Forgive me because this blog is going to get a little personal for a minute.
The past few weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. I won’t get into details, but I will say that I am thinking in depth about where I am in my life. I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve dealt with my life’s defining moments. Sometimes those reactions are the very definition of who I am.
I keep coming back to my friend Deanna. She was only in my life a few short years.
I think she’d probably tell you that I’m an asshole.
I met Deanna my junior year at UNLV. She was head of the Walt Disney World College Program Campus Representative program (if you aren’t familiar with WDWCP, this should catch you up). As campus reps for the program it was our job to pitch the internship to other students by speaking to classrooms, blanketing the campus with posters and holing up at a booth in the student union giving away Mickey Mouse stickers and pens.
Yup. We were those guys.
Deanna and I both shared a deep, near-disturbing love of Disney. We were happy to share our experience working for Disney with other students and try to convince them to give the internship a chance. We happily sat in that booth during our off hours handing out Mickey Stickers to high, confused Las Vegas students who couldn’t understand why anyone would move to Florida to work for $6 an hour when they could make $80k a year parking cars.
(Jokes on them because to this day people have a hard time understanding why I would move to Las Vegas to attend college.)
Deanna was in a wheelchair. She had some sort of degenerative disease from birth that, if I were a better person, I would’ve taken the time to learn more about. She had many friends around campus, at least people who would smile and say hello to her. She worked at the Celine Dion show at Caesar’s Palace and was damn proud of it. She beamed when she talked about her job, family, Disney or God.
For the most part we got along well, but I wasn’t always her favorite person. Deanna had a tendency to use her wheelchair as an excuse for not being further ahead in life. Her ‘woe is me’ attitude got to me and I wasn’t afraid to call her out for it.
I’m the one not in the wheelchair.
I don’t think there were many other people who called her out for her shit. I wish there were.
She returned the favor, saying some unsavory things about my then boyfriend behind my back. (She called him a hippie. Retrospectively not the worst thing I’ve heard about someone living in Eugene.) Despite these little quips, I enjoyed spending time with her. Deanna was funny, loved to drink and always offered to drive*. She really was a great friend. We even took a road trip to Disneyland with some other Disney-loving friends.
* Not drink and drive. Just drive. She had a specialized van and couldn’t take her electronic wheelchair in most vehicles. I hated driving in Vegas so I found this convenient.
Geppetto heals all wounds.
In 2006 I graduated, got engaged and moved to Portland with my hippie fiancé. Deanna and I kept in touch and she ended up moving back to Orlando to work for the Mouse. When my fiancé and I decided to marry at Walt Disney World she was thrilled. She helped us out by booking hotel rooms for our friends and family with her cast member discount. We invited exactly 18 people to our wedding and she was one of them. She was one of the few people who would appreciate my Disney wedding as much as I would and I was happy she would be there.
On August 13, 2007, exactly one week before my wedding, I got a phone call from a strange 407 number. I answered quickly. Assuming it was our wedding planner calling with bad news, visions of flooded wedding venues and swarms of locusts invading Florida flashed before my eyes. No such luck.
It was Deanna’s boyfriend Kyle.
She was dead.
I sat breathless as this very emotional stranger explained to me what had happened. Deanna was sick. Hospital. Drugs. Unresponsive. I honestly don’t remember much of the conversation.
Because all I could think was ‘Oh my god – my wedding guests! The discounts! Can we still get the discounts?!’.
After I got off the phone with Kyle I immediately called my mother. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Mom, my friend Deanna won’t be at the wedding. She’s dead.
Mom: Oh my god! What happened?
Me: I don’t really know. I need to call the wedding coordinator to make sure we can still get the discounts.
Mom: Are you okay?
Me: I will be if we can still get the 40% off!
Was this a normal reaction? I don’t know. Disney hotel rooms run upwards of $400 a night and I had promised my soon-to-be in-laws a discount. I didn’t want to disappoint them. I didn’t want to be that daughter-in-law. They’d hate me forever.
How could I live with that?
I called the wedding coordinator. Yes, I could still get the discount even though the cast member was deceased. Phew.
In the meantime Deanna’s mother was mourning her only child.
Feeling a bit of guilt, I called her up the next day. I offered to help her pack up Deanna’s apartment while we were in Orlando. It was the least I could do. Being the sweet, compassionate person that she is, she politely declined my offer. She said I should focus on being with my family and husband.
Of course she didn’t know how my main concern with her daughter’s death was getting her cast member discount. If she had, would it have changed anything? Probably not. Because she is an unselfish person.
And I am not.
Deanna’s funeral was on my wedding day. Instead of sitting with my family in the Disney Wedding Pavilion watching me and my husband exchange vows with Cinderella’s Castle in the distance, Deanna was back in Nevada, being buried in the dust of the Catholic cemetery shadowed by the mega resorts of the Las Vegas strip.
I heard Celine Dion sent flowers.
I never shed a tear for Deanna and I’m not sure why. Perhaps our friendship wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. Perhaps all that held us together was a shared love of the mouse-run corporation that would be a mainstay long after both of our deaths. Perhaps I’m just an unfeeling jerk. I don’t know. But I think of Deanna. And I hope all those big dreams she had eventually worked out for her somehow.
At least this worked out.