This Road is Yours to Choose

A few weekends ago, Brandon and I made the 5-hour trek back to our hometown of Cape Hatteras, NC as I had some business to tend to and Brandon was, for the most part, tagging along.  Just to recap our introductory post: Brandon and I grew up on the same small island, just minutes apart, yet a world of difference existed between our lives…


My parents were gracious and kind enough to let us crash at their guest house dubbed ‘The Carolina Inn’ (Tar Heel Blood runs deep) for the weekend.  It was the perfect spot for Brandon and I to have a chill weekend and unwind after a busy week.  My parents house, which I grew up in, is right next door and it sits on about 8 acres of property that contains so many precious and vital memories of mine.

To many people, ‘going home’ represents a certain word that reflects their emotion about the occasion. ‘Nostalgia’, ‘Beauty’, ‘Familiarity’, and ‘Comfort’ are all words that come to mind when I think of going home.  But for everyone, including myself from time to time, the words aren’t always wholesome and good.  ‘Isolating’, ‘Limited’, ‘Intrusive’, and ‘Resistant’ are all words that have described emotions I’ve felt in my hometown.  These words are less happy and shiny, therefore less likely to be expressed, but that doesn’t mean that both sets of these words aren’t equally important.

As always on this blog I cannot speak for Brandon.  I can only take from what we have discussed between the two of us and summarize it here.  This weekend at home brought forth many complex and mixed emotions for both of us, but I could certainly tell there was a lot on Brandon’s mind.  One night while we were relaxing at ‘The Carolina Inn,’ Brandon began to open up to me about the emotions he feels when he is back in Cape Hatteras.  As I sat and heard him recall what it was like to be a child with a disability, confined to his wheelchair and home quite often with no sidewalks or access to really anything, I actually saw him ‘go there’ in his mind.  It was a very profound and tear-shedding experience for the both of us.

Like I said, I have mostly fond memories and feelings about returning home.  When I walk around my old house’s property I see the field where I learned to hit a baseball, I see the trees that my friends and I hid in during airsoft battles, I see the skate ramp where I got my first scrapes and bruises and I see, in the distance, the water where I learned to surf, fish, kiteboard and much more. Brandon definitely has good memories of home. But, also when he returns home he sees the room where he spent most of his time reading books and dreaming of what is ‘out there,’ the lack of accessible entertainment…and the school where he could learn, grow and interact with friends.


As I sit now and think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Now I understand why Brandon has such a passion for the education system, University life, etc.  That was his outlet growing up.  That was his one-way ticket to a life of freedom, access and connections that could not be found on a barrier island.  For me, school was a drag.  I thought it was just this ‘thing’ in life that you had to do in order to continue doing the fun stuff I so loved.  I was one of those ‘naturally smart’ people who hardly had to lift a finger to get through school and college with nearly perfect grades, yet now I feel the repercussions of this.

No matter how you slice it, we are all direct products of the way we grew up; good, bad or otherwise.  Now, Brandon is overseeing a highly successful computer programming school in downtown Raleigh and is managing teachers, students, and administrators on the daily.  It is amazing to see how confidently he interacts with everyone and what great skills he provides to a business.  I, on the other hand, am coming to grips with my lax ways and exploring how I can use my ‘naturally smart’ and creative side to propel me into a career that fulfills me.  In the coming months, I will be entering coding school and will be striving to learn the in’s and out’s of building everything from websites, to mobile apps, to software and combine this knowledge with creativity to build something profound.

In a nutshell, going home isn’t always sunshine and butterflies and beautiful dolphins jumping from the ocean (though, most times it is). But it is always important.  It reminds you of how you were built.  It is a gentle tap on the shoulder from the ghost of your past that says, “Hey, this was you. Take this and become who you are meant to be”.  It’s a community that doesn’t forget your name, no matter how much you’d cursed it before.  It’s a minefield of memories and emotions that, if you don’t tread carefully, may blow you to smithereens.  Take pride in where you are from, because it gave you everything that you are today and each time you return, it will be there to hold up a picture of yourself from the past to show you how much you have grown.

 

Roll With Us,

Eli

 

 

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Rock and Roll [With Us]!

As a relatively average human being standing on my own two feet, I don’t have to think all too hard about things like walking upstairs, grabbing a bite to eat or driving to work.  Tasks like these are practically autonomous functions in daily society.  I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to rely on someone else to provide me with the opportunity to do any of these basic things!

Well…That’s Brandon.

Before Brandon and I became such great friends, I was just like I described above.  I had basically no reason to think twice about accessibility or, let alone, to consider how privileged I am for having it at all times.  And why should any of us? I mean, our lives are so busy and hectic all the time, are we really going to stop and appreciate each moment we do something that someone else can’t?

