When You Look Up, You are Surrounded by Light by Alexandra Grunberg

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Space Mountain means something more this time, which is saying a lot, considering how much Disney World in general means to me. 


a word I worried would worm its way inside me, a disease I was warned about before picking myself up and dropping myself off to different locations across the country and across the world. The displacements never left me pining for the shaky ground of California, the ice storms of Vermont, the bloated heat and mosquito sting of night-time in South Florida. But curled in my bed, when the darkness slipped in from the shortened days of winter’s night at 4pm and smothered the cocooned warmth of my duvet, I tasted sweet pineapple Dole whip on my tongue, smelled the strangely acidic water of Splash Mountain, and shivered in an artificial ghostly breeze that cooled the line at Haunted Mansion. I have only ever been 


for Disneyworld, and its happiness could find me wherever my passport was stamped, until happiness could not find me at all.

The absence hooked around my ankles in a way that should have been more uncomfortable than it was. I did not have to think about it, or complain about it, or do anything about it. It was not much, until it was, until I carried it for months and convinced myself that I was just overreacting. But then I was on Thunder Mountain, 

you should be happy,

you are in Disneyworld and you are on the Thunder Mountain Railroad,

and you have been happy here before, 

and if you cannot be happy here you cannot be anything, 

you should feel happy, 

you should feel happy, 

and realized that it was not working. I did not feel happy. 

oh well, 

at least you tried. 

It was not a sad feeling, because I did not feel sad. I felt the cold kind of emptiness of 4pm darkness, just all the time, and it was not something to fuss or complain about. You cannot control the sun in winter. 

But it was unsettling. I was happy in Disneyworld. I was, before. It was as home as home would ever be, and it was not working. I carried the absence down Main Street USA, and then I carried it back to the pocket of the world that I did not call home. 

The decision to get better is hard. It is especially hard when nothing feels like it really matters, when a Scottish castle and a magpie drift like they could disappear if they had an inkling of how desperately I am watching them. 

Routines replaced feeling and took me out of the cocoon of my duvet. I may not have experienced some kind of magic transformation when I walked the streets to classes I paid for beforehand, so I had to go, but at least I was going. Insomnia rocked me awake most nights, a cicada song of unease, but the trick is pretending to sleep, 

imagining the sleep drifting up through your limbs until you cannot move them if you tried

and the pretending becomes close enough to the truth, that when true sleep slips in beside you and inside you, you do not even notice that it has arrived. I don’t remember the moment I got out of bed because I wanted to, and not because I had a place I needed to be, an activity to attend with no refunds available. The movements were the same, the repetition rote, but the days were becoming a little brighter, too subtly for me to realize that I was no longer eating dinner in the dark. 

It did not feel like magic, until I was in a place where it could not feel like anything else.

Now, I am on Space Mountain. Now, I realize that I do not have to remind myself to be happy, because 

I already am happy

They say that Space Mountain is a rollercoaster that you ride in darkness, and the world falls away around you as the track is turned invisible. This is not true. Fluorescent paint stars dot all around the track, a manufactured kind of pixie dust, but your eyes do not know the difference when they are the only bright spots to hold on to. Every piece of Disney World is a decision, every bench an artistic statement, every character the result of hours of training, every flower tended for months of nothing but green until suddenly, now, a flower. Somebody made the choice to brighten the darkness, one painted point of light at a time. One more spoonful of pineapple Dole whip. One more exhilarated scream through the man-made night.


Alexandra Grunberg is a Glasgow based author, poet, screenwriter, and artist. She is a postgraduate student in the DFA in Creative Writing programme at the University of Glasgow. You can find links to more of her work at her website, alexandragrunberg.weebly.com.

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