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Putting the "Magic" in the Magic Kingdom
It wasn’t until after my first day there that I realized two things I hadn’t considered in my youth. The Magic Kingdom is neither magical nor a kingdom. Which brings me to where I am today, sweating in a polyester suit that’s too big for me staring incredulously into the face of a really p***ed off mom. I checked my nails while the woman stood there, hands on her hips, complaining that the prices were too high and it is absolutely ridiculous that we would charge so much for a plush toy that probably only cost us a dollar to manufacture and who do we think we are anyway? I brushed a sweat soaked strand of hair out of my eyes and faked my ‘happiest place on earth’ smile. “Ma’am I’m very sorry you’re unsatisfied with the prices. If you’d like I can give you a complaint form to fill out and I will turn it in personally.” She agreed and handed me the form twelve minutes later, holding up the line in front of my register. When she walked away I put the paper in the back with all the other complaint forms that would never get looked at.
It was hot as hell outside. I loved warm weather back in Ohio. It was a novelty. Here, it was Hades. From behind my booth I could see the pavement steaming. All I could think about was the heat and my empty water bottle next to me. I checked my watch. Was it really only one o’clock?
The rest of my afternoon passed in a blur. I got off at 6 that evening and Monica, my roommate, came in to take the night shift. I knew that on a Saturday in the summer the place would be really busy and she would be late getting out and I felt really bad for her. I packed up my things and went into the back to change into a pair of shorts and a tank top. I felt so much better.
On nights I didn’t work I liked to walk around the park and people watch. By this time of evening most of the mothers with young children were getting really annoyed, yelling at their husbands and kids, and just about ready to leave. But there were times that I’d see a honeymooning couple walk by holding hands, gazing into each other’s eyes, very clearly in love. It was seeing those kinds of things that reignited my belief in the magic of this place; in the magic of this life. I went over towards Fantasyland and got a hot dog and French fries from the Village Fry Shoppe. I sat down on a picnic table and ate my food in silence.
When I was nearly finished I looked over and saw a blonde guy about my age staring at me. I tried to ignore him by sipping my Coca-Cola without looking up but I had a feeling he was still staring. Finally, I gave up trying to pretend he wasn’t there. “Is there something I can help you with?” I asked, a little irritated.
He shook his head and laughed. “Not at all, I was just really impressed with how quickly you downed those fries,” he smiled. I was not amused.
I frowned, “I’m sorry I didn’t know that you were so intent on watching my eating habits. I’ve had a really long day and I’m hungry. Sorry you’re not okay with that,” I added sarcastically.
He kept smiling. “I’m not judging. Like I said, I was impressed,” he sat down next to me (without any indication from me that I wanted him to). “But now I’m wondering how anyone could be so unhappy in the happiest place on earth. Seems like a puzzling oxymoron to me,” he said with a grin.
I sighed. “Who are you here with anyway?” I asked. “Don’t guys your age usually try to avoid Fantasyland. Or, more like Disney World in general?” I asked apathetically. He just laughed again.
“Usually, yes. But my brother’s six and he’s riding the Dumbo ride over there,” he pointed. “I’m just waiting for him to get done so we can go and ride something marginally cooler,” he laughed and checked his watch. “Although we should start heading toward Main Street for the fireworks if he wants to go,” he paused for a second. “Would you like to come watch with us?” he asked.
I was shocked. First off, I was almost positive that I hadn’t given him an indication that I was at all interested in watching the fireworks with him. Second, I had seen the fireworks show countless times and it wasn’t all that impressive to me. But I knew that Monica wouldn’t be back until much later and there would be no one waiting in the hotel room for me. “Why are you asking?” I asked, surprised that I was actually considering going with him.
“Because,” he said with another one of his signature grins. “I don’t think that anyone should be as mad as you look right now at the Magic Kingdom and I’ve decided to personally make it my job to fix it,” he stood up and offered me a hand. I took it apprehensively. He dropped my hand once I was up and I was relived that he didn’t try to hold on. Maybe my initial reaction was wrong.
Once we started walking towards the Dumbo rides I realized something. “Um,” I began, not really sure how to ask. “You never told me your name?” I said with a smile of my own this time.
He laughed again. “Sorry, my fault. It’s Dylan. What about you? Do you have a name or do you just want to go by Ms. The-Only-Angry-Person-Ever-To-Go-To-Disney-World?” I sighed, wondering if Dylan would ever let me live my original attitude down.
“It’s Juliet,” I said, a little embarrassed. I knew he would make some cheesy Shakespeare reference just like everyone else did. He just nodded.
“Very pretty,” he said placing a hand over his eyes to look for his brother. “Found him,” he said looking relieved.
Almost as soon as he’d spotted him I saw I blonde little boy running toward us as fast as his little legs could carry him. He looked just like a younger version of Dylan, only somehow skinnier. “Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan, Dylan!” he said running to his brother. “Ohmygoodnessyou’llneverbelievehowcoolthatrideis,Dylan!” he said without taking a breath. A huge smile was plastered on his face. “Theelephantsgoroundandroundandround and you go WAY up in the air and,” he paused to take a quick breath. “And there were all kinds of other kids it was SO COOL!” he said, jumping up and down.
