Finding America

Me and Tarah

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It was 1990.

Ahead of our stay in Florida that year, my parents had been weary of an inordinately high number of kidnappings in Orlando. It was impressed upon the three of us - my two brothers and me - that we should stay close by.

Indeed, as we would later discover, it would not just be my parents offering this advice; every tourist attraction in Orlando would be replete with the following phrase: take all small children by the hand.

When my family and I stepped foot on American soil for what - in my case - was the very first time, I was in awe; after all, I now stood in the exact same country I'd seen many times before in films like Back to the Future, The Goonies, and E.T.

Actually, at Universal Studios we took in numerous attractions aimed at replicating such movies. I vividly recall riding a bicycle alongside E.T, a cable car alongside King Kong, and a subway train alongside an 8.3 magnitude earthquake.

All the while, we kept hearing that same message: take all small children by the hand.

By the time we entered Magic Kingdom, I had not lost that wide-eyed sense of wonder - a feeling I would rediscover 18 years later upon my eventual relocation to the United States.

Of course, Magic Kingdom appeared to have everything an eight-year-old could wish for: lots of bright colours, a Hollywood soundtrack, and a delectable variety of A-list Disney characters. And like most 8-year-olds, I really wanted to meet one character in particular: Mickey Mouse.

We found him waving at a group of kids somewhere near Cinderella Castle.

He was much taller than I'd imagined - roughly the size of a performing arts graduate. I looked up at him nervously, as he shook my hand with a firmness that was equally unexpected.

After he signed his name on my cap, I told my parents - in no uncertain terms - that I wanted a Mickey Mouse of my own, preferably the biggest one in the gift store. To this day, I am grateful that this request was vetoed; I ended up with the more manageable 10-inch version.

Not long after, meanwhile, we walked toward the Hall of Presidents. I held my new purchase tightly, as an announcement came over the public address system: take all small children by the hand.

At about this time, it happened; I glanced up and my parents were gone.

I assumed they were at a nearby hot dog stand or something, or that they had taken a toilet break without telling me. It would have been the British thing to do, after all. They must be just around the corner or behind this crowd of people.

They weren't. After about 2 minutes, I started to panic in a distinctly 8-year-old kind of way. I didn't scream, or anything like that. I just froze. Suddenly, everyone around me seemed like a threat, like someone I should, on no account, approach.

A police officer stood about 25 yards from me. He had a gun in his holster.

I didn't speak to that police officer.

Instead, I just sat. I sat on a bench with Mickey Mouse in my hands.  A little-known fact about me is that I share a birthday with Mickey Mouse; he was introduced to the world on November 18, 1928 - exactly 53 years before I was born. Now - for what would seem like a lifetime - we also shared a bench.

We just sat there. Even at eight, I remember reasoning that it was best to stay absolutely still, instead of trying to find the Hall of Presidents. Eventually my parents would realise I was missing. They would retrace their steps and find their way back to me.

The police officer walked out of sight. Strangers came and went, as did the minutes.

As I sat there, I thought about some of the things my parents had said; don't go wandering off; kids get snatched all the time in Disney World. In my 8-year-old head, it seemed a real possibility that I might never see my parents again, that I might become the latest child to be taken. 

I'm really not sure how long my parents were gone. It might have been as long as an hour. One thing's for sure: my parents did realize I was missing; they did retrace their steps. They eventually found me sitting on that bench with Mickey Mouse.

Now if memory serves me correct, the eventual reunion prompted at least one of us to burst into tears. I think it was me. Okay, it was definitely me.

However, I have never blamed my parents for what, in hindsight, was actually a relatively trivial situation. Indeed, I read recently that - such is the robustness of Disney World's security - there has never actually been a successful kidnapping in the history of the complex.

As we made our way out of Disney World, that message came on the public address system one last time: take all small children by the hand.

My mother did just that - all the way to the car.

Laurence is a British expat living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a contributor for BBC America and writes a weekly column for Anglotopia. Having graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in English Language and Creative Writing, Laurence runs this blog, Lost In The Pond, charting the endless cultural and linguistic differences between Britain and The United States. 

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1 comment:

  1. This exact thing happened to me too, bench, crying, and all :/


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