My parents left me at EPCOT Center on my birthday.
I know, it seems like a wish come true, but for a newly minted 9-year old who was afraid of his own shadow, it wasn’t quite as cool as all that. The day before we had visited the Magic Kingdom and all the fascination that came along with it. In fact, they had given me the choice of if I wanted to spend my birthday at Disney or EPCOT, and I chose EPCOT because the 26th was closer to Christmas, and I felt that Disney would be lit up better because of the proximity of the holiday (My birthday is the 27th). I was wrong. It was just as lit up on the 27th.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20.
Anyway, my dad told me once that I didn’t remember it correctly, that I was sitting on the bench, refusing to go on whatever ride it was with them, so they let me think they were leaving me. But I recall wandering alone, crying, hoping I would see my parents again someday (my sister too, if I’m to be honest). I was also mad at them, though, because it was my birthday, and they were supposed to treat me like the king of everything (“Who died and made you king of anything?”). It seemed inherently wrong to exclude me from any of the fun, to leave me sitting there thinking I was deserted.
My sister told me that I was in a pissy mood from the start, that I wanted everything to revolve around me, and when it all didn’t I pouted and threw a tantrum. I remember no tantrums. What I do remember is a nice lady (with a nametag) asking me where my parents were. I remember going with her to some park office and sitting on another bench while they used the park intercom to advertise my whereabouts to my parents. I remember waiting an interminable period of time before they showed up.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the park, somewhat aimlessly. I always guessed this was somehow a way for them to “prove” they were doing what I wanted. But to me the whole experience became something I always looked back on to show I was some kind of saint who was misunderstood and underappreciated in my own family, even on my own birthday.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Truth be told, I was ass back then. I did think the world should revolve around me. I did think I should be the center of attention, and I probably had thrown a hissyfit right there at EPCOT in order to get the attention I craved. Perhaps they left me, and perhaps not. Perhaps I wandered off when no one was looking, but I did end up alone, and I used it as a guilt trip. I used it like I used so many things before and since, as excuses.
A few years later, when I returned to EPCOT for the first time since the debacle, I tried to remember which bench it was, and I couldn’t. It had all blended and blurred together in my mind, to the point where I couldn’t even tell if it was actual facts, or if it was some kind of twisted fiction I had concocted to push forth my own narrative. At some point, long after I had given up on finding that bench, I realized it was probably some weird amalgamation of the two.
I realized I’ve always done that, painted things to appear a certain way. This was especially true when I was a kid, when I thought my parents loved my sister more than me so I had a righteous indignation, carte blanche to make up and distort whatever I had to so I was relevant. It was this perceived irrelevance, this slight, that gave me whatever power I had, and an indignation that bled through the shyness I had prior to all of that. I used it as fuel, even if it wasn’t always entirely true.
A friend told me the other day that her kid always lies, regardless of the situation, that he’s become so used to the lie that it doesn’t matter how big or small the original question was that he was asked. I was that kid. My mother would ask if I had done my homework and I would say yes. She would ask me if the sky was blue and I would say no. EPCOT became the poster situation for my lies, and the time when I was finally called out on it, on my birthday, no less.
So, maybe I was left. Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe they let me wander far enough away so I could learn a lesson. Maybe I even learned that lesson, but it took more years than I’d care to admit that finally “learned me.” I do know that, looking back on it, I felt a sense of entitlement, that I was owed some kind of attention, and I would do whatever it took to get that attention. I do know that after that I was much less inclined to travel far away from my mom (my dad was out of the picture soon after EPCOT).
My parents left me at EPCOT Center on my birthday. I think I was 9, or 8, or whatever. But whenever it was, it helped me learn that life needs to be lived, that nothing can be assumed. And I wonder if I had picked Disney World for my birthday, if things would have been any different. I’m sure I would have found some way to get left there too, though.