Gate A11

“I need to travel somewhere alone. I need to know I can do it.”

I don’t exactly remember the full context of the text I sent at near 11pm one night a few months ago. I know I was having a tough time. Feeling, as I often do, overwhelmed by the amount of things I struggle with some days–the amount of things I believe for one reason or another, I cannot do because of Cerebral Palsy, because of my walker, because, because, because…

I do remember it was near 8pm on theWest  Coast and I waited for the wisdom of a friend to guide me as those grey iMessage bubbles transformed into a message:

“Come visit me!”

Jocelyn and I have been friends since her freshman year in college. Our friendship is one of the most God-gifted I have ever experienced and we understand each other on levels that some never even experience, most importantly the significance of Grey’s Anatomy in day-to-day life. You know. The really important stuff.

When I first read the text I laughed. Then I smiled. Then I thought. A lot. Because thinking is what I do. It’s my thing. I thought okay, yeah, this would be fun. We haven’t seen each other in too long and I’m  really overdue for a vacation. I could probably do that.

Notice the super not strong sense on convinction in that statement. Could. Probably. We rarely pay attention to how much our words impact our judgement. 

As time moved closer to September 15th, my doubts grew bigger. Yes, I’ve flown alone before, but that was to Florida or Baltimore. Single flights. No connections. Certainly not 6+ hours of travel. I didn’t book my ticket until three weeks before. Partly because sometimes paychecks don’t come as often as we’d like, but more  because I was nervous. I believed, somewhere within me, I couldn’t do it.

The anxiety of travel has always felt massive to me. The ins and outs of security lines (literally), the three times AT LEAST  you have to explain to TSA that no, you can’t walk through the medal detector. No, sorry, not even if you give me that drug store plastic cane you have sitting in the corner, but thank you for your optimism.

Then there’s my walker. I refuse to admit the amount of times I’ve had panic attacks over whether or not gate check really means it’s coming back to me ASAP or the times I’ve grabbed my friends next to me to ask ARE YOU SURE YOU PHYSICALLY WATCHED THEM PUT IT ON THE PLANE?!

But all of that had to be cast aside this time. I wanted to do this. I wanted to show myself I could do this. 

So I walked. All alone, carry on hanging off my walker to Gate A11 this past Friday. I boarded a United flight, a feat in and of itself for a girl who swears by Southwest, and I showed the flight crew (an amazing flight crew by the way!) how to fold my walker. I caught myself exhaling as I turned to use someone’s arm to get to my seat, leaving my walker on the platform. I laughed to myself as I thought, “well if it doesn’t make it I guess you could just stop faking it”, a joke between friends when people tell me I don’t look like I need a walker, handicapped spot, etc. What does that look like anyway? 

I landed in Chicago. My “legs” landed with me and someone came with a wheelchair as my connecting gate was on the other side of East Bumble. It was smooth and flawless and I was at my next gate with plenty of time to grab a second coffee. Five hours and $5 for two movies later, I touched down in Seattle. Another smooth transition and I was hugging my friend on the curb of arrivals, ready to see the Pacific North West and catch up on each other’s lives. 

I caught myself exhaling again. It was brief. I almost didn’t feel the air escape until it was gone. I had done the thing that I thought I could not do. I was standing on the other side. Literally of the country. Unscathed and proud. It didn’t matter what took place over the next four days. It didn’t matter if I got stranded in an airport on the way home (I didn’t!). This journey mattered. 

I read a quote recently from a CP Facebook page and it is so true:

“So here’s the thing about travel – it enables us to push the boundaries of our comfort zones, reminds us of what we are capable of and opens the mind to new experiences.

But accessible travel isn’t always easy, it requires a lot of extra planning and sometimes there are surprises along the way. For me, that makes the beach sunsets, the rooftop city views, and the countryside landscapes even more beautiful.”

There are moments in my travels (though they’ve been few so far), where I find myself stopping even for the slightest moment. Sometimes it’s while I’m getting ready, others while I’m waiting for a friend to bring the car around, sometimes it’s an indescript moment. Stopping to take it all in, to acknowledge the path it took me to get there, and marvel at all the beauty that comes from that. 

This trip it was at 605ft in the air, atop the space needle. I looked at the sun setting almost even with my gaze, I looked over at my dear friend standing next to me, and this time I took a deep breath and took in all the pride and belief that had been waiting for me on the other side.