August 11, 2017 – Bradley International Airport in Hartford, CT
My family used to live in Florida. At this time, my bedroom had a Mickey Mouse wallpaper, and a huge plush Minnie Mouse sat next to my crib. While my dad went to work, my Mom turned on Fantasia for me and took a shower. My parents got passes to Walt Disney World, and frequently drove six hours for weekend visits to the park. Our photo albums from that time are full of pictures of my mom propping me up next to furry characters. We were in Disney in January 2000, when the possibility of a new century brought dreams of new progress. Spaceship Earth in EPCOT had the number 2000 above it, a time marker in the background of photos of my young family.
When we moved to Connecticut, our Disney trips happened about once every other year. I looked forward to wearing my Disney Princess shirts and riding the big rides, like Splash Mountain. My baby brother, Danny, had a habit of sticking his fingers in the characters’ mouths for pictures. It was one week where we could all focus on each other.
We usually went in April, when my school had its break. Often, my mom’s birthday fell during this week.
Back when her parents, her brother, and her brother’s kids accompanied us, we have photos of us eating cake in my grandparents’ hotel room. I was always jealous that she got to spend her birthday in Disney World. The Cast Members treated her like a princess.
When my mom was too sick to accompany the family on our planned Disney vacation, I cried before we left. A family vacation to Disney World couldn’t be a family vacation without her. Even though she was too sick to eat fresh fruits or vegetables for fear of catching an infection, I pictured her wearing those cloth sick masks over her nose and mouth through the parks. Since she didn’t normally walk more than the length of the hospital hallways, she could sit in a wheelchair. I’d push it the whole time so she could experience Disney again. The background on her phone was the lobby of the hotel we stayed at. She belonged on that vacation.
At our first family therapy session about her sickness, I couldn’t even speak through a sentence about the possibility of going on vacation without her. I didn’t want to leave her in Connecticut.
She insisted we go on without her. She wrapped her arms around me, and I cried into her thin sweater.
“Next time I go to Disney World,” she said, “it’ll be to visit you at work.”
I was a year away from graduating high school, but my intentions to participate in the Disney College Program were well known. I wiped my tears. I told myself that this pain would be worth it when she was finally in remission and I was finally working my dream job.
I still cried as my dad backed our car out of the garage.
And she died less than a year later.
My dad, brother, and I still planned a Disney vacation that summer. Two years prior, when we’d all four gone as a family, we had no idea it was our last full family vacation. And when my mom was sick we truly believed she would recover and join us.
Before we left for the airport, I stood in the bathroom, looking at my reflection.
My dad stood at the open door. “I regret not taking her last year.”
And again, I cried before leaving for a Disney vacation. But this time, I cried for what never would happen. She never again would walk down Main Street USA, smelling sweet vanilla from the ice cream shop. She’d never enjoy dinner and a fireworks show in EPCOT, and she’d never see the Beauty and the Beast restaurant. It was her favorite movie.
Because our flight left early, my dad brought us to the hotel at the airport the night before. It connected to the airport, so once we walked inside, we wouldn’t see the sky until we emerged in Florida. Danny and I wandered around the lobby as our dad checked us in. I felt like I had cried all my energy out, so I asked if we could get room service once we got to our room.
I hadn’t expected him to say yes, but I guess the vacation mentality set in early. I got this mac and cheese plate. The three cheeses melted together, and I shoved each penne piece into my mouth to try to distance myself from the person I was just hours ago, crying about my Disney World trip.
I was one sleep away from my happy place.