“In the decade of bell bottoms and disco, Disney released the Mickey Mouse Turnover Choo-Choo. The train station revolved while Goofy held his suitcase, and Donald Duck reminded you to slow down. The bright yellow train track would turn over by the weight of the engine with Mickey as the conductor, sending him back the way he came. Minnie, Pluto, and one of Donald’s nephews were present, in the form of a sticker, waving along the track. I never felt that big of an attachment to this train, even though it was one of my first toys. I do remember the children on the box looked way too thrilled. Perhaps they were pretending as I did, that their childhoods were a happy one.
The train was a gift from my father. That could explain my impartial feelings. It also most likely explains the hidden desire I had to always tuck the train away safely in a moving box. Making sure wherever I went, it went. It was, after all, the only reminder of my father I had. At some point, the moving box that was selected to protect it mistakenly made its way to the Goodwill.
Parental alienation. If you are not familiar with the term, I envy you. Wikipedia states, ‘Parental alienation describes a process through which a child becomes estranged from a parent as the result of the psychological manipulation of another parent.’ I wrote a memoir in 2017, But You Look So Good and Other Lies. In part, my book goes into greater detail regarding the manipulation of me, by the person who was supposed to protect me the most. That would be my mother. Against whom, I only now know to be, my well-meaning father.
I grew up with stories that my father was a ‘mean man who did mean things.’ When I was nine, Dad tried to obtain more visitations with me. My mother told me I’d be ripped from her and my only brother at the time and never see them again. When I was ten, my brother and I think we are heading to Hershey Park in PA. Days later, we ended up in Las Vegas, NV. I knew that was a long way from our home, family, and friends on Long Island, NY. You can imagine my shock and the subsequent trauma I experienced when I realize Vegas was now our home.
I felt the weight on my young adolescent shoulders as we moved from one seedy apartment to another every six months or so. Attending different schools, so my dad could not locate me. Even though growing up, all I heard was that my dad had little desire to see me. And that he never paid child support while my other siblings’ dads paid theirs. There were also stories that he bit me and threw pots and pans at me whenever I would cry.
A child believes what a mother tells them. In the faint memories I did have of my dad, stepmom, and stepsister, there were flashes of pool parties and delicious Strawberry Nesquik mix in the tin container. I always doubted those memories. And my sanity. I would find out later in life through therapy that this harming behavior is what you call gaslighting.
I would also grow to realize that my mother was flawed (aren’t we all?) and selfish. She’d choose the local casino and their endless free drinks over quality time with her children. She preferred men over her children too. My mother lied to me about my father. Documents and a long line of relatives have confirmed that. I wasn’t asking many questions as a child or young adult. I wish I would have been brave enough too. Distant relatives didn’t know what I knew as a child and felt it wasn’t their place to pull me aside. Fair enough.
That stepsister I mentioned? Five years ago, we found each other on Facebook. That would lead to conversations with my stepmom and my father. We started with, ‘So, what is your favorite color and movie?’ Questions one already should have been able to answer about the other. During our first few calls, I found out the full extent of my mother’s lies and self-serving agenda. My dad has receipts for child support payments dating back to the late 70s and early 80s. I was not aware that he would show up for a scheduled visit, and my mother would lie, claim I was sick. I was also unaware that the judge reprimanded my mom for continually bringing my dad to court to increase his child support.
In recent years, an aunt relayed a story that may explain some of my mother’s indifferent feelings toward me. Mom wanted me only after seeing the attention that her brother and his wife were receiving as they were expecting. When Mom accomplished her goal, she picked the ‘perfect’ time to announce the news. As the guest entered the church for my brand-new cousin’s christening, Mom blocked the entrance, leading hands to touch her belly as family and friends tried to maneuver to their seats. My mother would end up cheating on my father and leave him for my little brother’s dad when I was two.
It has been years since I spoke to or seen the woman who birthed me. The family rift has unfortunately claimed the relationship with some of my siblings as a casualty. Family dinners, time together at the holidays, I do miss it. It’s just me, my husband, and our daughter most of the time nowadays. My mother owns a home twenty minutes from me, but she might as well live in a different country.
I spoke to my dad every other week for a full year before we reunited in person. I had happened to be in New York City for work and took the train from Jamaica to Ronkonkoma the next morning. I felt excitement, not nerves, as I stared out the gritty window waiting for my stop. When I finally got to hug my dad, neither of us wanted to let go.
My dad, stepmom, stepsister, and I have rebuilt our relationship one phone call, one Facebook interaction, and one visit at a time. I also didn’t realize I have an aunt and cousin on my dad’s side too. They live closer to me in Arizona, and I try to visit once or twice a year. My aunt and stepmom fuss over me, and I’ll admit I’m not used to that from a maternal parental figure. Not since my grandmother died anyway.
I always arrive at my aunt’s house to the aroma of a homecooked meal. My stepmom once insisted on having my dad drive us around in the pouring rain so I could enjoy my favorite New York cheese pizza and garlic bagels. My stepsister and I sometimes enjoy cordial liquors or Moscato. My dad and stepmom always have these spirits purchased long before I knock on their door. I genuinely appreciate these small acts of kindness, which simply show they care.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, online shopping, or at least adding wish-list items to my cart, has been a frequent activity. I had cut myself off from eBay in the early 2000s after I found myself hiding packages from UPS. But last week, I found myself back on the site, just looking. Then, it dawned on me! I hit search after typing, ‘Disney toy train.’ I’m scrolling down until I’m not. There it is! That 70s orange box, those damn happy children. I hit ‘Buy It Now.’
Possessing this childhood toy again brings me such joy and a reminder that I was loved by my dad my entire life. He tried to find me and fight for me. I know that now. My dad does not hold a grudge against my mother. ‘We go from here,’ he says. I admire his grace.
My insane lifetime love of all things Disney? It had to of started with my train! I visit Disneyland at least once a year. And yes, I’m one of those people who get teary when they see the castle. It is my wish that one day, I can visit a Disney park with my dad. Maybe we can ride the train off into the sunset.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cherilynn Finver. Follow her journey on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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