I’ll answer that in a few…

First I want to talk about an amazing evening that me, Remy and Brandon shared last Thursday night at Coastal Credit Union Music Park in Raleigh and how it pertains to accessibility.  We went to see Kings of Leon (for $20 flippin’ dollars…hell yeah).  Remy and I are massive Kings of Leon fans. We had seen them before in Madison Square Garden in NYC on Valentine’s… yeah, I know I’m good. This was Brandon’s first time seeing them but I knew he’d love it.

As we arrived to the venue, we were guided by the parking attendants to the handicap parking area, which just so happens to be right next to the VIP parking at the front of the venue (minus the $30 fee…score).  As we were parking, one of the parking attendants approached us and suggest that we move the van to an even closer spot that had a larger area for the ramp to unfold into.  I was stunned that this guy had walked all the way across the lot in the blazing heat just to tell us that out of sheer kindness.

Next, we approached the venue and grabbed a spot in the long(ish) line and waited for the gates to open.  As soon as they opened the gates, a cheerful woman approached us and said that she would be more than happy to accommodate us in the VIP line, so that Brandon would be more comfortable.  Brandon is such a down to Earth guy that those kinds of favors almost make him shy, but we rolled with it nonetheless.  As we entered the venue we grabbed some food and headed to our area in the lawn section (personal plug: y’all need more gluten free options, thanks!).  As soon as our butts (or wheels) hit the turf, we were approached by another kind and outgoing employee.  “Don’t y’all want to go sit in the accessible section?”  he said, as he pointed to a shaded patio toward the front of the stage.  The high that day was 92 degrees and it was only 6:00pm so our immediate answer was, “um, yeah!”.

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Swag like this can’t be taught…you’re born with it.

We rolled over to the accessible seating area and were greeted by three happy and smiley employees.  They welcomed us to the patio with open arms and cleared an area for Brandon to park in.  This was the Rolls-Royce of accessible seating y’all… our seats came with a designated server who would run and get just about anything we could want and bring it back to us!  We just could not believe how over-the-top accommodating the entire staff had been all night (and no one was telling them to do this!).  The night was amazing… Kings of Leon rocked our faces off in what felt like a three hour set, and we bounced and bumped to every great song they played.

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You could practically smell the man-sweat from here

This venue has it figured out y’all… they not only think about those who are disabled, they make it a priority to act upon their forethought.  And it wasn’t that cheesy and artificial publicity-getting type stuff that I’ve witness being thrown at Brandon before.  These employees genuinely cared about Brandon (and us for that matter) having a night that we would remember forever.  My hat is off to you folks over at Coastal Credit Union Music Park in Raleigh, y’all truly made our experience unforgettable.

That brings me back to answering my earlier question: “are we really going to stop and appreciate each moment we do something that someone else can’t?”

In a perfect world, the answer would be yes, and we would all be more peaceful and happy because of it; but it’s not a perfect world.  In reality, we only need to realize how mightily blessed we are sometimesWhen I say sometimes, what I mean is that we all need to take some time from our busy lives to just be more observant.  In the grocery store, at the bank, at Disney World, wherever. Just look around you… there are far more people out there living with some form of disability than you know (many you can’t physically see!).  In those moments, take the time to reflect. Put yourself in their position for just a second and I promise you it will be the most humbling part of your day.  Say to yourself, “Wow, I am blessed beyond measure for who I am each day,” then go and give that person a friendly hello because in the end, we are all human and we all need other humans that love and understand us for who we are.

Roll With Us,

Eli

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Hey! Down here! It’s Brandon!

Eli said “Brandon, I think it’s time to at least introduce your side to this thing!” I concur! Everyone knows I’m beyond a private person…but I was excited when Eli posed the idea of this blog. It would be silly for us to not share this experience, because some of the stuff that happens is just too good to hold back.

I’ve been really quiet for the most part about my move to Chapel Hill, so let me give some background…and hopefully end some speculation :]. As I wrote in an op-ed a couple of years ago, I knew Charlotte was my city from the moment I rolled into it in 2009. I loved it, and still do: the vibe was just magnetic, and the people were just so welcoming. I had a crazy life there…never a dull moment: hell, I remember days where I would wake up, look at my calendar and ask “how the heck am I going to pull all of this off today?!” I met thousands of people during my tenure in CLT, and got involved with so many projects…worked my bottom off to really make a change.

