That’s how this starts.
Standing in a line waiting to purchase the world’s most expensive churro.
These things are huge as well. They’re the Ron Jeremy of churros. 24 inches of styrofoam covered in cinnamon and sugar.
We’re at Disneyland. The airs smells like cotton candy cloaking whatever chemical they dump into the river that hosts Mark Twain’s boat ride. It’s me, my wife and my three kids: eight, eight, and five.
Behind me are two adults – husband and wife, judging by how they stand close but do not speak – each of them wearing Mickey hats and sweaters. They have a bag filled with Disney branded stuffed animals and magnets. The woman wears a Tigger tail and is sweating profusely. The man sports a 25th anniversary Disneyland medallion around his hairy neck. Annual Pass Holders for sure.
In front of me are two teenagers. In my mid-30s it’s now become difficult for me to say if a person is 17 or 23. I used to be able to tell. They are male and female. They are young. And they are in love. That much I know.
They hold hands and she hangs on him and he wraps his arms around her neck and he leans in and kisses her nose and she whispers something in his ear and they both laugh and they move awkwardly and stupidly as they emulate the actions of what they think it looks like to be in love.
Or maybe that is what it looks like.
Maybe the first stage of love is stupidity – flaunting your affections in public – showing the world how mature you are. Touch touch. Kiss kiss. Giggle giggle. They wear it on their sleeve so everyone knows.
Jade and I stifle our own idiotic brand of laughter and roll our eyes. When they aren’t looking I reach over and stroke Jade’s nose and bat my eyes at her and scoff the ground with my foot with unmistakable boy-ish charm. I blow her a kiss.
Jade mimes a blowjob and then begins to choke.
Rory asks if she’s okay.
The sweethearts order a churro. He says he doesn’t have money. She pays and laughs because isn’t that adorable and isn’t he so cute? They walk away, sweetening their lips with sugar.
My kids stand behind me. Three of them trying to casually kick and punch each other when we aren’t looking.
The girl in the churro cart looks sad and starved. Her skin is pale and her eyes are dead. “How can I help you?” She says it the way a porn star would. She says it like, “This is how you WANT IT to sound, right?”
I ask for two churros – four full feet of sweetness to split between us.
My children hear me order “ONLY 2?!” and the apocalypse begins.
Rory: “There are five of us! I want my own! I don’t want to share! Buy more! I’m not eating if I have to share!”
I’m like, “1. They’re huge. You don’t need your own. 2. I am going to break off a piece and hand it to you. If you choose to take it, you will reap the enjoyment of a churro. If you do not take it, your siblings will reap the rewards of your churro. It makes no difference to me.”
Huffy puffy face. Arms crossed. Dissent and argumentative undertones while I tear one off. Fists clenched. Eyebrows furrowed. Frumpy. Frumpy. Frumpy attitude.
I tear off the piece of churro and hold it out to my son. He stares at it but doesn’t lift his hands. I say, “This is your only chance. In who’s belly this churro lives is of no concern to me.”
He reaches out and grabs it, thankless. With a pinched face he starts eating. Life is hard.
The other two are no better.
People are crowding in around us. Shoulder to shoulder. Someone smells like steamed carrots. Someone else smells like garlic toast. Someone else smells like something that reminds me of the summer of 1994 though I can’t place it. It’s like pine needles and rubber tires and soil.
While we stand in line for the train (my favorite ride) the children bicker and argue with one another. They punch and fight. They ask why we’re in more lines. They yell at me for not getting them another churro. They want to go home and watch cartoons.
Glancing around I see that this is business as usual. Every parent in that line looks like they’re about to commit a homicide / suicide against their offspring.
I can feel my eyeball starting to twitch. My brain is getting all wired up. I need to sit somewhere quiet for a moment. I look at Jade and say, “We are reaching critical mass,” and she says, “Is that a church joke?”
Quinn crawls over the turn-style, pausing on the top to howl like a wolf, her face pointed at the sky. Rory kicks it with his foot like Jimmy Bad Ass but can’t execute it properly and it snaps back and hits him in the gut. He revenge punches the machine. Bryce gets trapped halfway between and begins to panic.