Dylan laughed. “I’ll bet. Sorry I missed it, Bud. But I picked you up a some candy from the vending machine,” he said as he pulled a half-melted pack of Skittles from his pocket. The boy’s eyes got even wider (if it was possible) than they had been. He ripped it open and began to dig in. Dylan looked at me apologetically. I shook my head to tell him it was fine. The kid was so cute.
I knelt down to the boy’s level. “What’s your name sweetie?” I asked, noticing the rainbow drool that was now all over his mouth. A huge grin spread across his face. “My name is Bubby,” he said giggling. I looked up at Dylan confused.
“No it’s not, tell her your real name,” he said, still laughing. He looked over at me to explain. “We all call him bubby and I think he’s convinced that’s his real name.”
The little boy looked up at me with the same smile that Dylan was wearing. “My REAL name is Aaron. But I’m also a secret agent named Bruce but you can’t tell anyone, okay?” he pleaded, looking very serious.
I played along. “Okay, Aaron,” I said with a wink. “I won’t tell anyone your true identity. Now what do you say we go watch some fireworks?” I said, noticing the sun was beginning to go down. He nodded his head fervently and began to walk ahead of Dylan and I.
“Will he be alright that far ahead of us?” I asked, concerned about the crowds. Everyone seemed to be heading in the same direction, apparently wanting good spots, too.
“He’ll be fine. Aaron’s a smart kid. If he thinks he’s getting too far he’ll stop.” Sure enough as soon as we took a few more steps I spotted Aarons blonde hair a few yards ahead. The moment he was sure we saw him he took off again.
“He’s very cute,” I said looking at Dylan. “You must be very proud to have him as a brother.”
“I really am. He’s the best brother I could ask for,” he said looking at the ground. I could sense something was wrong. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to ask having only just met him. He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck and I had to say something.
“Is everything okay?” I asked, hoping I wasn’t offending him. He looked really upset about something, though I couldn’t tell what.
“Yeah,” he said, looking up to smile at Aaron waiting for us once again a few feet ahead. “I love Aaron more than anything on this planet. Which is what makes this trip particularly difficult,” he said with a pained expression.
“Why?” I asked, now genuinely concerned. His eyes looked at me for a moment as if he was wondering whether he should tell me or not.
“Because this is Aaron’s first and last trip here,” he said dryly. I looked at him, confused at what he meant by that. He continued, “Aaron is here because the Make a Wish Foundation funded the trip. Aaron’s got acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” he said, trying to make it sound like it was no big deal.
I looked forward to see Aaron standing patiently waiting for us. His hands were on his hips as if to tell us to hurry up. He looked like such a happy, normal kid. My mouth went dry and my throat closed up. “He…he’s going to-?” I had suddenly lost my voice. I had no words for what I was asking.
Dylan seemed to understand. “Yeah,” he said, seeming to sense the change in the atmosphere as well. “He’s not going to make it, but he troops on,” he smiled, trying to avoid looking sullen for his brother. “He knows he’s dying but he keeps saying the FBI is calling him for a secret mission and none of the rest of us can come,” he said with a chuckle. He shook his head. “He’s one of the bravest people I know. He’s gonna be okay. I’m more worried about myself to be honest,” he said as we caught up to Aaron.
Once Aaron was with us as we found our spot Dylan stopped talking about the cancer and was chatting enthusiastically with his brother about how excited they were for the fireworks show. Their conversation gave me time to process what I’d just heard. I looked at Aaron. He was so excited about life and being here. He looked so healthy to me. I couldn’t understand how a little boy so young could be taken away from this world.
Aaron looked up at me and grabbed my hand and tugged. He was definitely not shy. I smiled down at him. “Dylan told me this show is magic. Is it true? Are there magic people in it?” he asked, eyes sparkling.
I didn’t know what to say. I knew all the workings of this show and the people running it, the employees doing the voices and dressing in the costumes. There was no magic, just a lot of expensive special effects. A few hours ago I would have been honest with him. Somehow, though, my perspective had changed a little.
“It sure is!” I said beaming. “Everything comes to life at night time here,” I whispered as if I were telling him some government secret. The smile that came across his face was the happiest I’d ever seen him.
“Dylan!” he yelled turning to his brother. “You have to make me tall so I can see the show! You were right! It is magic, Juliet said so!” He looked almost scared, as if he was afraid he wouldn’t get a chance to see the show.
Dylan laughed. “You got it, kid.” He picked Aaron up and hoisted him on his shoulders. As soon as we were all settled an announcement came over the speakers. The show was about to start.
We all looked towards Cinderella’s castle and for once I wasn’t irritated with it. I looked at Dylan and Aaron and smiled. They were both so happy just to be here and in this moment. The fireworks boomed in front of us and the music of my childhood played along with it.
My eyes became foggy and my throat closed up. I realized that people like Aaron and Dylan were the reason I took this job in the first place. They were happy, entranced by this place as I once was. And, in the presence of these two inspiring young men, this place once again seemed truly magical.