PICTURE IT! Summer 2020; yeah, we all wanna forget that summer, the pandemic was still raging, the nation was still divided in a heated political race and across the globe people were marching to stop social injustices. And yet, the odd beauty of life is that even when it seems like everything is going down in flames, some sparks manage to light up fireworks in unexpected ways. One night, I told the story as to why I have such a deep fondness towards Disney Castles, specifically Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World, in Paco Panda's Patreon chat. Paco was so moved by the story that on my birthday, July 17th, he asked me if I could join him and his friends Koidel, Apolo, and Roni in telling the same story on his podcast. I was so moved by the kind gesture that I wanted to immortalize it in a drawing by Paco as a Patreon reward. Last night, I finally got the piece and it was more than I ever hoped for in a picture; it captures the warmth nostalgia of a young Drohan discovering the joys in a toy castle to present day Drohan admiring how far he has come.
But what does the picture actually mean? That's where my story comes it. It starts in the brightest of my days; kindergarten. Growing up, I was introduced very early on to a lot of classic films and animated shorts. Some of the first that stuck out in my mind the most were the Disney Animated Classics. I had seen "Alice in Wonderland", "Dumbo", "Robin Hood", "Pinocchio" and more. Despite how varied their stories were, they all had one thing in common; there was a castle ready to start the show with just a few notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star". Even when I was young and not an English speaker, I knew that as soon as I saw the castle, I was in for a treat. This applied to the beloved Disney Afternoon shows and many other Disney stories.
Knowing this very well, my parents and I went on an outing to a Sears store (and if you remember what that is congratulations you just aged yourself!). I went through the toy aisle to see what they had, believing that whatever I wanted I would get it. As I traverse through the seemingly endless aisle, I finally see it... a Disney Cinderella Castle playset! I knew right away it was the castle from the Disney films as it had Mickey and Minnie, some generic toy guests and even a trolley! I knew what I had to do then....ask my mom and dad to get it. And their most amazing, incredible answer was a big, fat, resounding NO. My parents were not there to buy me toys, they were there to do their adult stuff. And as any kid at that age would do I accepted their answered and went on with my life...Kidding, I SCREAMED hard because I REALLY wanted that castle. I did not want it later, I did not want it for Christmas or my birthday...the moment was right there and then. I made such a huge show I was dragged kicking and screaming out of the store.
This type of reaction is common for any child that age as they have yet to understand that some things are frivolous purchases that can't be made at that time. More importantly, boys would want an action figure, a video game, a huge action playset. Girls would want the prettiest doll, or any boy toy they could not get because "boys have boy toys and girls have girl toys". Me? I just wanted a castle. It was just a fantasy castle that wasn't epic or elaborate. But for me, it represented something that made me genuinely happy. You see, growing up I was a very bullied child, I was a special needs kid in school, I was a very odd kid even in kindergarten. Disney films were my comfort food because even if I didn't understand what they were saying, the stories as told through stunning animation and music managed to touch my heart in a manner that shaped who I would become as a person.
A few months later, I forgot all about that toy castle. Funny to thing how I went to screaming bloody murder to just forgetting about it. Time marches on, and now it was time to graduate Kindergarten and start life in elementary school (spoiler alert, not fun times). During the ceremony, our teacher would call us to the stage to grab a present. As my name was called out, I was a very clueless kid having no idea what to do, especially with my parents and other people telling me to look at their cameras left and right and to smile and pose properly. Geez, all of this for just a present photo! With that out of the way, I opened up my big box and it was...THE CASTLE I WANTED TO BADLY BACK AT THE STORE!!
I didn't knew it then, but not only was it a dream come true, it set off a narrative that would follow me to this day; everything you want in life is order earned and worked hard for. I had to graduate Kindergarten for me to get that castle. Who knows what type of child would I have become if my parents had just caved in and gave the the toy to shut me up. But my parents did not cave in and instead save the toy for a special occasion. I remember playing with that castle so much, using some of my other toys to pretend that they were invading the castle and I had to protect it! I was the hero in my own little world.