We’ve been here for two hours. The day is really just getting going. And yet, all I want to do is turn and walk away, flipping them off over my shoulder and shouting, “Find your own ride home, ya thankless bastards!”
They really do bring out the best in me.
They really do bring out the worst in me.
I look over at them. Pinching each other. Standing up. Sitting down. Crawling under the bench. I shut my eyes because my freaking head is going to explode. Would it be inappropriate for me to stand up, point with a condemning finger and shout, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! JUST SIT DOWN AND SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR ONE GODDAMN SECOND!”
Jade leans against the rail post and stares into the distance, probably imagining that she’s in a soft bed with Netflix and Diet Coke. We all need an escape.
As the train pulls up, an older woman helps a younger man out. The man is mid-20s. Clearly her son. He has on a bright orange helmet that straps under his chin and matching vest pulled snuggly over his torso. Both his arms are strapped down to his side, tied off so he can’t move them. At the bottom of the vest I can see his little fingers peeking out. As she guides him along, one hand placed on his back, he attempts to reach out and touch things. Tries to make contact with a plant. With the fence. With the garbage can. His fingers twitch and grab hopelessly. His eyes are softly focused and he makes lazy contact with each object. His mother guides him gently down the stairs.
They turn and disappear into the crowd.
I watch them vanish.
The interaction took moments. Here and gone. And now I’m back at the train station. My kids. All of it.
I grow aware that my mouth is dry. I grow aware that the sun is warm. I grow aware that my fingers are sticky from the churro.
I look down at Quinn and see her face is covered with sugar crystals. It looks like she’s just gone on a coke bender. She hisses at me and puts up her hands like claws. I reach out and touch the top of her head. Feel her hair. Feel her skull. Acknowledge her presence.
Acknowledge her health.
Acknowledge the blessing of life. Of hers. Of mine. Of hers inextricably looped into mine.
I touch each of their heads in turn, thankful for each of them. Thankful for this moment on the train station steps.
On the train, Quinn gives Rory a snake bite and he kicks her in the knee.
*** *** *** *** ***
Splash Mountain is closed and the Indiana Jones ride has technical difficulties. They turn us away after our hour wait in line is almost over.
*** *** *** *** ***
In line for The Jungle Cruise I can see the boats pulling up and collecting people. The main source of enjoyment at Disneyland is watching other people get on a ride and living vicariously through them, if even for a moment. “Oh! The ride is moving! I bet they’re having a good time! That will be me soon!”
That will be me soon.
As we draw closer to the boarding station, I see a boat stop. A draw bridge comes down. A mechanical device swivels around. On the dock I see an old woman in a wheelchair. She is pushed onto the mechanical platform and it navigates her onto the boat.
Her hair is thin and white and wispy. Each thread is an albino spider’s web. Her skin is translucent, barely more than Reynold’s wrap. Her veins are blue and purple. Her skin is mottled with brown spots, her body ripening like an old banana.
Her eyes are crusted but there is life in them. She is still there. Whoever she was. Is who she is. Her consciousness trapped inside of a failing body. Her mind aware that her body is rotting away.
As she passes, I stand up a little straighter. Take a deep breath. Hold it. Let it out. Become aware that I am young and becoming less young by the moment. Become aware that I am alive. Become aware that I am healthy.
Become aware that that will be me soon.
That will be me soon.
That will be me.
My own mortality is glass. And the idea that I feel invincible and changeless is an illusion. I am going to grow old. I am going to get sick. I am going to die.
My hair is going to white out. My vision and hearing are going to fail me. My body is going to go rogue. My skin is going to turn ghost on me.
I will need help standing.
Everything that I do. Every choice that I make. Every road that I travel. Leads to old age and death.
The only difference between that old woman and myself is 50 years. The band of time holds us apart but she may as well have been me. I may as well have been her.
Later on I stare into the witch’s mirror and see my own aging face staring back at me. “Mirror mirror on the wall. Whose the fairest of them all?”
It answers back.
“None of you. All are rotting fruit, destined for the compost heap. This is merely your season in the sun. Let the light touch your face. Have self control. Give. Be compassionate. Eat churros.”