For Instance, I joined Advocations as Director of Recruitment back in 2015. Advocations is focused on connecting professionals with disabilities with companies across the country in creative ways. Y’all, they are simply awesome. And the CEO Lindsey Haaser is brilliant…I often said in the last few weeks, that I wish I could’ve taken her brain with me! Advocations was definitely one of the highlights from my time in Charlotte.

But with all of that in mind, in the past few years since I was so damn busy, a couple of major personal things were pushed to the back burner. One of those things is my health. In order for those things to be addressed appropriately though, I decided I needed to be closer to a stronger support system and just a new environment as a whole. I decided on Chapel Hill because, for one, the medical system here is simply amazing and I knew I would have invested supporters.

One of the things that folks often forget is that I have to have full-time assistants, around the clock, to make my world go ’round. I respect them so much, and to say that I appreciate every single one that I have had is an utter understatement. But, no fault to them, it’s definitely a challenge managing everyone…especially when I first got to Charlotte, it was like a full-time job in itself.

So when I decided it was time to get to Chapel Hill, Eli and I had a conversation about my needs and he said “let me do it!” I certainly had hesitations though…the whole best friend/boss thing threw me for a loop! But after many discussions, I came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for me right now…since Eli is my best friend, he provides a whole other layer of care and support than a stranger off the streets, something that is so needed in my life right now (it saves me a lot of stress too!).

I know I’m a bit biased, but Eli is the best person for a job like this…he’s beyond kind-hearted, caring, and just an all-around good person…the world needs more Eli’s (I vote for Eli clones to go to Washington specifically, but that’s just me). And to top it all off, I get a double dose of awesome…his Fiancé (soon to be wife!) Remy, is basically Eli squared, full of care and love…such an amazing human. So needless to say, they’re taking really good care of me. I am 100% blessed, that’s a fact! And if I’m being completely honest, I really just needed and wanted to be closer to them.

Questions I keep getting asked:

  1. Are you working?: Is the sky blue?! I don’t think I’ll ever NOT work…I would drive myself and everyone around me stir crazy. I am coordinating an exciting initiative for the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities called the Inclusive Advocacy and Leadership Development Initiative. I am also the Community Organizer for Tech Talent South, overseeing the Raleigh market specifically. So I’m still busy, but putting a lot more focus on myself…believe it or not!
  2. What happens when Eli is not available?: I hired another awesome person named Ryan who is working part-time. I’m also on the hunt for a 3rd 
  3. Overall, how are you liking the Triangle?: I absolutely love it! I had always had my eye on the area as a place to move to (I just didn’t think it was going to happen this soon!). I’m working in Downtown Raleigh and living in Chapel Hill, so I’m experiencing a lot of the area which is exciting.

So here we are! It’s been a whirlwind of a month, but oh so great! I am super excited to watch this blog unfold. You’ll hear from me on occasion (whenever I get time!). I’m ready to keep watching Eli’s posts though, as he continues to spill the beans on all of our crazy happenings…this is actually the first time we’re living in the same city as really close friends, so there’s a lot of craziness to be had!

Remy, Brandon, Eli

Roll with us,

 

Brandon

Brandon Got Arrested!!!

Yep guys, it’s true.  It’s been a good run, but it looks like this blog is going to have to come to a premature end.  Brandon has been locked up on charges of reckless endangerment/the driving of an unregistered vehicle… I’ve never seen a wheelchair move so fast in my life!  Unfortunately the bail has been set to $300 and that’s just not something I can budget for right now, so B is just going to have to get cozy in his new home for a while.  He actually wrote to Remy and I from the pen yesterday, and apparently he has started a not-for-profit gang of other wheelchair toting offenders called “Hell on Wheels”… What a badass.

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Probably one of the only times a police man saw someone laughing in their backseat haha

Alright guys, you got me, It’s a joke! Sorry my epic 4th grade fiction writing skills were coming out there.  Brandon has not been arrested (yet), nor has he started a pun-tastic gang of other rag-tag rider (though he should).  The above picture is actually a result of an absolutely amazing day Brandon and I had this past weekend.

Remy had her Bachelorette Party this weekend (wooooh!) so Brandon and I sort of had Bachelor Party round two…well, maybe a little milder 🙂

As some of you may or may not know, Remy and I actually live in Carrboro while Brandon lives in Chapel Hill.  That is literally the equivalent of saying, “We live in the backyard and he lives in the house.”  Carrboro is attached to Chapel Hill at the hip.  Remy and I can actually leave our apartment and walk down the sidewalk into Chapel Hill in a matter of 5 minutes. But don’t get me wrong, they are different.  If Chapel Hill was a nice, well-groomed and educated woman, then Carrboro is her grungy, flower sniffing, albeit still educated, sister (read hipsters).

