I like Disneyland at Christmastime. Lights and garland and holiday songs weave through the freedom that the Magic Kingdom offered me as a kid, and for one shining moment a year, still does.
This year I went on Emma’s first birthday. Emma’s my little yellow lab, who was born with a genetic fluke that required a surgeon to sever both of her ulnas. She’s a special one, taking her challenges head-on while growing up different from the rest of the puppies.
She didn’t go to Disneyland, though. She’s my emotional support dog, but not an ‘emotional support’ dog.
So I scratched her belly, said Happy Birthday Emma, and left her at home, sprawled across the couch.
At least I thought I left her at home.
I was in line for coffee outside Disneyland’s entry gate when I saw her leaning against the counter, waiting for her order. She was maybe 11 or 12, and reminded me of a younger Sixteen Candles-era Molly Ringwald, with her mishmash of baggy t-shirt and bangles and colored hair streaks and oversized Converse sneakers. There was a quiet loneliness surrounding her as she stood there, fidgeting with her hands and staring at the floor.
She was special, I could tell. She didn’t fit in, but she owned her identity with a muted confidence tinged by self-consciousness. I liked her.
I was shaken out of my over-observing by the coffee guy shouting out an order for ‘Emma.’
That’s funny, I thought. Same name. I wonder who it belongs to.
The girl leaning against the counter lifted her head and reached over to take the drink from the coffee guy, who said Happy Birthday, Emma.
She nodded and smiled a small smile and started to slink away.
And with ‘White Christmas’ dancing under the holiday chatter, I said it too, for the second time in as many hours, loud enough for her to hear and smile her small smile.
Happy Birthday, Emma.
And Merry Christmas to you, wherever you are.
To all of you.
May you find your own magic out there.