Some Day My Princess Will Come
At nine, I became a man. The kind of man who falls in love with a fairytale princess at a theme park, but a man nonetheless. The evidence of my sudden mandom was slowly soaking through my blue soccer shorts and onto the pink ball gown of the princess in question. She smiled as I clutched her dress, as the flashbulb popped, as my mother pried me away, cheeks several shades darker than the dress. You can still see the wet spots in the photo. One on me, one on her. A perfect match.
I’m marrying her, mommy. I said. I’m marrying the princess.
Sure, honey, my mom said. You can marry the princess. You can do whatever you want.
My dad was in the bathroom again, sneaking scotch from the flask he had smuggled through the gates inside his fanny pack. My mom stood outside the men’s room and yelled until he stumbled out, squinting into the Orlando sun.
Well look at this, he said, whistling. You’re a man now. My son, the man.
He announced it like a carnival barker, like the leader of one of the performing troupes that choked the paths between rides. Some older kids laughed but I kept smiling because I was marrying the princess. And what did I know about premature ejaculation anyway? Or as my dad put it, creamin’ my jeans. He cleaned me up and we made our merry way from teacup to spaceship to runaway train car.
Expectant mothers may not ride.
Riders may get wet.
Keep hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.
My mom read every sign aloud as we made our way through the park.
Even as the night’s fireworks faded and she tucked me into the hotel cot while my dad snored, I imagined marrying the princess, growing up, creamin’ my jeans. I stared at the photo of the two of us until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It really was a small world.
After my wife left, it made perfect sense to pack my things for Florida. Why she left made less sense to me.
A few things: for the night of our wedding I specifically rented (and eventually purchased, when the stains would not come out) a pink gown from a costume shop and demanded she wear it every time we had sex. And following brief stints as magician, party clown, cotton candy entrepreneur, and archaeologist (well, archaeologist’s assistant—well, dig worker—well, science museum gift shop cashier and occasional fill-in tour guide), I was between jobs. A long way between.
But with that resume, I found a position at the park. Sometimes stuffed in a hot, soft dog costume, sometimes clothed as an old-timey popcorn hawker. Once they strapped me into a suit made to look like the bottom half of a fish and paraded me around in a large water tank while I held a trident, but only once. It was that kind of park.
I was the only unwed, childless thirty-year-old man at the park on my days off. Most days, really. I spent my free time wandering from queue to queue, nervously checking the character visit schedules. I set reminders on my phone, and when the alarms went off I would conveniently realize what I really needed at that exact moment was to be serenaded in a hundred languages by brightly painted robot children representing all the nations of the world. While sitting in a boat.
Riders may get wet.
Perhaps long hours inside enormous stuffed cartoon animal heads had done something to my brain, but eventually I worked up the courage to set three extra alarms and walk right past the International Togetherness Ride Featuring That Damn Song to the lagoon that surrounded the castle. The sign read 2:15. The queue wasn’t actually inside the castle, but you can’t always get what you want, and you probably never will, my father always said.
But I was first in line!
I still had an hour, so to steady myself I slurped cola through a bright blue straw shaped like an elephant. The occasional costumed character would nod at me or whisper while I waited.
Nice shorts, George.
You’re scaring the kids.
Didn’t Gary fire you last week?
I just grinned and kept on waiting. And then there she was, resplendent in pink. She smiled, beckoned me toward her.
You need to get out of here, George. Now.
I clutched her gown tighter, brandished the ragged photograph like the sword that would save her, that would save us both. This time it wasn’t my mother, but rough hands hidden inside comical, oversized white gloves that pulled me away. My shorts were wet.
She was crying.
I was crying.
A perfect match.
Christian Dahlager plays guitar in the band We Became Actors and writes for onethirtyfive, a photography/fiction collaboration that is currently on hiatus. He lives in Minneapolis and accepts bribes in the forms of whiskey, pizza and chocolate chip cookies.
Illustrated by Meghan Murphy.