I have been counting down the days until July 19th since it was announced that The Lion King live action film would be released that day. Out of all the Disney movies that I know and love, The Lion King has always been my all time favorite and will always hold that special place in my heart.
Growing up I never had a pet but I always had an unconditional love for animals. So much so that I had imaginary pet friends, I had so many stuffed animals on my bed that you could hardly see me, and I spent most of my time crawling around the floor putting holes in my jeans pretending to be a dog, or of course, a lion. My parents took me to the doctor because they thought something was wrong with me, but the doctor said I just have a really active imagination.
Kids and imaginations go hand in hand. When you're young you're carefree, worry free, you're pure and it feels like nothing can touch you. And nothing really can because your parents, older siblings, family friends, etc. , whoever those important people were in your life, they will protect you from it…or try their best to.
At a very young age I learned that you can't always be protected from some things, heartbreak. My mom was out of town on business one weekend and my dad was left to take care of, and entertain, two little girls, my sister and I. He and my uncle thought it would be a great idea to go to an Indians game, of course. Now that you know a little bit about me as a child, you know that I loved stuffed animals. I took one with me everywhere I go. One particular stuffed animal, Simba.
Simba and I were inseparable, I took him everywhere. He was my favorite stuffed animal and good friend, I loved him more than I loved crawling around on the ground pretending to be just like him. I held him tight all the time, and every time I gave him a little squeeze, he would make a little squeaky growling noise. That weekend my mom was away was no different. If I was going to the Indians game, Simba was going too. My dad asked me "Do you really want to bring him in?" but I couldn’t say no and leave him in the car. He had to come with and so he did.
This even occurred years back when the stadium still had that kids section with food courts, a play area, and picnic tables. I don’t really know if that still exists because now when I go to games I spend most of my time at the bar. But that’s neither here nor there. So, we went to the kids area to grab food and enjoy the game.
When you go to the Indians games the food lines are always long and seating is limited, so we wanted to reserve a spot while we waited in line for food. My dad said something along the lines of "Why don't you leave Simba at the table so he can save our spot for us?" and we headed to the line to get food.
When you're young, your imagination is active, everything is exciting and overwhelming, the smallest things seem like the biggest and you have the best time wherever you go. We had the best day at the Indians game that day. Until we got back to the car, my dad was buckling me in the seat, and I realized that Simba did not make it back to the car with us. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him, but it was the minute that I left him on the picnic table.
My dad tried to go back to the stadium and track down Simba while I sat back in the car broken hearted, feeling completely defeated. I think we all knew that I would never seem him again. To this day, this story still breaks my parent's hearts. And it breaks mine. It's even still difficult to type, though I've written it many times before for every college entrance essay ever.
The search for Simba never ended. I wished for years, every Christmas, that he would be under my tree. But he never was.
It wasn't until we went to Disney World for the first time, when I was 12, that we got close to finding him. My parent's went in to every store that sold plush and told them the story. The Cast Members would take us to the back and we would search through pages and pages of plush Simba's, but to no avail. We found a few, but they just weren't the same.
I went back to Disney World when I was 20 and was working as a Park Operations Intern in the Disney College Program. I wasn’t there looking for Simba this time, I was looking for something more than that. I had hit a rough patch in my life, once again experiencing a lot of heart break, I was constantly surrounded by toxic people and I was failing classes, treating my body like crap, and struggling to pull myself out of this rut.
Disney saved me, in a way. I made friends that I still consider my best friends to this day. I learned what it means to work hard, to fail, and to succeed. I learned what it means to love. To love yourself, to love others, to love your life.
One night, close to the end of my program, I was hanging out in Magic Kingdom with my best friend. We were in some of the shops in FantasyLand when I came across the cutest Simba. He was so soft and just looking at him made me smile. It was near park close and we decided we weren't going to buy anything so we headed back towards the front entrance of the park. Somewhere along Main Street I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my friend and said "we have to go back, I can't leave without Simba".
We ran, as fast as we could, with bookbags on and everything, back to that store because this time, I was not getting into a car without Simba.
Heartbreak sucks, it never gets easier. But I learned a lot from Simba. Things change in the blink of an eye. People are here one day and gone the next. We have to cherish every moment we have, treat others with love all the time, live every moment to the fullest, because you never know when it could be your last moment here or your last time seeing someone. No one can ever replace the person you love and miss or the memories you made and love, but you can find someone and something that you love just as much.
So on July 19th, try not to need me because I will be sitting in a movie theatre, (not really because I will actually be exploring the Canadian Rockies) watching my favorite movie and my favorite character that taught me so much about life and love.