Watch the Goat

“Watch the goat!” my friend Ally screamed as we came around the bend.

We were riding the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland and at a specific bend in the track, there’s an animatronic goat with a stick of dynamite in his mouth. Lore among Disney-People says if you focus your eyes on the goat as you barrel around the bend, it gives you a disorienting sensation; something that heightens the ride experience.

My first time at Disney World, I was around two-years-old; far too young to remember much, if anything at all. I know I ran screaming from Mickey and ruined a character cruise with my howling but that’s mostly from hearing the stories secondhand. However, during eighth grade, my parents informed my siblings and me we’d be going to Disney since we were now old enough to remember it.

This time, I didn’t run screaming. I, with my mid-90s fanny pack fastened around my waist, marched through the parks exploring everything I could. It was an amazing week but in the years that followed, I rarely considered Disney a place I’d get to visit again; not for lack of wanting but for lack of opportunity. We didn’t take big vacations when I was in high school and once I was in college, my fun money was used for trips to New York. Disney became a place other people visited; a place seen on ABC specials but not with my own eyes.

But, exactly 20 years after that eighth grade visit, I found myself walking through the gates of the Magic Kingdom once again. Having flown to Orlando to celebrate one of my college gang’s 30th birthday, we spent Easter Sunday with Mickey, Dumbo and Robin Hood. It felt like ducking into another universe for a day; the cares of the outside world blissfully out of reach. It was a tactile reminder of the wonder of letting your imagination off its training wheels so it can fly.

Since then, I’ve revisited Disney World and Disneyland many times and each visit is more wonderful than the last. It was great when I was younger but it’s really amazing now that I’m old enough to marvel at not only the magic created in the park but the methods, technology and intentional design behind it. For me, the happiest places in the Happiest Place on Earth are the Enchanted Tiki Room and The Haunted Mansion—oldies but goodies—but I’m up for anything and everything. It’s all fun to me because I never imagined I’d get to experience it.

On this particular trip, as my friends and I waited in line to ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Ally kept telling me, “No matter what you do, watch the goat.” Having never ridden the ride before, I told her she’d have to let me know when said goat was to appear and she promised she would. She was absolutely emphatic about it.

Sitting down in the ride car, she and I shoulder-to-shoulder in our seat, she reminded me one last time to watch the goat. It only took about twenty seconds once we took off for that Railroad ride to became one of my favorites. We whirled around the mountain catching glimpses of the animal animatronics peppered throughout the theming as we did, and right in the middle was the much-hyped goat.

“Watch the goat!” Ally screamed as if she was Gonzo in The Muppets Christmas Carol screaming at Michael Caine to expect the first ghost when the bell tolls one. I turned my head to look as we spun around the bend and as I focused on its furry little face, my equilibrium spun too. But rather than becoming dizzy, it was as if everything around me blurred into a kaleidoscope of fuzzy colors while I sat stationery inside the calm eye of the hurricane. The goat was a focal point; a totem of sorts in which I could concentrate my attention as the world whizzed by in a blur. It was a wild yet centering sensation. When we got off the ride, Ally asked excitedly, “Did you watch the goat?!” I had indeed, I’d also mentally named him Gilbert, and I’d forever associate that wild ride with that little animatronic goat atop the maze of boulders.

Last night I woke up with a different sort of boulder sitting on my chest; an anxiety boulder. It started off small, a prickling in the center of my torso, but it rapidly veined and spread like creamer in my coffee, expanding and billowing outward until my chest felt concretized and overstuffed. It was as disorienting as it was uncomfortable and at 2:30 in the morning, it was most unwelcome.

It was brought on by something rather innocuous, something that shouldn’t have started such a chain reaction of panic inside of me, but as I lay in bed trying to will it away for the better part of an hour, I found it wasn’t going quietly. I turned on The Golden Girls and stroked my dog Joey’s soft fur as he slept next to my leg in a nest he’d fashioned by bogarting my bedspread.

Restlessly, I lay with my eyes closed as Sophia zinged Rose with one-liners in the background. I tossed and turned as I tried to fall back to sleep and though I’m not sure how long it took, I eventually succeeded. However, when my hateful alarm woke me up for work a few hours later, the boulder was still on my chest. Joey was up and alert, the alarm also signaling it was time for all his favorite morning activities: a stroll outside and breakfast before napping during the Today Show. But as happy and peppy as he was, getting myself up was a struggle.

I was slowly making my way from the bed to the bathroom when I thought about the goat. It was a flash memory really; a momentary apparition spotted quickly like an image trapped behind the static on an old TV. With the boulder still affixed to my chest, my work day before me, a lingering sinus infection clouding my headspace, and a dog hopping with eagerness to get outside and make his mark on the trees of Hamilton Heights, I realized I needed a goat.

While Joey did donuts around my legs, I closed my eyes in the middle of my tiny apartment and forced myself to exhale a large, overly-dramatic exhale. “Watch the goat,” I told myself.

So I started calling forth my people, the ones who I know love me right now in this hard, somewhat unexplainable, boulder-on-my-chest, frustration-in-my-heart moment. I said their names aloud and in doing so, reminded myself of their love.

This is new for me. I’ve never done something like this and it sounds odd and almost self-obsessed to repeat to yourself how many people love you. But Maya Angelou once said, “One of the things I do when I step up on a stage…I bring everyone who has ever been kind with me…everybody, I say, ‘Come with me, I’m going on the stage. Come with me, I need you now.’ So I don’t ever feel I have no help.” That’s what I was doing. Breathing out the weight of the boulder and breathing in the truth of who I am, I spoke their names aloud. My goats. “Come with me, I need you now.”

It wasn’t that I woke up feeling unloved. I didn’t feel tortured or lonely either. But I felt I, for whatever reason, couldn’t do it on my own in that moment. So I reminded myself I didn’t have to. I have goats.

It seems like an odd takeaway from a trip to Disneyland but that little animatronic goat in the middle of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad became a reminder to keep my eyes affixed to the people who keep me in focus despite the whirl around or within me. That’s a truth of life whether it’s a time of busyness, stress, sadness, elation, or success, but this morning I needed them in a moment of anxiety and by simply reminding myself of their presentness in my life, they were there for me. I thanked God I had people who I knew, without them actually being there, were there for me.

That’s hippy dippy nonsense.

Maybe, and to be fair, it wasn’t a magic fix and it didn’t incinerate the boulder. But it did give me enough fortitude to make a step forward, put on my shoes, and take Joey outside. That was enough.

For more, read, “The Word I’ve Been Afraid to Say: Depression.”


Ryan’s book of essays, I Feel God in This Cab, is available here. 

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