Dear Disneyland, About My Dad’s Death…

My parents were born the year Disneyland opened (and the year after). Being born and raised a Southern California native meant frequent trips to the park. Disneyland used to be affordable for families. They could enter the park and pay only for the rides they wanted to go on with ticket books.

With their own strong nostalgia, my parents brought my siblings and I almost every year when we were small children. Disneyland is a place of magic for many families. But not so much for my family anymore.

My dad was a disabled veteran. He spent 25 years in the Navy, sacrificing his health, time with his family, and more than 50% of his adult life. Unfortunately for us, his GI bill was non-transferable due to the year he retired. So when it came time for college — there were not many options for me.

California has a tuition waiver called the California Veterans Fee Waiver. If the student lives on their own in California as a resident (a full year), and is under the poverty line, their tuition gets waived to any California state school. So to save my family financial burden, I moved out at the age of 20 and participated in the Disney College Program.

This “internship” was my opportunity to move to California with a job, and a place to live. My plan was to establish residency and get into school ASAP. But life didn’t work out that way. Supporting yourself in Southern California on dreams and minimum wage is like singing underwater. I don’t suggest it.

I made too much money (a measly 2 thousand too many) trying to survive and was not awarded my fee waiver despite all my hard work, tears, and the ridiculous number of times I had to move due to insane roommates, short leases, and finance problems. I had to buck up and tell myself “this year I will do better.” It was my only choice after all. And living in poverty is not easy. It is in fact, a nightmare. And despite help from my parents — it’s basically impossible.

Fast forward to the age of 22, just after my birthday. I am living on my friends couch. My roommate and I are in between apartments. Her car got towed a few days prior. I have no money. Disney wouldn’t let me apply for lead. Everything around me was crashing, including my self esteem.

November 11th I sat alone in my friend’s car pitying myself in the Target parking lot. Convinced I was already at rock bottom. My mom called me and I immediately started to complain about my week — until I heard the tone in her voice. “Do you have someone with you,” she asked. “Is there someone who can stay with you tonight?” I knew something terrible had happened. Before answering her question I started asking her what the hell was going on “papas gone.” In those seconds I felt the air sucked from my lungs.

This, this was rock bottom. I disintegrated.

I called and called and called and eventually got through to my managers at work, at Disneyland. I was given 5 bereavement days. I had to fly to Arizona immediately (which I did not have money for, blessed are those who donated to my GoFundMe). The managers granted me some, but not enough, days of personal leave.

They scheduled me during my dads funeral. I emailed them and simply said “I won’t be coming in.” But I was expected back the day after burying my father. Upon returning to work I was faced with PTSD. The last time I saw my father was on a family trip to Disneyland, which we had not been able to do in years. The last meal we shared was at my restaurant. And here I stood, the day after burying my father, serving his infamously favorite drink, Diet Coke, to happy families with Christmas music blaring.

Two of my managers had the audacity to ask me if I was in therapy yet. The day after I buried my father. I had barely been able to get dressed. I’d lost nearly 20 lbs. I was being asked by managers who scheduled me during his burial if I was in therapy yet, while I was staring at the table where my family last had a meal together.

I could not go back to work. I started calling out sick. But I didn’t have enough “points” to spare. My managers didn’t bother to call me. I was eventually fired.

Disney touts family values, and respect for veterans. Yet here I was destroyed by the loss of my hero, my father, working for a company that couldn’t manage to give me a day after the burial to myself. And when I provided a copy of the burial schedule from the cemetery, one of managers scoffed, because it was not the proof he was looking for. As if name, time of burial, location, and plot number were not enough. As if the swollen glassy mouse eyes I looked at him with were not enough. As if the costume falling off my shrinking body was not enough. As if my inability to keep composure was not enough.

I spent the last living years of my dads life, breaking my back, just trying to survive so that I could go to college and better myself. I spent the last living years of my dads life, working for a company that could not respect my health, or my father’s death.

The last picture I have with my father is our shitty cellphone picture from Splash Mountain. Disneyland is supposed to be the place where “Dreams Come True.” But to me, and to my family, the only dreams it brings now are in the form of nightmares.

You love your ears Disney, but do you listen?

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