This past Sunday, Carrboro held an annual event that they put on every May appropriately named: Carrboro Day.  Brandon and I had no idea what it meant but it sounded fun and hip.  The aim behind Carrboro Day is to bring the people of the community together in a public space and bond them through music, dance, poetry, food, games and more.  When Brandon and I arrived, I think we were cast into an immediate spell of peace and happiness.

I think what blew us both away the most was the diversity of it all.  Which I mean, we are basically a walking (and rolling) advertisement for diversity…but this was next level sh*t. There were Blacks, Whites, Mexicans, Indians, Asians, Gays, the elderly, people with disabilities, Low income, High income, Middle Class, Homeless…whatever you can imagine, was represented, yet no one was nervous.  No one had that feeling like they needed to put their guard up or watch their backs.  In fact, I don’t even think it was a thought in anyone’s head.  Children of all different ages, sizes and colors were running around together unsupervised and *gasp* nothing was happening to them! One little 3-year-old girl came up to us and starting talking to us as if we were her cousins.  She then said something to Brandon that only a forward toddler could, “Your hands are weird!” Brandon responded in stride without even blinking, “I know sweetie, aren’t they?? They scare ME sometimes!” This is a common occurrence whenever we are in public with Brandon, but I’m always amazed at how much humor and lightheartedness he always responds with!

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“Look Mom, Weird hands!”

The whole town was there, but it wasn’t a crowd like you see at all of these other events in different cities. Everything was just slowed down. Like, 30 years ago kind of slowed down.  As I gazed around the event I made a keen observation that I challenge anyone to find in today’s world: Literally no one was on their phones.  Every person was engaged in something real like talking, dancing, eating, playing and all those beautiful things that us humans do when we don’t have a tiny, light-up square sucking on our soul.  It was bliss.

Throughout the event, I could see a sort of worried look on Brandon’s face.  When I asked him if everything was okay, his response shocked me. I’ll try and some it up in a rough quote:

“It’s just so…Chill.  I don’t even know how to handle this kind of chill.  For the past eight years in Charlotte, I’ve been so used to everything being go, go, go and everyone being crazy and stressed. An event like this in Charlotte would be insane. I just love this so much.  It’s going to take me some time to adjust to this feeling, but I know that this is exactly where I am meant to be right now in my life.  I need this.”

It’s so funny. Here I am thinking I’ve moved to the ‘big city’ where so much is going on and there’s more people, cars, businesses etc. yet on the other side of the coin, here’s Brandon feeling like this is the most chill he has been in eight years.  It’s a sheer example of how all of this just has such a delicate and awesome balance to it.

So the cop car… haha.

Carrboro Police Department, as part of Carrboro Day, were allowing kids to take a ‘tour’ of the inside of cop cars and subconsciously scaring them away from a life of crime (smart).  As we (st)rolled by, I joked about how funny it would be if we put Brandon in the back of the patrol car.  Brandon chuckled and said something like, “OMG that would be insane!”  Then I realized, why the hell not?!  I asked the policeman if he would be cool with me cramming Brandon in the back of his patrol car and he, very uneasily, said sure…  Let’s just make this clear: they do not build those backseats for comfort! We both almost went to the ground a few times getting him in the car, but it was totally worth it.  I also joked with the policeman that if they ever arrest Brandon, then good luck getting his ass in the car.

Basically, the whole day was an adventure that opened our eyes and hearts to the awesome community that we are now a part of.  I have always been a big fan of taking “why not?” moments and turning them into “So glad I did that” moments, and I think for Brandon and I, this will result in some pretty hilarious and unforgettable memories.

Roll On,

Eli

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Leap of Faith

Sometimes in life amazing things happen below the surface without you ever knowing. Some call it God, some call it fate and some simply call it coincidence.  No matter what you call ‘it’ the fact of the matter is, there is something that is beyond our conscious control helping to drive each and every decision we make in life, and these decisions eventually lead up to something much more meaningful than we originally intended.

This is exactly what happened when Remy and I decided to move out to the Triangle of NC.  We knew that this was our opportunity to experience life on our own, we knew that it was necessary for the growth of our relationship, and we knew the triangle was a new and exciting place.  Other than that, we knew absolutely nothing.  We didn’t have jobs, friends, or any of that ‘stuff’ that people typically move for. We just knew it felt like the right thing to do. This is where the story starts to get a little bit crazy.

First let me back up a bit and open my own heart for a second.

