In 1905, Sigmund Freud coined the term “childhood amnesia.” It describes the inability of adults to recall our earliest memories, a phenomenon that psychologists continue to research today.

One study found that few adults can remember anything that happened in our lives before the age of three—go on, try it—and determined that memories begin fading at age seven. Research has also shown that emotions play a role in storing our memories and that at a certain age our experiences become more meaningful to us, leading to stronger recall.

Psychologists coined the term “flashbulb memory” in 1977 to describe early recollections that present themselves like snapshots or photographs in our minds. Some researchers determined adults are able to recall them because they were rooted in personal importance.

If you’re wondering where this is going, it’s under the sea. One of my strongest snapshots is seeing Ursula for the first time in “The Little Mermaid,” in what I believe to be my very first trip to the movies. Disney released its 28th animated feature in 1989, just before my fifth birthday, and I vividly remember the sea witch overtaking that entire silver screen. It was divine.

Intent on hooking me for life—to both the movie and McDonald’s—1989’s Happy Meals featured “The Little Mermaid.” Those now-vintage toys still decorate my grotto 30 years later. It’s, uh… it’s just my collection.

Of course, no collection would be complete without gadgets and gizmos, of which I have aplenty, or tattoos. I have King Triton’s trident on my forearm and a purple shell for Ariel on my calf. If you can’t tell, I love “The Little Mermaid.”

I grew up very poor—free government cheese and trips to the food pantry in-between (actual paper) foodstamps poor—and was raised as an only child primarily by my mother. Despite having next to nothing, she somehow made sure I had everything I needed.

That often included things I wanted, but not always. I don’t know how she worked her motherly magic to afford tickets to see the movie in theaters, but we couldn’t snag “The Little Mermaid” on VHS before production stopped. I didn’t own it for years, watching it only when it aired on The Disney Channel during the pay service’s free previews.

My mom and stepdad eventually bought a copy for me at a flea market years later for a small fortune, especially to us, forking over $100 for a VHS tape they weren’t sure played. It cemented that I was spoiled and that they knew how much it meant to me.

They didn’t know why it did—and I’m not sure even I did at the time—but as a poor, chubby, gay kid growing up in Ohio, I connected with Ariel. The film captured a longing from deep within the shared experience of the LGBTQ community, first crafted by the fairy tale’s original writer Hans Christian Anderson—believed to be bisexual—and later cultivated by the film’s openly gay lyricist, the genius Howard Ashman.

Like them, I understood what it was like to feel different from everyone around me. I knew what it was like to want more than the life I’d found myself in. “The Little Mermaid” showed me it was possible to be a part of another type of world.

Every child deserves that feeling. That’s why when Disney recently announced that Halle Bailey—a beautiful actress and singer who happens to be black—would bring Ariel to life in their forthcoming live action adaptation, the only shocking thing to me was that I wasn’t the only one obsessing about “The Little Mermaid.”

Of all the reasons I’ve loved that movie, Ariel being white has never been one of them, though sadly that wasn’t the case for a number of so-called fans. But if Sebastian the crab taught me anything, it’s that the human world is a mess.

Fairytales can have a strong impact on children, which is why we focus on Drag Queen Story Hour in this issue. The worldwide phenomenon is enchanting readers young and old throughout our state, so we chat with Tampa Bay and Central Florida’s reading royalty to talk the pride and prejudice surrounding their events.

In Arts and Entertainment, we head to the stage as Chris McCarrell proves lightning can strike twice during “The Lighting Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” in Tampa. We also get “extra! extra!” with Disney’s “Newsies” in Central Florida.

In Tampa Bay news, we unmask Balance Tampa Bay and Empath Partners in Care’s fifth annual masquerade party. We also caucus with Florida LGBTA Democrats to learn about their statewide gathering in Tampa. In Central Florida, we check in with an agency reaching out to same-sex couples looking to adopt or foster children.

Watermark strives to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I’m glad you’ve made us a “Part of Your World.”

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