Los Angeles, California has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. However, I’ve always enjoyed visiting places with a purpose intact rather than purely on a tourist trip. Over the couple of years, the names and faces I have come across of either people with club hand like myself or parents with a child with the same limb-difference has grown and accumulated rapidly, so last summer I thought, ‘why not book a trip?’
February quickly came around and time for a long, long flight ensued. There was a lot of nervousness on my part about this trip. Having already promised to meet with several families, just like when I travel to NubAbility camp each summer, I wonder if I can help these people as much as I possibly can; answer every query, help with every curiosity, ease every worry – and that always makes me nervous.
I arrived in LAX, before travelling down to Riverside, Southern California with the Gonzalez family – Jacob and Rebecca; the loving grandparents of the first child I was ever spoken to about through social media and parents of mother Alyssa. I first spoke to Alyssa in July of 2015 via Instagram when her young boy Emilio was approaching two-years-old. As you can imagine, this meeting was a long time coming.
I had learned a lot about Emilio and the family over the coming years, like I had with many families around the world in our community, so I was very excited to finally meet them and meet little Emilio.
A couple of days had passed and I was finally acclimated to the very big time shift between the UK and California (eight hours). Luckily enough, this would be the very same day I would be meeting Emilio. It was a long drive to meet Emilio and return home with him and his grandparents. Despite talking to him, he had not yet noticed my hand; our ultimate similarity. Being the fun child he is, I expected this.
Later in the evening, his grandmother Rebecca had him stop for just a second. “Do you see something about Harry that’s the same as you, Emilio?” she asked. Emilio seemed none-the-wiser. Rebecca had him take a closer look as I rolled my sleeve up. The result; a widened, stunned, silent look from Emilio. Clearly, the sudden discovery had taken him aback quite a bit, having not met somebody like himself either. Away he ran, seemingly to compose himself.
Eventually, he returned to as nonchalantly as you would think – Spider-Man suit in full effect! The news had warmed to him a little more as he was back to being himself and was keen to try wrestle me and his grandpa Jacob. It was a fun evening that came of it. Had he not been instructed to look, I wonder how long it would’ve been until he noticed.
I didn’t think too much into the interaction that evening as kids just go through each day as it comes and put the past behind them fairly quickly. The next morning, little Emilio has two savoured dollars to take to the dollar store and buy some toys for himself with Jacob. Upon his return, I’m met with a rather big huge from Emilio as he gives me a little toy he had bought for me with one of his dollars.
The toy was a solar panel masked muscly Mexican wrestler. It hit me with some much warmth in my heart that this little boy who had only met me the day prior for the first time was willing to spare one of his two dollars on this figure just for me. I didn’t realise I’d connected so well with him until then, especially after hearing he had told his mother Alyssa that he ‘knows someone from England’ that has a hand just like him “and he’s my friend.” That was the best part of it all. That figure is now proudly displayed on the dashboard of my Volkswagen Polo.
The following day was the biggest and most important day of the trip. We had two other families from around California coming for a big gathering; Jessica & Kevin Anderson with their limb-different son Blake and siblings as well as the Quintanilla family; parents Hilda and Carlos with son Christopher whom also has a club hands and daughter Adrianna.
Despite us meeting up to discuss our differences, it was amazing how little Blake and Emilio – of whom are both the same age – had total disregard to their hands and began playing upon arrival, even though the duo had never met before. Children’s ignorance is truly bliss. To be honest, I don’t even think they noticed their differences for many hours!
The families arrived swiftly and discussions of all sorts went on for many hours. We talked about schooling, operations, worries, things I’d overcome. Due to so many of the parents discussions online were with other parents, they had not known an adult with a limb-difference who’d been through it all before. Hindsight offers a lot to gained for these parents. I hope I served them well.
The evening was an astounding time. Considering none of the other families had met each other prior, it was amazing how quickly they all felt like a family. Similar stories, similar paths. It felt like nothing else in the world mattered that day. The absolute bliss that existed in that room was a feeling I’ll never forget. The attitudes towards limb-difference from all affected was amazing, too. It wasn’t so much about what the kids aren’t able to do as much as it was about what the children can accomplish.
The end of the night came and it was apparent the effect it had on the little kids. There were tears, but those of happiness, wishing the night didn’t have to end due to the copious amounts of fun they were having with kids just like them. It was a very emotional evening. Hell, I hated seeing them go too!
It was a Saturday I likely won’t ever forget. I’ll hope it effected the families involved just as much as it did me.
From then on, I moved down to Studio City in Los Angeles to meet up and stay with Manley-Siegel family I had known from NubAbility the last couple of years, whom took great care of me during my stay, shown me around the central Los Angeles and welcomed me into their home.
It just shows how loving this community is and how far they will go just to help people like them who have walked in much similar shoes. I hope I can return to California sometime soon to catch up with all of the families and even more I have connected with since the trip.
As Frosty the Snowman put so eloquently, “I’ll say goodbye, but don’t you cry, I’ll be back again someday.”