Disneyland’s Magical Touch and the Longevity of an Experience Remembered

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.

Luke Skywalker and the Power of His Conviction

While I can identify with the character of Han Solo more now as an adult, it was Luke Skywalker with whom I was enamoured with as a child. It was easy for me to identify with the farm boy from Tatooine. Luke and I grew up together during the original trilogy of Star Wars. When Return of the Jedi was released Luke was more complex as a character than he had been in the previous films. The most startling thing to me about his character was his costume. He dressed in black. His belt was also different. Gone were the different pouches to hold his items – By ROTJ his belt was stripped down – simplified – to carry only his lightsaber. He came across to me as more mature – grown up. He had accepted who he was and accepted the role he had to play in restoring balance to the galaxy. His black costume reflected his connection to his father – Darth Vader. In this film Luke would willingly seek out Vader in an attempt to offer him the chance of redemption.

Luke’s noble actions in ROTJ are admirable and continue to teach me the power of conviction. In our modern times, when friends have upset us or when we feel somehow unheard or betrayed by those in authority – we often to not make the difficult decision of acceptance. We “unfriend” our “friends” on facebook if they share opinions contrary to our own posts – or if they fail to always “like” our updates. We are quick to approve or disapprove of our friends’ new looks and we chip away at the power of speech with abbreviated text. Birthday wishes are often reduced to “Happy B-day” followed by an emoji or two. We want our posts to be “liked”. Some of us get wrapped up in our facebook and social media lives. Many of us have smartphones that alert us when any activity shows up in our “feed”. Despite our addiction to immediacy and being plugged 24-7, how many of us really reach out to our hundreds of “friends”? I fear that by the overuse of technology, the meaning of “friendship” is diminishing. How many of us alter our opinions when we are physically around people? How many of us prefer the comfort of expression ourselves through our computers and smartphones? How many people have chosen to terminate relationships through their computers or through text messaging? It’s much more difficult to truly “be” when you are face to face with someone. Don’t get me wrong – I think our ability to access information is incredible and can be very useful. It can also be very dangerous to us as social animals.

I think about what life must have been like without computers or our common technology. I don’t have to think back too far to remember how magical it was to camp outside and sit around a campfire burning marshmallows, feeling the flames lick my face while the back of my neck was exposed to the cool open air. No app can replicate truly the feeling of a fire snapping and hissing in the night under a canopy of starlight. No 99cent Itunes purchase can bring back the stimuli of that experience. Now we can visit with each other over the internet rather than in person. We don’t write letters anymore – we text and we abbreviate. We react in private to the messages or posts we read before we respond, depriving the sender the human experience of seeing how their words or actions affect us. We spend a lot of time in our heads, and little in our actions. We are in decay. Maybe I am not making sense, but it really is how I feel in our tech savvy age.

The Star Wars Universe takes place “a long time ago…” and that world is full of computers and artificial intelligence. Yet there is a desire for the characters to go places and to meet with each other. Luke decides he has to reach out to Vader if he is going to have any chance of succeeding in bringing his father to the light. He does it in person. He is completely vulnerable and risks his life in order to save another. He risks his life to “be” with Vader. His message is too important to merely send to him. Luke seeks his father out to discuss redemption from Sith to Jedi. But what would have happened if Luke turned to the dark side during his time spent with Vader and the Emperor? As a child I never really fully appreciated all that was at stake in Luke’s confrontation. I am beginning to see the power behind his actions and it is making me get out from behind my computer once again. It is difficult for me to be around others as I have previously posted. I have since made an effort to be more present and to go out more. I can do it so much easier when it is work related. It is so hard for me to do it when I don’t have a work excuse.

By the end of ROTJ Luke has reached out, stood up for his convictions, and saved the soul of his father (and in doing so helped the rebellion gain victory). I have a renewed admiration for Luke. As I continue my path to redemption and to justice for those abused in their childhood, I will look to the selfless nature of the mature Luke Skywalker – a Jedi having given himself to the force and who has conviction to his purpose. I teeter along the balance between light and dark, but am learning to be more gracious, to be a better person, a stronger disciple of the force. When my path on this earth is further along I am confident that I will find harmony and power in my convictions. I will see the beauty in the moment. I will continue to honour the children and stand up (I hope I will have the resolve to stand up when it is needed) for them. I have taken on the motto: MAXIMA DEBETEUR PUERO REVERENTIA – it speaks to me. I think we all need a motto in life and this is mine. WE OWE THE GREATEST RESPECT TO THE CHILD. If Luke can stand up to Vader, then I will continue to work towards standing up for the balance so desperately needed within the force. I will not let the “likes” and “unfriending” get in my way. Perhaps the more we can all make the effort to meet and have conversations in real-time, the more we will be able to resolve our differences and perhaps even we may rediscover the thrill in being truly social.

