I’d be lying if I said most mornings didn’t start out talking about Disney in some sort of capacity. Whether it’s talking about an upcoming trip, friends, a new movie coming out like Christopher Robin, or simply reminiscing about “that time when…” Disney is just a part of our culture. Perhaps, more appropriately: it’s just something I love to talk about because it makes me happy. That’s what Disney does, right? It makes us happy. It breaks apart the sadness and mundane cycles of Philadelphian life. My friends and mother-in-law make fun of me, lovingly of course, that I’m a 27-year old woman who chooses to have their wedding, bachelorette party, honeymoon, first birth announcement and child’s first birthday party in the Happiest Place on Earth. And maybe it is a little funny to watch someone snuggle up with a Flounder plush they found on their last trip, but for me, Disney is a part of who I am. And, even more so, it’s a place where I’m not a motherless daughter. There, I’m not in credit card debt or thinking consistently about my mother’s grave. There, I’m not overweight, denying myself cupcakes or chicken stir fry that melts atop my tongue. There, I’m not struggling with the confusion over pregnancy, or where I want to be in ten years. As much as people claim that it’s wrong to have an “escape,” when you’re going through difficult times, sometimes an escape is just what the Mouse ordered.
This morning I was thinking back to a woman I had met several years ago. I walked up to her yard sale, thrilled because she had set out hundreds of Disney pieces – mainly Aladdin. It was my ideal yard sale scenario and I could just see John in the background thinking to himself lovingly, “Here we go again!”
I picked up a gigantic Genie cookie jar. It was beautiful, in perfect condition like it was never even used for much else besides display – which in all honesty, is how every cookie jar I’ve ever owned has also done. With excitement, I waltzed over to her holding the cookie jar asking how much she was charging, half expecting her to say $5 which meant I was now in an environment where money was of no concern.
“$20,” she responded. I looked at her kind of confused and startled and gently placed the cookie jar back down. Ordinarily, this is a situation I would leave, call her an asshole when we got in our car and contemplate for a few seconds if the item was really worth the asking price.
“I love Aladdin,” she said, picking the cookie jar back up and smiling at it. It was a few months after Robin Williams committed suicide. Tensions were high, just like emotions. I mean, who didn’t love Robin Williams? As a child of the 90’s, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Jumanji, and Aladdin were staples of every boring Sunday and every sleepover. His loss was the first – and only – celebrity death I actually cried over. To this day, I miss him, which is a weird thing to say about a celebrity I’ve never met.
This woman felt the same way I did but on a much higher level. She began describing what the movie Aladdin meant to her, about how it helped her through so many difficult times in her life.
“My husband is making me sell it all,” she confessed, and I actually became angry over it.
“Don’t sell anything you don’t want to,” I told her, lowering my voice so her husband wouldn’t overhear me and rebuke.
“I don’t use them anymore. He’s right, they’re just taking up room.”
In the middle of a stranger’s lawn, I found myself the center of this woman’s existential crisis. And it broke my heart that she was being made to sell something that obviously carried so much meaning for her.
I touched her arm and smiled, “You do what you want, not what someone else wants. I think you should keep them.”
And then I walked away.
I think about this exchange often and wonder what she ever did. I wonder if all those items are snuggled safely in the confines of their storage box in her attic, or if they found homes, were broken, and if she still feels the pang of regret that she sold them before she was ready? It may sound silly to even stress about, but at the end of the day, we all hold something to us that carries more significance that the outside world can understand.
I met my counterpoint that day – a woman who loves Disney because it helped her get through some of her most difficult, iconic moments. It propelled her strength, coped through her sadness and maybe – made her stronger by the end of it.
Disney is the same for me. As I navigate these murky waters, experiencing my first go-around of wedding planning and bridal showers that leave my broken, hyperventilating on a worn-out bench in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon, my happy place is Disney, because there, I’m not a girl without a mom, I’m a Disney Princess, learning her strength and fighting toward her happily ever after.