As I predicted, Walt Disney World is exactly as I remembered it – preserved for eternity just like Walt Disney, himself. I don’t know if you’re aware, but there is this really scary rumor that when he died, instead of burying him, Walt’s family had him frozen through some sort of weird scientific process. Apparently, the idea is to keep him like that until scientists figure out how to keep old, sick people alive indefinitely. Then, they’ll defrost him, revive him, and cure him so that he’ll go right on living. Kind of freaky, huh?
As I was saying, everything at Disney World is exactly the same. When we went to the Bear Jamboree, the moose head on the wall came to life and talked to us, and the pretty female bear came down from the ceiling on a swing just like she always does. And when we went to the Hoop Di Doo Revue, we ate the same food that we always eat (fried chicken and corn on the cob), and we laughed as the actors pulled members of the audience up on stage and made complete fools of them (like they always do).
And, of course, the rides were all the same. We went on every single one of them: The Jungle Boat Ride, The Haunted Mansion, It’s A Small World, The Tea Cup and Saucer, and the Grand Prix Raceway (just to name a few). We went on Space Mountain four times.
Space Mountain has always been my favorite ride at Disney World. In the early years, only my dad and I went on Space Mountain because my brother was too little (and too chicken). My mother would wait patiently outside with him while my father and I made our way through one of the longest lines at Disney World.
When it was finally our turn, we’d get into a “spaceship” and strap ourselves in tight. Each “spaceship” has two compartments, and each compartment holds up to two people. My father and I would sit together in one of the compartments, and he would wrap his arms around me. Then, the “spaceship” would slowly chug it’s way up and up and up, through “mission control” until, suddenly, we’d “blast off” into the darkness of “space” and the roller coaster ride would begin.
That’s what I love the most about Space Mountain – the darkness. It envelops you. It might not be the greatest roller coaster in the world (there aren’t any loop-de-loops or corkscrew turns to terrify riders), but because you can’t see what’s coming next, I think that Space Mountain’s twists and turns are more exciting than any other roller coaster I have ever been on. I guess that’s why it has always been my favorite ride at Disney World.
Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that our annual Space Mountain adventure is one of the only times that I can remember ever really being alone with my dad when I was small. Before my mother died, it always seemed as if our trip to Florida was the one time of the year when I was guaranteed to have my dad’s complete attention. During the rest of the year, aside from family meals and our Sunday afternoon excursions (after hospital rounds), he was hardly ever around.
My father was in graduate school when I was born. He went for a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology before he started Medical School, so I was already starting Kindergarten by the time he joined an actual medical practice. As the junior partner in the office, he had a lot of work to do. He was always at the hospital or at the office. And, even when he was actually in the house, he always seemed to be doing something work-related. He’d either sit upstairs at his desk sorting through the huge files he carried back and forth with him to the office everyday. Or, he’d sit in the big chair in the corner of the playroom dictating patent reports into a teeny tiny tape recorder that he has (while he watched the evening news).
Because of this, he was kind of a phantom. When my mother died, it was almost as if a stranger was stepping in to take her place; a stranger that my brother and I called “Daddy.”
Now, that’s not to say that I ever felt unloved by my father. I just didn’t know him as a full-fledged presence in my life until my mother was gone.
He had always been there, of course, but only in my peripheral vision, on the sidelines of my life (like the owner of a football team who only shows up in the locker room to talk to the players on the day that they make it to the Super Bowl). Much of the time, it seemed as if I only saw fleeting glimpses of him out of the corner of my eye. I was aware that he was there, but I didn’t know who he was as a person, or what he was about.
I have to say, though, that when he had to, my father really came through for me and my brother. As annoyed as I get with him sometimes, he’s been a really great dad. He took up right where my mother left off. And not just with the big things (like Christmas and Disney World) either. He’s always done his best to make sure that he gets as many of the little things done as he possibly can (what with all the crazy hours that he works).
For example, when my mother first died, instead of spending the whole night at his desk doing paperwork on his evenings off (the way that he used to), my father would run a bath for me so that I could wash my hair. And, then, while I wriggled around like a fish whose lunch just turned out to be someone else’s bait, he’d patiently sit there and blow dry my wet head until every single strand of my thick, dark, waist-length hair was completely dry.
It became a routine. A new one, but a routine nonetheless. Just like the new Space Mountain routine.
After my mother was gone, my father and I had to take my brother on Space Mountain with us because there was no one to wait outside with him anymore. So, now, when we finally get to the front of the line, my father sits in the back compartment of the “spaceship” with my brother, and I sit in the front compartment by myself.
And, even though I am pretty much to the point where I wouldn’t necessarily want to sit with my dad anyway (I mean, it isn’t really the cool thing to do when you’re twelve years old, if you know what I mean), I have to admit that I was pretty scared the first time that I had to “travel” Space Mountain alone. The “spaceship” compartment felt so incredibly empty with just my nine-year-old body sprawled awkwardly across the seat, that I was terrified I’d slip out of the strap in the middle of the ride and fall to my death.
My father must have sensed my fear, though, because as we came to the end of the ride, he suddenly called out, “Oh my goodness, I don’t see Sophie! I hope that she didn’t fall out!” All at once, I forgot about the panic I’d felt throbbing in my chest as we’d raced through the blackness. Instead, I jumped up with a goofy grin on my face and shouted, “I’m here, Daddy! I didn’t fall out.” And we all laughed, as if my father’s joke was the funniest thing ever.
Three years later, our new Space Mountain routine continues. It may not be funny, but (do I really have to say it?)…it’s tradition!