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Creative Nonfiction

Alors’, the Frenchman says, typing into the computer. He’s helping you. A representative from the airline you just flew with, he seems genuinely concerned for you. And there. You feel it. The first flutter of a feeling so strong and yet so mystical it will take you a few days to really process what it is. But more on that later.


You hand him your booking form for the hotel. It has the address, which the Frenchman helpfully types into the system. When he’s done, he gives a sad but hopeful and pleasant little smile.


‘If they find your suitcase before you leave France they will send it to the hotel.’


Ugh. Now facing a week without the clothes, sun cream and laptop cable you packed, you thank the man sincerely and text the driver of your booked taxi that you are finally ready to leave the airport. The driver speaks no English and you and your friend Google have tried your best to converse in French.


You message: J’ai signalé des baggages manquants et nous allons maintenant nous diriger vers la sortie, which you hope translates into something like “I’ve reported my suitcase as missing and we’re now heading to the exit”.


And your mother, who you haven’t spoken to in several years, flashes through your memory. You can imagine what she’d have to say about someone who doesn’t speak English.


Fucking foreigners! Who the fuck works at an airport and doesn’t speak English?


You shake the thought away. You’d rather not take your mother’s memory with you anywhere. Let alone on the most special trip of your life…


You check your watch. Two hours! It’s been two hours since you landed in Paris and you’ve only now managed to get this sorted.


‘I’m so sorry,’ you say aloud. To her. The most important and significant person in your life. The reason you’re here. ‘We’ll get you straight to bed when we get to the hotel, okay?’


Your daughter nods. Her eyes are the most sleepy things you’ve ever seen. And she’s been so calm. So patient.


‘I’m proud of you,’ you tell her. ‘You’ve done so well. I promise the rest of the holiday is going to be fun.’


You think about what you might have been like at her age, and in this situation. Seven years old, first time out of the country, and you’ve been met with a long wait, a missing suitcase, and sheer boredom and fatigue. You might have complained more. And your mother would have shouted at you. Sworn at you. Probably hit you.


‘Tomorrow is going to be so fun,’ you reassure your daughter. ‘The best day ever!’


And in her tired eyes you see it. Hope. Excitement. But most of all, love.


***


You wake her early the next morning. Arriving at the hotel just before midnight, you had sent her straight to bed and she slept undisturbed all night. The morning flashes by in the blink of an eye; you have breakfast, you get dressed in the same clothes you travelled here in, you make sure your daughter has her beautiful dress on (Mirabel’s dress from her favourite Disney film, Encanto), you get the bus and then you arrive. When you see the sign you’re met with something unexpected. The same feeling you had when the Frenchman at the airport had been so friendly and helpful. Except now it’s more powerful. Now it brings tears to your eyes.


‘Look!’ you brightly say to your daughter, trying to mask that weird emotion in your voice. ‘We’re here!’


Her little eyes widen as she reads the sign: DISNEYLAND PARIS. You snap a quick picture. Brush a hand against your cheek. Take hold of your daughter’s hand and march onwards.


You realise only a little why you feel so emotional. The past four years have been hard. For you and your daughter. In ways that she couldn’t even fathom. To her, you’re superdad. You can take her on adventures. You have two jobs and bucketloads of money. You can speak French and write books and probably fly to space and even tie school ties. Of course we’re in Disneyland!


But the reality that she cannot understand is much different. Her mother broke up your marriage after cheating on you, leaving you living alone, looking after your daughter for half the time and having to worry about getting by on your low wage. Sure, you eventually got another job, but then the world faced a pandemic and a cost of living crisis. You work around forty-eight hours a week on average and still have to worry each month about where money is coming from for bills and food and a proper childhood for your daughter. And then her mother took the child benefit money, which the pair of you agreed was going into a bank account for your daughter for when she turns eighteen, claiming she needed the money to make sure she can pay for your daughter’s clothes and food, despite the fact that she lives with the guy she cheated on you with, who pays half of her bills. You then had to start funding this out of your own pocket, and you’re proud that you haven’t missed a single payment into her account so far, and in fact, she has more savings than you do.


