I rarely write about my son. Mostly it is too painful because he died six years ago. But as time goes by, and my heart heals, I find myself remembering the wonderful and funny things about his life…the good stuff, as they say.
Disney closed down three rides today, apparently from safety infractions. Space Mountain was one of those rides. This reminded me of one of the best days of my life; the day I took my six-year-old son to Disney World. My husband, not his father, had business in Orlando for a couple of days, and since my boy had not yet been on a plane, I thought it a perfect opportunity to combine two firsts – like a plane ride and a Disney vacation. With my husband still in graduate school money was tight, but one day at the theme park, just my son and me, was doable. So we went.
The flight was pleasant, and he loved looking out the window at the tiny cars. When we got to the metro in the airport that took you to the main terminal, he thought we’d landed in Disney and this was the first ride. Our hotel was off the beaten path, something corporate that the company was paying for, and we ordered room service and all ate from one plate, knowing the next day we’d be paying $20 for a hot dog in the park.
We went everywhere. We traipsed over the entirety of Disney World when you could actually do most of it in one day. But I had to laugh at today’s safety issue concerns because in that one day, we got stuck in the monorail for at least a half hour. A recording kept repeating that there was nothing to worry about, and to remain in our seats until we reached the next station. Then we got stuck in the Pirates of the Caribbean, in a boat, in 2 feet of water. The song continued, and the animatronics never wavered, but that boat didn’t move. No recordings came on to calm us, and at the 20-minute mark we watched workers popping in and out of the cave we were in, then sloshing in the water doing something to the tracks. Meanwhile, I’m scoping out those illuminated “EXIT” signs that were plainly posted, imagining carrying my son to safety if the need arose.
And that’s not the end of it. We went on those hanging gondolas at the very end of the day to get a bird’s-eye view of where we’d been and to cool off. Naturally there was a delay and we were left hanging and swinging and again listening to a recording from a speaker in the gondola warning us not to stand or move about, but to remain seated until the gondola regained power. At which point I looked at my son, thinking he’d about had it with all the problems and delays, and warnings, and mishaps. But he was oblivious. He was still thrilled. He didn’t have a clue that all was not copacetic, and instead thought this was just grand.
Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, and the other famous rides including the jungle boat ride were highlights. I have 5000 pictures I took that day, and asked strangers to include me in many of them. His joy and enthusiasm in picture number one is almost identical to picture number 4999, though his face had some sunburn at the end of the day. But I, clearly, was overwhelmed by the day, and my 4000-series pics had me looking like I’d been run over by a truck.
In retrospect, it was a glorious day. It was time for just the two of us and it remained special. So special, in fact, that the year before he died, we went back to Disney, all three of us together this time.
He was 25 years old and my husband and I had moved to Florida. No planes or trains were involved. We just drove up, parked, and took our lazy time doing some of the new rides and some old ones we wanted to revisit. One of them was Mission Space. I didn’t want to go. I’d listened to the myriad of warnings while waiting in line. They insisted I take the ride. They kept pushing me forward in line. I would be sorry if I didn’t. “I would regret it,” they said.
We were strapped in so tight we could hardly breathe, and because we were in a centrifuge, this was more visceral than visual in its terror. My husband was on one side of me, and my son on the other. My job was navigator, so I was pushing buttons mostly in the beginning, but upon take off, I could do nothing but scream like a Banshee. When the ride was over my son said he heard nothing but my guttural screams, and wanted to take the ride again just to hear what they were saying. We howled for hours about that ride, and somewhere in the back of my mind I think that day, one of the last we ever spent together, was the best of my life.
And yes, that is the last photo taken of us together, and taken almost exactly twenty years after our first trip to Disney. It’s a photo that remains on my desktop as a reminder of how incredibly fantastic, and how profoundly tragic, life can be. I’m so, so glad I took that ride.