The solitude of sushi – a Reflection of My Social Awkwardness.

The other night I had a craving for sushi as I was running errands. I went to my local sushi bar, which was not busy at the time I was there – plenty of empty tables. I walked to the front and placed a small order to go. I returned within ten minutes, picked up my order and sat in my car alone to eat. I could have eaten in the restaurant but I chose to eat alone – out of sight – in my car. I began to think about that when I was in the car, eating my agadashi tofu in the dark. For the first time I questioned why I had this pattern. Often when I am out I will order food and sit alone in the comfort of my vehicle to eat – avoiding the social interaction that comes with eating in a restaurant or even on a park bench outside. Alone, shut off and isolated I have created a pattern of securing myself before I eat. It reminded me of animals who will (when given a piece of food) back up in a corner with their meal as a primitive means of preparing to guard themselves against would be food thieves. It became apparent that I don’t like social settings, or more precisely I don’t like social settings I cannot control.

By eating in the comfort of my car I am making a decision to cut myself off from others – I withdraw. It’s become worse over the years. I realized that when I am teaching I will always – not often – always take my food to my desk, shut the door and eat alone. At home, my preference is to take my food and find a room in the house to eat….alone. Always alone and most of the time it’s my decision to do so. People that come over to enjoy Christmas or Thanksgiving Dinner – usually my spouses friends and family – will notice that I rarely sit at the table with them. I make myself busy washing dishes, moving around and excusing myself to “check” on my children. I am sure they think I am snubbing them. It is merely my dysfunctional way of protecting myself from engaging in social interaction.

Early on during the years of my abuse I believed that I was the cause of abuse – that I was the one who was different. After sessions of abuse I sought out junk food to help me feel better – if only for a minute. My go-to favourite was taking a Wagon Wheel, which is essentially a chocolate covered graham wafer and marshmallow sandwich, and covered it in peanut butter. Delicious, high in calories and it seemed to do the job in suppressing my hatred/fear/sadness.

This habit as a child continues as an adult. Many people stress eat, but for me it is different. After an argument or confrontation of any kind my immediate pattern is to go “get something”. It’s a pattern I am starting to stop – and it is hard. I find a quiet peace when I eat in my solitude. I know a lot of people that hate eating alone, and will seek out company when they want to go out to eat. It’s the opposite for me. I find conversations painful unless it’s with someone that I am very comfortable with. I know this stuff seems a little pathetic, and it is – and it’s something I am consciously working on.

I am quick to turn down invitations to go out with people because my social anxiety. If you are not familiar with this term it is the fear of socially interacting with others and in social settings because of the feelings of being negatively judged, humiliated and inadequate. For example I make the choice to eat in my car because no one is looking at me when I am eating. What helps me justify this is that I tell myself I have to be in a quiet place because I will be going over emails on my phone. The truth is my smartphone is my social anxiety enabler. I see this in others too. When I see a potential unwanted social interaction approaching – such as seeing people you know walking towards me, a panhandler on the street, a co-worker – it is so easy to pull out the phone and look “busy” – or hold the phone up to my ear and begin a mock conversation. I have done this countless times and I know I am not the only one who uses the phone in such a way. It helps me get out of potentially awkward social situations and back into my comfortable solitary isolation. I am not proud of my “cutting myself off” from the world. It’s more of a habit than a choice these days – a pattern that has damaged my professional development and has slowed my career building. I am finally aware of it. Often I find when I do put the phone down and force myself to interact, it is enjoyable. I like people. When I was a teenager I had a supposed “friend” who had told me I spoke too much and was a braggart around my peers. His revelation cut into me. It was his observation that was the catalyst into my isolation. I know I was trying to compensate in social settings by trying hard to fit in and sell people how cool I was. My over-selling as a young man became my quiet awkwardness into my current pattern.

A part of me would love to go out and interact with others. I envy those who can do so effortlessly. I would love to fit in. I know that as I put a stop to (or at least minimize my patterns of) social isolation, I will put an end to my own self-punishment. I keep trying to tell myself I am worthy, that I am ultimately a good person and that I deserve the good things in my life. As a survivor this is hard. It’s getting easier – but it is hard. As Yoda says “patience you must have”. I am learning it. I am starting to love myself. I am starting to feel my worth in this life. I am healing, and I will not fear my power as I continue my journey. Thank you for reading. May the Force be with you.