“All over the world major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or Ancient Egypt, is re-assimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonize past and future. The same trend can be seen in personal relationships, in the way people are expected to package themselves, their emotions and sexuality, in attractive and instantly appealing forms.”
― J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition
I was called out of class into the Principal’s office where my mom and my little sister were already waiting for me.
“Your Aunt Cissie is very sick,” the Principal said, “I’m so very sorry to hear this.”
“Aunt Cissie?” I replied. I had no idea who he was talking about.
“You know Aunt Cissie,” my mother said, her voice sounding desperate. I knew that tone – I had heard it many times.. too many times.
“Of course,” I lied. “I hope she’s going to be OK.” I was pretty sure she would not be OK – because she didn’t exist.
“So we will have to take you and your sister out of school for a couple weeks,” my mother said. “I’m going to have to take care of Aunt Cissie and you two will come with me.”
The principal looked suspicious, but what could he say? My mom gathered the two of us up and we walked out to the car as quickly as we could.
“What is this Aunt Cissie stuff?” I asked her. “I never heard of an Aunt Cissie.”
“There isn’t any Aunt Cissie you dummy. That’s just a story to get you both out of school.”
“You lied to the principal?” my sister said. She was too young and always told the truth.
“Just a little white lie,” my mother said. “We’re going to Disneyworld.”
“In California?” I asked.
“No, Disneyworld is in Florida.”
“Why are we going all that way, California is a lot closer.”
“Don’t ask me stupid questions. Your dad has made all the arrangements. We’re going to drive to Florida, so you and your sister have to learn to be quiet in the car.”
I was excited about going to Disneyworld. All our vacations up to that point had involved lakes full of odd-smelling water, bologna sandwiches, and coolers of beer. They always ended bad – both parents way too drunk and pissed of at each other – and a drive home days early. A cross-country trip in our beat-up old car didn’t sound like much fun, but Disneyworld! I wasn’t really sure exactly what Disneyworld was, but it was something that other kids, other families talked about and I wanted to be one of those people.
The drive was even worse than I thought it would be. I tried to stretch out on the floorboards – my legs over the transmission hump. Right when I’d relax and almost go to sleep, my sister would put her feet on me, pushing down, and I’d have a claustrophobic panic attack.
I’d yell, my sister would whine, my mom would scream and my dad would lose his temper. One time somewhere, I think it was in Nebraska, we pulled over and my dad pulled us out and gave us a beating alongside this nowhere road.
The car broke down in Mississippi… I remember my Dad pouring water from an old milk jug into the radiator and having to dodge the boiling water shooting out like a geyser. An old man from the gas station was able to patch something together and we were able to get on the road. Even though it was awful hot outside, my Dad ran the heater as we rolled down the highway with all the windows down. He said it helped keep the engine from overheating.
We had a room in a motel not far from the park. It was small and a little sketchy – still I couldn’t figure out how we could afford even that. But I thought… what the hell… Disneyworld!
And the park was everything I dreamed of and more. Mom took my sister and me – my dad dropped us off and left in the car – he said he had something he needed to take care of. Fine with me, without my dad, my mom was always in a better mood. We stayed all day and mom bought my sister and I anything we wanted – ice cream, hot dogs, stuffed toys of Mickey and Pluto. The lines at the rides were too long, but I enjoyed just walking around. It was like being in another world… a better world than I was used to living in.
We were completely worn out at the end of the day and my mom called a cab to take us back to the motel. I had never ridden in a cab before – it made me feel important. A perfect end to the best day of my life.
Something funny, though, back at the motel. My mom made us walk all through the parking lot looking for the car. When we didn’t find it she said, “Good, your dad’s not here, we can go back to the room.”
My mom was carrying my sister, she was asleep over her shoulder so she handed me the key to open the door. I walked in and saw may dad pulling bricks of plastic-wrapped white stuff from a big trash bag, packing them into a couple of empty suitcases. I had wondered why he had brought those along.
He screamed at my mother, “I told you to stay away until I was finished!”
“Your car wasn’t there, we looked!” she said.
“It broke down again, I had to get a rental! Get the hell out of here!”
Mom took us to the diner attached to the motel. My sister slept on one half of the booth while I picked at my fries and ignored my cheeseburger.
The damage had been done. I was young, but I knew what I had seen. Now it made sense – why we made such a long trip, how we could afford it, what made my dad so jumpy.
He showed up at the diner a couple hours later and I was surprised at how quiet he was. We packed up right away and left the motel in the middle of the night in the rental car. I never found out what happened to our old car and assume it was abandoned somewhere.
You would think this adventure would change our life – I certainly hoped it would. But other than some new furniture and my parents buying better brands of booze – the kind that came in glass bottles, not plastic – everything was pretty much back to normal in a couple months. I guess my dad was just a drug mule and they don’t actually make that much money. The principal looked sad whenever I walked by. He said he was sorry about my aunt Cissie.
I had to act along, of course. I was so good at faking the illness and eventual death of a non-existent relative that I began to believe it myself. To this day, sometimes I find myself thinking about my aunt and feeling sad – until I remember.