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When we were kids, my sister and I liked to pretend we were international spies. I went by codename “Red Dog 3,” Morgan by “Tango 6.” Together, we explored far away lands, did very exciting far away things, and rescued good guys from the clutches of their villainous captors (homework permitting.) We communicated via walky talky and went on secret missions around the neighborhood, racing our bikes down the street with binoculars and Nerf guns in tow. Always imagining we were somewhere else.

I was twelve when I got sick. It felt like a gunshot to the gut, a horribly painful year and a half that got much worse before it got better. What started as an unexplained stomach pain quickly morphed into a different monster. I spent years in my hospital bed and imagined I was somewhere else.

Recovery was slow and steady. After years of paralysis, I needed to build muscle. Sitting upright was painful, at first. Gravity caused my legs to swell and my blood pressure to plummet. Everything throbbed. Eventually, though, it got easier, and I was able to spend more and more time in my motorized wheelchair and out of my bed. My dad took me on long drives through the country and we listened to Bob Seger’s Roll Me Away over and over again. It became my anthem. “I could go East, I could go West, it was all up to me to decide...” 

I put a lot of miles on my wheelchair that first year back in the land of the living. At night, I took walks with my family and friends, iPod and tiny boom box bumping, shadow dancing in the dark. Dreaming all the while of a city by the sea, and imagining I was there.

Once I regained enough strength to care for myself, I moved to Los Angeles. My parents were unbelievably brave and kind to let me go, after years of caring for me like an infant and praying I would have a life at all. And so I went, off in search of a rebuilt life of my own making. I didn’t realize until later that none of it was of my own making, and my freedom was made possible by the people and the home and the lessons that shaped me.

I loved the chaos of Los Angeles and the millions of sights and smells and sounds and souls that made it feel like a living, breathing thing. At night, especially, I loved to explore the nooks and crannies that hid in plain sight; secret passageways that lead to truths and stories long forgotten. But some nights, before I fell asleep in my overpriced studio apartment, I thought about home, and family, and midnight walks (rolls?) in my wheelchair with my dad. I remembered the freedom I felt when I took off down the street, music and streetlights leading the way. I’d fall asleep and dream I was someplace else.

One night, on a recent visit home, I took a walk with my Mom and Phoebe. Our shadows followed us and danced beneath the flickering, orange street lamps. I thought about all that had changed, and all that, thankfully, had remained the same. And I didn’t want to be anywhere else.