Monday, October 15, 2012

Puerto Rico

My first American Spring Break remains one of the best weeks of my life and the most fun I've had since I moved to Florida. And I have my amazing friends to thank for that. I've never experienced nothing like that before. It was something I've seen in the cheesy teen TV shows. A bunch of friends spending a few days together in the sun after months of hard work in law school. It feels like an American college tradition, if you can afford it. Kids flocking to exotic locations like Mexico or the Carribbean. You want to experience something different, let your hair down and relax and then get back to reality like it never even happened. I grew up thinking that my disability would always be a burden on others. Every trip I've ever taken before moving to the States my father was always with me. And I would see him struggling. As he was lifting me, moving, loading and unloading me, his back suffered. Such trips were few and far between. And I always felt guilty, that I'm putting him through this. Even as I was getting to wherever I was going I worried how whoever I was with would manage as we get there. Will there be stairs? Will it be a task getting into the room and would I have to stay in most of the time because going up and down was just not worth the exhaustion. Even as I moved to America, getting an apartment with a student I didn't know, my parents tried hard to get on his good side, felt I needed to develop a relationship that would prevent him from leaving me behind, in a way to make up for having a disabled roommate. I guess I was always seen as someone who relied on others and then had to win them over so they wouldn't hold it against me.

But then my friend Michael told me he was planning a group trip to Puerto Rico. Without hesitation I said I wanted in. And it wasn't a problem, as they were happy to have me. I thought he did all the work as we were buddies, but it was actually his girlfriend at the time and my soon to be good friend Katrina that dedicated a lot of time to go in and change all the reservations to include me. I thought, it can't be that bad, because it's an American territory and everything is more or less accessible in the US. If there will be any lifting involved, we'll have strong, young guys to help. And maybe they won't won't mind, because they'll be happy to have me there. And maybe I won't have to prove anything. Perhaps this one time I can just have fun without having to worry how having to deal with a wheelchair spoils everybody's fun. And I can stop feeling guilty and wonder what it's gonna be like. And guess what- We've had a blast. I've spent a week with these caring, amazing people and the only time I had to stay behind was when they went to the rain forest. San Juan proved to be a nightmare on my wheelchair. The bumpy, brick streets, the narrow sidewalks with holes. This wasn't America. My friends ended up assisting me a lot, but it was short term. They were happy to do it and I wasn't so hell bent on being independent all the time. The goal was not to prove anything, succeed against the odds at all cost, it was about having fun. Jen, Adina, Michael, Katrina, Grace and I rented a van to move around the island. We went to the beach where I swamped my chair for one of these beach models with big wheels. We visited a casino. On my first evening I miscalculated how steep the hill was, couldn't slow down, lost control over my chair and hit my head as I drove into some rocks. My friends were there as I was on the X-Ray table. I was actually told not to eat and not to sleep that night, but we no one really understood the doctor even those of us who claimed to speak Spanish, so I went straight to bed. And then I had breakfast. I didn't mind that happening and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Because I had fun. And I was fun to be around. And I felt included and loved in strange country miles and miles from home.

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