Not long after moving to Carrboro, I went through a tough period.  This was the very first time I would ever move away from my home island of Cape Hatteras, NC without the umbrella of a university, and without any blueprint plans of returning any time soon.  Cape Hatteras is not your average home town either… it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everything about everyone (or so we think).  Every time I mentioned moving to someone, I was honestly not met with the most warm and cheery feeling.  This gave me anxiety (and me and anxiety know each other fairly well).  Was I making the right choice? Would these people think of me differently now that I’m not living there? Is my family proud of me?

Soon enough, though, Remy and I both began to feel more and more comfortable in our new skin.  The more amazing experiences we had, the more we began to feel secure in our decision. Remy’s new photography business began to take off with an amazing amount of steam and opportunities began to present themselves like never before (If you want to keep up with that, btw, go here: Remy’s Photography Blog).  All that was great! But still, for me, there was something missing about my purpose for being here. Where do I fit in from a professional standpoint?

That’s where Brandon comes in.

Let me just back things up for a minute, and tell you about how Brandon and I became friends:

Brandon and I both grew up in Hatteras since birth.  To say we grew up in slightly different ways is an understatement.  I spent 365 days a year running around on the beach surfing and playing with friends until sundown. Brandon spent 365 days a year in his chair, maybe visiting the beach once in a blue moon.  Brandon and I were never friends growing up, in fact, I’m not sure I really ever even spoke a word to Brandon until he was in college…

On the other hand, my sister and Brandon had always been great friends and they were a huge support system for each other in their High School and college years.  When Brandon moved to Charlotte, NC to attend Johnson & Wales University, Ellisa would visit Brandon rather frequently.  I began to tag-along with Ellisa on these trips and subsequently hanging out with Brandon more and more.  Soon after we started hanging out, it was evident that Brandon and I had a bond that was far different than any friendship I had ever experienced.  

It was something unspoken, but respected, much like a brotherhood.  I just couldn’t believe that someone who was dealt such an unfortunate hand in life, could be so happy, positive, and humble 99% of the time.  This dude could be keeled over in pain from his Cerebral Palsy, but would still be laughing and have everyone in the room laughing too! Shoot, I had friends who would complain if they had to choose between going surfing or skateboarding that day.  No joke, to this day, I am constantly humbled and inspired by Brandon’s attitude and outlook on life.

Alright, fast forward to now.

Not long after Remy and I moved to Carrboro, Brandon mentioned that eventually he would be ready to get out of Charlotte, where he had spent the last 8 years, and was thinking that the Triangle was his next adventure.  Of course I was not only elated about this idea, but totally supportive of it. Still, I always had this feeling like it was just an ‘idea’ and that Brandon might never actually leave Charlotte. Then life happened…and Brandon’s move was organized in a matter of weeks.

Speed ahead to two weeks ago:

I was Charlotte bound to help Brandon pack up his entire apartment to move into his new apartment in Chapel Hill in a matter of 72 hours!  The day I arrived in Charlotte was my first official day as Brandon’s new full-time Personal Care Assistant; something I have had absolutely zero experience nor training in (other than helping Brandon go to the bathroom after we’ve had a few too many tequila shots at concerts).  To be honest though, I personally think I was built for a job like this.  I have always had a ‘caretaker’ type personality; even throughout college when people would get too drunk to take care of themselves, I usually was the one who would stick behind and make sure this person would be ok.

Many people may have similar questions like: Isn’t that kind of weird? Don’t you think that will affect your friendship?  Won’t you get tired of each other?  These are all questions that Brandon and I pondered to each other before agreeing to this arrangement.  We both truly feel that none of that will be an issue, as long as we are always open, honest and respectful with each other. Like I said, Brandon and I are way more like brothers who happen to be friends than the other way around.  We also agreed that this situation is a total win-win for the both of us.  I need a job for the time being that offers me the flexibility to attend to the responsibilities Remy and I have before our wedding and Brandon needs an assistant who can actually care for him in a more invested way than any stranger is willing to.  It is pretty amazing to find a friendship that allows you the opportunity to provide something for one another, yet never feel like it is actually work. 

So that is where this blog comes in guys! This has all been such a crazy combination of God, destiny and circumstances that documenting all of this is a no brainer.  We are going to be posting regularly about all the different adventures, struggles and insights about what it is like to live a day in our lives.  Some pretty hilarious sh*t happens to us on an average day, so trust me, you will want to follow along.  Brandon and I are also very interested in changing the way people think of people with disabilities (of all types) so there will be plenty of chats about various deep topics. Also, this post is more from my side of the story, but we will definitely be posting Brandon’s side of the story too! I really hope you all have enjoyed reading this little introduction and we look forward to keeping you up to date!

Roll with us,

Eli