The reason your eyes are filled with tears at the moment is because for the past four years, step by step and miracle by miracle, you were able to save enough money and fight enough evil to be able to take your daughter on the biggest adventure of her life. And you did that thing that you do – you know, where you don’t allow yourself to get too excited because it might not happen.


I can’t wait to go to France! Your daughter has been saying.


Me neither, you’ve returned in a neutral voice. It might never happen.


But it did. And now that you can see the sign you allow just a tiny drop of emotion to flow into your eyes. But that’s enough for now. Now you have to keep it together.


***


Smiles. Laughter. Memories that will last a lifetime.


It’s just you and her. And it’s so special. Around every corner of Disneyland is some appropriate magic of some kind. A real-life dragon that roars under the Disney castle. The sword in the stone which your daughter tries to pull out but fails to become king of all England. Music all around from several films you’ve watched together for your film nights at home.


But most of all, kindness. From the generosity of the Englishman who gave you a bottle of sun cream and refused any money for it after he’d overheard you saying you’d lost all your sun cream in the suitcase that didn’t arrive, to the French cast members cheerily greeting your daughter with a huge smile and a Bonjour, Mirabel! Your eyes constantly fill with tears before being swiftly dried with the back of your hand.


And you don’t pause for long enough to really consider this. Not until you take your daughter on The Tower of Terror. As it whizzes downwards you dread that you’ve made a huge mistake. This ride is terrifying. A ghost girl speaks in French and the “service elevator” you’re sitting in appears to break, sending you hurtling downwards so fast that you actually lift out of your seat.


It’s much more intense than you’d have realised. You’re terrified.


Near the end of the ride, the doors ahead of you open up and you can see the Walt Disney Studios part of the park in front of you, and enough light illuminates your daughter’s face so that you can see the huge grin on it.


Thank goodness.


As the ride plunges down one more time you think of how traumatised you would have been on this ride if you had went on it when you were only seven years old. You’d have been petrified. The most intense drop you’d ever experienced in childhood was when your mother lost her temper with you and threw you down the stairs…


Yes. She did. And that seemed normal at the time. Something that many other children surely experienced. You remember the years of jokes your mother made about the incident. How she’d retell the story several times over and laugh about it. That story, alongside the one where she shook you and shouted at you so hard you pissed yourself, is one of her favourites. To this day, you’re sure she still enjoys retelling stories about all the times she hit you with the metal buckle of a belt she kept hidden somewhere in the house. Or the time you dared to share one of the breakfast bars that she bought just for you with a friend, so she started hurtling all the breakfast cereals at the pair of you because how dare you share.


Your mother genuinely thinks that these stories are funny.


All of that seemed normal. Because you were young. And when you grew up and realised that this was sinister, wrong, and downright evil, you distanced yourself from your mother. And she didn’t like this. She liked to be in control of you. And when you had a child of your own you decided to stay firmly away from your mother, and you made no apology for it.


She didn’t like it. She didn’t like it so much that she teamed up with your ex-wife and attempted to have your daughter taken away from you. There was police involved. You spent four hours at the station and when they had no reason to suspect you of being unsuitable your ex-wife and ex-mother tried and failed to trigger you. To get you to react angrily and show yourself to be the monster that they claimed you were.


And you never let them. And you’re proud of that. Because your daughter, your little Mirabel needs you and you can take any amount of shit from anyone if it means she’ll be unaffected.


At the exit to the ride you kneel and tell your daughter you’d like a hug. The pair of you embrace and you feel that tear forming in your eye once more. Now you begin to understand why, but still it will not hit you properly until later on.


***


It’s your last day at Disneyland. Your daughter was so tired by the heatwave, the walking and the excitement that you left after dinner the day before. Tonight, you promise your girl spectacular fireworks and an unforgettable light show. As the day has begun to cool off, a last sprinkle of magic grants you access to small queues and the very front of two of your daughter’s favourite rides. When the day begins to dim, Disneyland begins to light up in beautiful illuminations. Something about the purple trees in particular brings those stupid tears to your eyes once more.


