Let’s pick up where we left off last week…
A lot of kids start outgrowing their Disney affinity when they turn ten or eleven. Not so for me… but then I continued to believe in Santa Claus until I was twelve by sheer force of will.
I remember waiting in line to ride the Matterhorn with my father. Neither my mother nor my brother was ever interested in schussing down a fake mountain in a toboggan-on-a-track. My father certainly wanted to schuss with the best of them but would not take the time to go on his own unless someone else in the family wanted to go. I am not sure if I could say I really wanted to go on the ride, but I did want to please my father. The idea of doing it intrigued me and I usually did have a good time when I took the plunge. It was the waiting in line that was the killer. As I stood in the long line with my daddy, the anxiety would start to mount in my belly. The trick was to see if I could get to the front of the line before the mounting anxiety rose beyond my vocal cords. Usually, I managed to hang on and make it to the toboggan. Sometimes, when the line was a little too long, the anxiety beat me to the finish line. It transformed itself into a protest and leaked out of my mouth. My father was never very happy to have waited in line, only to take his fraidy-cat daughter back to her mother.
In 1976, Disney was reimagining their parade to embrace a bicentennial theme. There would be special dancers, new floats, and people with huge bobble-heads of revolutionary characters roaming down the route. We learned at school that Disney was holding open auditions for parade cast members one Saturday. This seemed like the Holy Grail of summer jobs for 16-year-old me. I went to audition. Somehow, it never occurred to me that I was not exactly physically suited to a job as a dancer. I was short, stocky and would certainly never fit into any costumes Disney manufactured. In those days, companies- including and maybe especially Disney- only hired girls who were a size 12 or smaller. I did not even make the first cut.
It was just as well because I ended up spending most of that bicentennial summer with the first boy to break my heart. I had been writing to a pen pal in Scotland for several years. We had a plan. He was going to spend the summer of 1976 with my family. Then, I would spend the summer after my high school graduation in 1977 visiting him in Scotland and touring Europe with him. We, of course, went to Disneyland when he was here. He understood the magic right away. He could not stop exclaiming about how wonderful it all was. The only thing that put him off was the screaming children. He said to me, “Children in Scotland would never behave like this. They would be so happy to be here, they would never dream of crying or screaming or throwing a tantrum.” I told him that I doubted very much that the children in Scotland were much different from the children in the United States. A napless three-year-old child standing through shimmering heat in one line after another is liable to cry and scream and tantrum, regardless of their nationality. Hungry, thirsty, tired, overstimulated children are hungry, thirsty, tired, overstimulate children everywhere. We agreed to disagree. After my pen pal went home, I never heard from him again. I do not blame Disney, however.
My school participated in Grad Night at Disneyland in June of 1977. I had a date for the event, which was huge news. The grad night date was my third date ever, not counting the Summer of Pen Pal, which was not so much dating as providing free touring service. The problem was I did not want a date for the event. I had recently met the man that I would end up marrying. I had been on exactly one date with him, but I did not have the social skills or maturity of perspective to understand how to navigate the process. My grad night date was relentless in trying to get me to agree to go with him to the event. I finally said yes, but I spent the entire lead up to the evening and the evening itself feeling intrinsically uncomfortable because it felt like I was betraying this other fellow who barely knew I was alive at the time. I ended up asking the bus driver to drop me off at my house, which was right on the way back to the school from Disneyland. I told my date that I could save him the trouble of taking me home. In retrospect, I was awful. I wish I had been much nicer to my grad night date. I wish I had opened the door of my heart to him rather than my eventual husband. He would have been a much more satisfactory partner.
The 1980s were my years of poverty, so my Disney experiences were limited in that decade. I graduated from college in 1981 and nearly immediately married my brand-new husband who needed brand-new food every brand-new day. My husband was a full-time graduate student and I worked at an entry level government job. Disneyland was not in the budget for most of the decade. However, in that first year of the decade and the last year of the decade, Disneyland created some light in my life.
My mother purchased Disneyland New Year’s Eve party tickets for my fiancé and me the December that 1980 gave way to 1981. She said she wanted to know I was safe. I think she meant that she wanted to know that I wasn’t drinking, driving on the streets with the drunks, or getting pregnant.
My husband suddenly decided to leave me one day in February of 1988. He moved out of our apartment to “think about things” and never came back except to pick up his things when my mother served him with divorce papers. He gave me no reason for leaving beyond cruel, hurtful indictments of my physical appearance and general lack of appeal.
Thus entered a crucible season of my life. It took me a long time to heal from the abandonment, but it took even longer to heal from the marriage. It took me awhile to realize the best thing the man ever did for me was to leave me. While I was in the process of figuring all this out, I found a financial windfall in an emotionally bankrupt time in my life. My small salary no longer had to stretch to feed another mouth, maintain a second car, or in any way support anyone but myself. I bought myself an annual pass to Disneyland. I spent many, many mournful but satisfying evenings walking around the park. I went on rides sometimes, but, basically, I just walked and enjoyed public anonymity. Living by myself, the silence at home was sometimes too much even for the hermit I was then. If I went to Disneyland, I could hear noise, laughter, and conversation but did not have to be responsible for any of it.
In the 1990s, I began to grow into the adult version of myself. I began to move away from the demolition of my divorce. I began trying to create something new out of the rubble. The “something new” was not what I ever wanted or imagined it would be, but I could certainly create something more elegant than that sad, ghost sort of a person roaming the sidewalks of Disneyland alone. I adopted a dog. I bought a condominium. I invested in my career. The 90s were my own personal “me” generation.
About halfway through the decade, I met the love of my life. Max and I met in November of 1995. Very soon after we met, we spent a day at Disneyland. We both had some Disneyland nostalgia stored away in our brains. I don’t think our memories exactly meshed, but there was enough emotional fabric for us to knit a bond out of our Disney perceptions. Max had two weeks of vacation each year- one week in April and one week in October. Our tradition was to spend a day at Disneyland during his October vacation every year. He enjoyed Disney, but he enjoyed me enjoying Disney even more. One day he said to me, “How many other 50-year-old boyfriends would spend 45 minutes waiting in line to hang out with Tinker Bell?” Disneyland showed me that I am lovable and loved.
Do you have a magical Disney moment? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a magical day!