Growing up, however, has the tendency to make you forget about those little pleasures as the desire to grow up sets in strongly. I pass through high school as best as I can, by college I began to blossom socially, and most importantly I got my Disney groove back thanks to re-releases of my beloved classics on DVD and Kingdom Hearts on the PlayStation 2. I went back to a Disney kick unlike never before. I began to read Disney theme park blogs on LiveJournal, watch short videos and vlogs (long before there would be such a thing as a Disney Influencer Vlogger like we have now) and soon joined a group of Disney theme parks that would chronicle their theme park outings. Going back to my youth, I knew that these places "existed" because I remember growing up watching "The Wonderful World of Disney" Sunday nights and they would feature specials taken at the Disney parks such as "Walt Disney World's 15th Anniversary" and "Snow White's Golden Anniversary" at Disneyland. But my status as a poor kid to factory worker parents meant one thing; these were impossible trips.
In my adult years, however, I gained this sense of desire beyond just watching videos and living through someone else's story, I want to LIVE the moment. Soon, I began to gain friendships with Disney Travel Agents who were more than quick to offer their services. In 2012, I had gotten a job that paid more than decently and I have made a life changing decision; I was going to Walt Disney World to celebrate my 30th birthday and meet my online friends for the first time!
A common theme that you may see is that whatever I want is not obtained so easily; not only did I have to work hard to make the trip a reality, in early Spring my father suffered a heart attack that left him in the hospital for almost three months, During this time, I was working, keeping the house intact, managing family matters and paying off my trip. Thing is, if my dad would not leave the hospital or passed away, I would have cancelled it. And of course...he lived! I kept on working so I could gain more money for the trip! Some trips to the other parks later, the date had come; July 17th, 2012, my 30th birthday, If you are a Disney parks fan, you will know that July 17 marks the opening of the Disneyland Resort, on July 17, 1955! Sharing a birthday with one of the biggest icons in American history just gave everything a sense of fulfilled destiny.
After meeting with friends, I had decided to get on a Main Street car, and close my eyes, I asked my friends to let me know when I had the perfect shot of the castle. That was going to be the first time in my entire life I was going to see Cinderella Castle. They countdown to one, I open up my eyes and there she was; not a picture, not a video on YouTube, not a broken up TV broadcast, it was the castle I had wanted to see and visit for so long. And once again, I had to work hard and endure obstacles to make this a reality, making the moment that much more significant.
A few more trips later, I realized something major; I had to leave Puerto Rico for good. Not because I wanted to be near Disney, or I just wanted a change of scenery but because its social and economic stance was getting worse by the day. Despite me moving to a big city jobs were scarce, and for many Puertoricans moving to the United States was the only option left. I had been convinced that moving to Orlando was the best course of action, but I didn't know it was going to happen to suddenly. Come October 2014, I had packed all my belongings and flew with my mom to Orlando to stay on a motel to start life anew. As expected, I was hired right away to work at a restaurant then a movie theater. That period was some of the hardest I ever worked and the one with the most turmoil as my dad was alone in Puerto Rico, my sister (who was living there) had a major fallout, and mom and I were living in motel rooms while I worked to jobs that would often start in the morning and end late at night. I persevered, though, because I knew that gaining that job experience would help me reach better career goals. I endured workplace harassment, extreme fatigue, deep depression and anxiety that nearly made me quit, but I kept on working hard as I had finally settled in to a new house and my whole family was here.
Jump to 2018 and I officially become a Walt Disney World Resort Cast Member! Turns out all those years working hard made for an impressive resume. It was then that last year I would celebrate both my birthday and return from furlough due to the pandemic by buying a Disney Theme Park Castle Playset, thus marking a full circle moment for me.
Three decades, three castles, and one dream made real. And in all three, I learned that no dream is ever impossible if you work hard for it. I understand that this phrase may seem cynical and disingenuous in today's world, but for me that WAS the case as I learned that everything worth obtaining in life is worth through hard work and waiting for the right moment. Each of these moments happened at crucial moments in my life that would forever change how I viewed the world, and the castle represents to me just that; how we are all living in our own Cinderella story and we all have a grand scheme to pursue.