At 20 years old I ran away. I ran away from a lot of hurt and pain over the loss of the village I thought would be my village for the rest of my life. Most of the people in this village I had known since I was in kindergarten.
My high school friends were thick as thieves. We were a mixed crew of girls and boys, some dating, some just friends, all always together. Friday and Saturday nights you could find all of us at someone’s house hanging out. They were my people and I loved that. I loved having “my people.” I was the group party planner and picture taker, documenting most of our lives on disposable camera rolls and carefully crafted scrapbook pages.
The majority of our group was seniors at the turn of the new millennium. As most of us left for colleges around our home state and beyond, a few of the girls stayed in our hometown finishing out high school. Our tighknitted-ness began to waffle during my freshman year of college. In addition to some of romantic relationships that bit the dust and rekindled each time we were all back home, some of the friendships between the girls began to change, too.
Fast forward through some uber painful conversations, epic breakups, and more misunderstandings than I can count and I returned to college for my junior year devoid of the group I knew would be my lifelong friends.
I was adrift in a sea of 25,000 people. My one true north-my high school relationship and friends were gone-well not gone-they just weren’t “my people” anymore. They were all still each other’s people, just not mine. The gravity of that sat on me like a weight. I obsessed over it, cried over it, raged over it, drank over it, yet none of those things changed the fact that I was on the outside of a group I never thought I would be. My roommate, bless her, was wonderful at introducing me to new people, taking me out, keeping me busy, yet I couldn’t shake the shame of being an outcast.
So when the opportunity arose to do an out of state internship during my spring semester, I didn’t just jump, I pounced.
In January of 2003, my mom and I packed up my Blazer and drove to Orlando, Florida, home to none other than the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World-my new home and refuge for the next 8 months.
It was just that- a magical refuge-a beautiful, delightful place that provided me shelter from the trouble and the relentless pursuit of my own thoughts by removing me from everyday life. I mean where else can you go to work in “costume,” work “on stage” or “back stage,” and create “magical moments” for your “guests” as the entirety of your job? I’ll tell you, nowhere but Disney.
My time at WDW still stands out in the top ten of life experiences I’ve had. It was indeed magical. Now 15 years later, I can look back and see how it was an escape route; a place to go to not have to face pain of the reality of the loss of my village.
Little did I know that this magical place would be a refuge, a soft place to land, a decade later when a new reality of loss stared me down again.
To be continued…