By: Emma B.

I remember it so clearly that it’s kind of creepy.  
It was during on a spring day, May 5, 2008. I had gotten out of school early because my family took me to Disney World. I was five-years-old at the time and I was so happy just to be away from school. Just before lunch at the park, my dad took my hand and dragged me down a cobblestone road. On my right side was a mucky old river for the steam-boat ride. Our only cover was a small green canopy that led to this mysterious building’s entrance. I remember seeing that old house on top of that hill. It was ancient and colonial in design, fitting because we were in the heart of Liberty Square and just across the street was the Harbor House Restaurant. I could have turned back because I was afraid and I was young. I am sure my parents would have understood, but despite my fears, I didn’t turn away. I pressed on, gripping my dad’s hand and looking forward to see a series of tombstones littering the front yard. The grass was new and some roses were just being set on graves by one of the staff members. The line was short and faster than I anticipated. Soon we were right at the front entrance and my heart was pounding...but somehow, I loved it all the same. Soon, a monologue began that would change my life forever.  

“When hinges creak in door less chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls. Wherever candlelight flicker where the air, is deathly still. That is the time, when ghosts are present. Practicing their terror with ghoulish delight.”  

I didn’t realize it at the time but I had just stepped into Gracey Manor, or as many of you might know it better, The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World Resort. That first ride-through became the first of 17 times that week, and that ride would soon change me forever. That ride not only became what I lived for, but helped me emotionally survive middle school many years in the future.  
Now for a little bit of context, middle school is hard. So unfortunately, for me, I went to two middle schools and I had a-lot of emotional pre-teen troubles that I was sorting out from time to time. Due to some county redistricting, I transferred to a new school in the eighth grade. I had high hopes that it would bring more friends and a chance to start fresh. However, things did not go over as well as I had hoped. I ended up being a bit lonelier at my new school. I had trouble connecting with people and I grew apart from others. I often had some negative excuses for myself, like “Oh, I’m used to it” or “The world thinks I’m a freak anyway.” In some of my moments, I was a happy like a little songbird, but the more I sat with these negative thoughts, the more it dawned on me how lonely I was. I felt invisible, begging to be heard. I just felt alone. I was also stressed over my grades and about going to high school the next year. In short, it was rough but I did survive.  
To get through these tough times, I turned to the one thing I could always depend on: my love of literature. In particular, my secret love of darker literature, for example, Edgar Allen Poe or Marissa Meyer. I am a writer at heart and it helped me greatly. I also like fanfiction and all types of pop culture including Disney, so I would often write to vent my emotions and tell stories about characters that I connected with. This would help me to feel like there was someone out there who understood me. One of my favorite writing genres was and still is the aforementioned Haunted Mansion. I would think about the various characters and moments I adored on that ride as a kid. I would turn the ghosts into stories and characters, and they would often take me away to places of comfort. Even if one could consider the subject matter dark, the writing and the stories helped me feel happy. I found other friends who liked The Haunted Mansion too. It was where I turned when I needed to feel better.  
At the end of eighth grade, my parents surprised me and told me I was going to Walt Disney World for my birthday. I was ecstatic. It had been almost nine years since my last trip and if I ever I needed a time to go to Disney, this was it. We arrived at the hotel and I was immediately greeted by so many smiling faces that it was insane! However, what thrilled me the most was where I would be going the next day. That Sunday morning, I woke up happy as can be and wasted no time. By 9:50 a.m., I was racing to Liberty Square and wouldn’t stop for a second. Soon I found it, and suddenly I was home again. I spent my birthday at The Haunted Mansion and I remember crying tears of joy as I rode that ride over and over.  
At the time I didn’t know it, but The Haunted Mansion and the trip to Disney on my birthday paved the way for me to be emotionally honest with myself. Why? Well, that’s the power of a place like Disney and the love of your family at the right place and at the right time. There’s no horrifying issues going on and even if there are, you’re so distracted by the wonder of it all that you barely notice them. You feel okay and laugh when you see grown men and women walk up to Winnie the Pooh with no shame. It allowed me to consider that maybe there was nothing wrong with me at all and that really, I was just looking for my crowd.  
When we returned home, I had a lot of time to reflect on my trip and my past few years in school. I suddenly found that I wasn’t afraid to get creative again or crazy with my writing because if a man like Walt Disney was willing to push a kid’s ride that featured ghosts and goblins and yet somehow make it become a beloved classic, anything is possible. Furthermore, I also had reconnected myself to the Disney fan world and was happy to have seen that at least 100 people were willing to give someone a hug or compliment just to give them attention. The more I reflected, the more it gave me hope of friends and I found myself becoming braver because of this world I loved. This allowed me courage to talk things over with some of my friends and family as well as strength to put myself out there and meet new people who are becoming incredible friends. I am now allowing myself to be who I am without fear.  
So thanks Walt Disney, thank you Master Gracey and thank you my Haunted Mansion on top of Boot-Leg hill. 

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