When I first started my publishing journey, a lot of sweet friends and readers of all abilities asked me if I’d ever write a book about a character like me, a wheelchair user, and to say the idea terrified me is an understatement. For a long time the answer was always no, a pretty, polite no, but a no all the same. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I could. There is often a lot of grief and heartache associated with disability, and I wasn’t sure I could bare to look as deeply into that mirror as I knew I’d have to.
Over the years I did try. I’d start and stop and start again and never let myself go there. Until one day I thought of Rebecca. And Ethan. And this very broken but beautiful love story. And I couldn’t let it go, or rather it wouldn’t let me go.
So I tried again.
It did hurt.
With Every Time You Go Away, I wasn’t just imagining a character and how different experiences would have shaped them. I have lived with a spinal cord injury, paralysis, and becoming a wheelchair user since I was seventeen. That’s not to say that Rebecca’s story is anything like my own—it’s not (please hear that if nothing else)—but I am intimately acquainted with the emotions that come with those particular realities.
But writing this book also healed.
Because like me, Rebecca’s (and Ethan’s) story isn’t about disability. It’s about love and loss, joy and grief, struggle and success, guilt and forgiveness, and a million other things that people all over the world experience every day. More than that, this book gave me an opportunity to portray the lives of people living with disability in ways they might not often get to see, ways that I see, and ways that are wonderful and full and rich. And hopeful.
There was a time in my life early on after I became paralyzed when I felt like I was just running out the clock, putting in my time and waiting, even longing, for the day when it could be over. It was hard to let go of the life I thought I’d have and to see the goals I had set for myself as possible or even to try to set new ones when I was reminded daily how much I’d lost. It’s still hard, but like Amelia says, you can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore to be happy. That’s easier said than done, but the end? When you get there? When hard isn’t easy, but you’ve discovered all the new reasons to smile?
That’s a beautiful thing.
So to all the friends, to all the other wheelies and readers who’ve asked or just wondered if I’ll ever?
Rebecca and Ethan’s story is for you.