As you look around you can spot nobody else like you and your daughter. No single parent with a single child. And this touches on something deep within your heart. This has been such a special experience not just for your daughter, who still believes in magic, but also for you, who believes firmly in a magic of another kind altogether.


When you find a spot among the gigantic crowd to wait for the show, you look through your photos together and remember the adventure. In each of them, your daughter is smiling not just with her mouth, but with her eyes. She shows love. Love for you and love for the experience you’ve given her. And you’re glad it’s getting dark because how on earth could you begin to explain to her why you’re crying? How could you explain that this trip should never have happened? That every obstacle was thrown in your way? That there were people out there who should love and support your daughter, but who have purposely made it difficult for her to have a relationship with her father because of their own selfish natures?


Your daughter is exhausted. So you lift her and hold her closely in one arm, while with the other you take shaken and blurry photos of the castle and the amazing lights, fireworks and actual fire that you tell your daughter is produced by that dragon who lives at the bottom. You hold her close to you for the whole show. And you somehow keep it together. You somehow manage not to cry.


Until you hear the last song.


The chorus is one line in French. And no matter how much you tell yourself you don’t understand it, you do. “Un monde qui s’illumine”.


A world… who is illuminated?


Pretty much. A world that lights up.


And that’s when you lose it. Never would you have imagined that a cheesy Disney pop song would have brought out such stupid emotion. But it did. And you now fully understand it all. Why kindness and love shown to your daughter has constantly filled your eyes with those damn tears. Because this is the kind of childhood that every child deserves. Your daughter will never be thrown down a set of stairs, or hit with the buckle of a belt, or laughed at and mocked by those that should love her. She has been shown, and will continue to be shown, love and affection. You didn’t need to travel to Paris for it, and you didn’t need to go to Disneyland. But that’s where you found it. And that’s a special experience your daughter will always have fond memories of.


***


One day, she won’t be a child any more.


It breaks your heart.


Every day, she grows a little more. Learns. Loves. Opens her heart to the world around her.


A world that has lit up just for her.


What will she be like? As an adult? As a lady?


Will she remember being seven? Going abroad for the first time with her dad? The magic? The fireworks? The kindness?


Will she still love you?


These are the kind of questions that have haunted you since you knew you were going to be a father.


What if I fail?


What if she doesn’t like me?


What if I ruin her life?


They are questions that, you think, you’ll always have.


But you know you’ll always do your best.


And what can possibly go so drastically wrong, when you and the world keep showing her light and love and kindness?


You always tell yourself one thing. She’ll be fine. As long as she keeps her heart open to the love and kindness alighted in the world, and like a magic mirror, reflects it right back.

July 22, 2022 14:13

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4 comments

Riel Rosehill
16:22 Jul 25, 2022

Wow Chris... This is so touching, I've been blinking away tears the whole way through. Also second person POV was the perfect choice - it just works SO well for creative nonfiction, that's my top pick for this genre too. Great job with this one, the emotions definitely came through. I love reading the personal stories of our little writing community, but I also know how they can be difficult to share - so thank you for posting this. :)

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Chris Morris
10:26 Jul 27, 2022

Thank you Riel! This was a story I felt just needed to get out of me and onto digital paper. Now back to warning people not to read my stories...

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Jul 22, 2022

This is an intense non-fiction story. It's both touching and sweet on one side, and it delves into some darker aspects of human behaviour on the other. Given it's non-fiction, I appreciate you writing this, and I'm glad you and your daughter had an amazing time, despite baggage issues :) It does work wonderfully as a story though, because of the differences in parenting styles, and the resulting differences in the child's well-being, perception, and experiences. Violence often begets violence, but here we have an example where it doesn't, ...

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Chris Morris
21:47 Jul 22, 2022

Michal once again showing why you are the best commenter on Reedsy. I wasn't actually sure about sharing this piece but I'm glad I did. You got exactly what I was trying to put down and more. I haven't ever quite written anything this personal but you have analysed it perfectly and that actually means quite a bit! Thanks for reading and commenting. Very much looking forward to your appearance on Read Lots Write Lots this week.

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