hair.  “Yes, you do.  I’m here.  I want to help.  I love you even though you took the ride.”

There’s something about the voice.

I relax, melting into surrender.  Yes, please. Take me home.  Take me away from here and never let me come back. 

But even as I’m carried away from the Octopus, I look over my protector’s shoulder and watch the machine get smaller and smaller, knowing that someday I will come back and ride again.

I originally published this post in 2011, and it was removed from the archives in 2014. It’s been refreshed and reshared here for your enjoyment.


    1. Oooh, an excellent question. For me, it’s part prayer (handling it in the moment and in the aftermath) and part divine peace (things being healed in me that keep me away from the carnival in the first place). I’d love to hear about your own journey. <3

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