I remember the summer that the movie came out on video. I was twelve and I recall throwing a tantrum at the Post Exchange video department trying to get my father to buy it for me! It was that remarkable time in my life where I was nearing the end of my age of innocence.
Ask any military brat and there is always a time, a place, where their life seems to stand still. A time when they recall their family being a real family. A time that was marked by happiness and the first resemblance of stability and normalcy; where real friendships blossomed for the first time. A time when you weren't just that new kid in school.
That time for me was in Pattonville, Germany; a little Army community in the town of Ludwigsburg.
The movie of that segment in my life - Disney's The Little Mermaid.
It makes me laugh to see the name on the screen as I type it! I am NOT the girly-girl type. My girlfriends and I in middle school were the "tom boys." Finding us in dresses was a difficult task even during school dances! We were smart and fiercely independent! Our dress code was predominantly jeans, sneakers and whatever we could steal out of our dad's closets and we never wore anything that revealed our already matured curves.
I wanted to be an aeronautics engineer and my best friend wanted to be the first woman to jump into a black hole! We had our whole academic careers planned out at twelve. Our handwriting was almost exactly alike and we would duplicate our homework for the classes we were good at and just swap them out in the morning before class for one another instead of wasting time on homework for every subject in school; both straight A's and never missed a day of class. ...well, almost.
Our school projects were always due on Monday and we always had the best of intentions to finish them over the weekend during our weekend overnights - projects of course that had been scheduled sometimes months earlier that we had never really started. Mondays would come and we would beg our parents to let us stay home to finish the projects that never seemed to be completed on time. We would always get stern reactions, but my mother always called in sick to work, herded us into the kitchen where we would prop ourselves onto the kitchen counters as my mother made us fried rice for lunch as we recited The Little Mermaid from the opening song to the finishing credits. My father would pop in from lunch knowing his girls were home from school where he would crack the whip at our procrastination, endlessly tease my best friend, eat the brownies we made earlier in the morning and make us both promise not to turn another project in late again!
And we didn't. That fall everything changed in our little perfect community. Our service member parents got orders to deploy to Operation Desert Shield. Those lazy care-free days of reciting movies and singing songs gave way to opening packages of funny money and desert head wraps. The deployments lasted almost two years and nothing was ever really the same again; I was never the same again.
Deployments are tough on military marriages and families - young teens.
Shortly after my father came home from Kuwait, his whole unit got stationed in Fort Benning, Columbus, Georgia.
The time my father was away and our move away from our little world in Pattonville changed my life forever in so many ways; but it was nice to move as a group this time around. A lot of my father's colleagues purchased homes in the same neighborhood and it was nice to have familiar friends and a small support system during the change to a new environment.
That first year in Columbus was a difficult one. It had been many years since I had been enrolled in a public school. I remember the day that I walked into the first of several schools I attended in Columbus. Everything seemed like a normal day until I walked into the lunch room. It was at that point that I was exposed to a social phenomenon I had only read about in books and watched on TV.
I was shocked to see that the lunch room was completely split down the middle in tables where the white students were on one side and the black were on the other. I remember standing there in total shock and then panic as I surveyed the room trying to understand what I was seeing.
Growing up on Army installations we were always exposed to so many diverse cultures, races, and languages, that segregation was a foreign concept. I realized that just like any society we also created social groups but instead of by race or color, we created groups based on interests primarily music! Although the music "segregation" were often against color lines, there were always large numbers of white kids who hung out with the "rappers" and black kids who ran with the "metal" kids. Perhaps the most intriguing part of it all was that in the big scheme of things besides the relative minority of kids in those music groups, the other social groups throughout school looked like something right out of an After School Special - groups based on interests, not on color.
My immediate group of closest friends in middle school in Germany were a rainbow of stunning girls from vastly different cultures. A soft-spoken exotic island beauty with long flowing dark hair and fair skin from Guam, a firey red head with vibrant striking green eyes and fair skinned Mexican - explain that one - a tall, boisterous, athletic Italian brunette, and the most popular girl in school, a full-figured black girl - fiercely loyal!
And there I was in the middle of this lunch room in a panic trying to figure out which one of these black and white two worlds I would belong... Right before I felt myself turn away into a river of tears, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. My Table. The melting pot of children in the sea of white and black. I walked towards it as they all looked up with smiles on their faces understanding my hesitant glance in their direction. As I sat down they all took turns introducing themselves, first their names and secondly their last known address... the Army Brat insignia...
My first year in Columbus ended like it began, saying goodbye to those that I had grown to love.
On the last night before my closest new friend's family was leaving to their new duty station in Alaska we stayed up late watching The Little Mermaid. My memories of that night are so different than watching the movie just a couple of years earlier and reciting it in the kitchen as my mom made us lunch while we played hookie from school...
This time I sat in my parent's family room, in the arms of a boy who had been my closest friend during that difficult year. I remember the pain of watching him go, having to say good bye again. But this time is was somehow different. The feelings were different. That first innocent love. The kind that grows from knowing someone before you really know yourself. We sat there that night, next to one another, barely breathing as our hands lightly touched and we listened to Ariel praying
What would I give
To live where you are?
What would I pay
To stay here beside you?
What would I do to see you
Smiling at me?
And everytime I catch a glimpse of Ariel's new cartoon on TV or the giant billboard in Time Square advertising the new show on Broadway I'm taken back on a swirling roller coaster of emotions of friendship, family, lost, and first love...
Who says an animated feature is just child's play...