I had only been out of the school where I was abused for two years when my parents decided to take a vacation from Hopeless to as far south as Tijuana. I was in grade six and the trip included my parents, my grandparents, my half-sister and myself. All six of us travelled in my parents’ motorhome. My mother and father made sure that we made stops along the way with me in mind. Our first stop on our journey was “Flintstone Village” in Southern British Columbia. I remember that it was raining when we arrived and the park was not the greatest. I think we spent most of the time in the gift shop and my grandparents complained to my parents about such an unnecessary stop. It was not a place that I really remember having a good time at. At night we stopped in different campgrounds along the route. My mom made sure we found campgrounds that included water slides. I loved those. My half-sister was five years older than me so she was not into the water slides like I was. I spent hours on the slides, dunking in the water, feeling that odd combination of fatigue and adrenalin. The warmth of the spring night air was magical.
I don’t recall too many specific stops along the way, but I do remember Reno Nevada, Anaheim California, and Tijuana Mexico. In Reno we spent time at Circus Circus and I found great pleasure in the gambling training games for children where I could win stuffed animals. My father had trained me to shoot that year and it was evident that I was a natural good shot. My testing ground was the target games at Circus Circus. After winning 12 stuffed animals at the target range, the game supervisor stopped letting me play. I hauled out my stuffed animal kill in a clear plastic bag, and it seemed that my win did not please my grandparents with the space my win took up in our cramped living conditions. I was very pleased with myself and that my father’s training in teaching me to shoot had paid off quite well.
Tijuana was exciting – and it is where I had my first taste of avocado. I loved the taste, and my grandparents found an excellent deal on a street corner buying a street vendors’ entire stock of lanterns at a great price. They were boasting through lunch about what a great deal they had found and how these lanterns were so beautiful. They had purchased his last 10 lanterns at such a steal. After lunch we walked around the corner only to see the vendor with a replenished stock of such rare lanterns. My grandparents never put them to use, and I remember only a few years ago helping my mother with a garage sale we had six of these bargains up for grabs.
The greatest thing about the trip was my first visit to Disneyland. I had no idea what to expect. We had spent a day at Knotts Berry Farm previously and my father became my ride companion – riding Montezuma’s Revenge at least five times. Knotts was also where I had my first taste of Mexican food – food that I really enjoyed. But nothing prepared me for the experience of visiting Disneyland for the first time.
People always ask me what the lure of Disneyland is for me. Many people who know me understand that I am a big kid – and those who know me well know why. Disney’s slogan “the Happiest Place on Earth” really sums it up for me. From kindergarten through grade four I had endured the most severe physical sexual and emotional abuse and had an innocence ripped away from me. I was too afraid and distrustful of people outside of my parents to trust. The day we arrived at Disneyland was truly one of the first days I can remember fully enjoying myself. There is a particular smell I encounter each time I visit the park – I can smell it near the flower fountain by the sunglass hut kiosk near the Downtown Disney security checkpoint. It is a combination of asphalt, plastic, and chlorination. Each time I visit the part and smell this on my first arrival I tear up. I know it sounds crazy, but that is the same smell that I encountered visiting the park for the first time when I was a child. The power of that smell brings me back to that time and that day when I truly experienced the innocence of youth for the first time – and the first place I felt safe after the years of abuse at the private school in Hopeless. My children and friends have seen the tears when I pass by this place. It happens only once per visit and it is my olfactory reminder that I am coming back to the place that demonstrated the power of being a child had merit.
My Dad was incredible in Disneyland with me. He was my roller coaster partner. Together we rode the coasters and together we experienced Space Mountain. He waited in line with me and I will never forget the overwhelming feeling of love for him I had as he endured the rides with me. Space Mountain to me was a place where I was imagining being put through Jedi training. I imagined the coaster to be an x-wing simulator and I was preparing for the day I would join the rebellion. The darkness of the ride and the feeling of soaring through space strengthened my imagination and made it seem all the more real. I think my whole family enjoyed Disneyland. It was an important and crucial trip for me. The cast members catered to children. I loved that my experience there was considered important to them. I could go on and on about the service and the park and my time there. I remember sitting at the table in the motorhome on the long drive home (surrounded by my dozen stuffed animals I had won) wishing that there could be a two-thousand mile roller coaster from Anaheim to Hopeless and wishing I could ride it.
Many years have passed since that first visit to the park. Perhaps I have visited it too many times. It has become a place where I have met some very important people – a place where I can really enjoy mixing business and pleasure. Though I have been down there at times by myself, I really have enjoyed it so much more when I go with my own children. Seeing how they enjoy the experience is so much more rewarding. It reminds me of the patience my mother and father had with me when we went there. I know my Mom made sure we would stop there as a way of telling me she loved me. I am sure she put up with complaints from my grandparents about the frivolity of visiting theme parks on that trip. I am so grateful that she put Disneyland on the itinerary. She will never know how important that trip was to me – that one day in the park. Each visit to Disneyland brings tears to me. It’s my place where I am allowed to be a child – however briefly – over and over. It’s something I hope to pass on to my grandchildren one day – the power of play and the seriousness of childlike abandon. I also hope to pass on a little magic to everyone I have the blessing to work with and teach – for we are not complete if we cannot keep the magic alive in our own special way.