The Caribbean Was the Perfect Spot to Set Aside My Fierce Independence

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by Matt Lafleur |

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(Photo by Matthew Lafleur)

A continuation of a series of reflections on a recent vacation to Turks and Caicos. In this column, I take a rainy boat ride and am confronted by my uneasiness with asking for help. Read previous reflections here.


“Are you OK up here?” my stepdad asked, coming upstairs from the galley.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, and I meant it, as the rain briefly paused from a downpour.

I didn’t expect rain on my vacation to an island in the Caribbean, but these showers are a constant occurrence. They never last long, though; they show up in sudden bursts during otherwise sunny and picture-perfect days.

This midday shower was especially inconvenient because my family and I were on a catamaran that sailed away from the resort to tour the open sea and a far-off beach on uninhabited Iguana Island.

The rain began to fall harder again and came at us sideways. “Are you sure you don’t want us to take you downstairs, out of the rain?” my stepdad asked.

Getting out of the rain would be much more convenient, I thought. My hair was soaked, and I almost began to shiver — an act I had forbidden myself from doing in this tropical paradise. The thought of asking my stepdad, brothers-in-law, and a couple of crew members to help carry me and my wheelchair downstairs was slowly becoming less inconceivable. The rain was about to overcome my unwillingness to ask for help.

Without saying a word, two large bouncer-type members of the crew stood in front of me, blocking the unpleasant sideways rain from pelting my body. I grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my shoulders, took off my dripping sunglasses, and stayed put. I was going to stay on the top deck despite the rain. I was silent, but mentally I taunted Mother Nature: Bring on the rain.

(Courtesy of Matthew Lafleur)

Sometimes being stubborn and unwilling to accept unpleasant circumstances can be harmless. In the situation described above, it came down to a matter of convenience: I was willing to endure the rain rather than ask people for help. And I think that is OK — up to a point. Rain in paradise was not enough for me to get over myself and ask for help. Especially as an American, I cherish and almost revere independence. But FA quietly, yet strongly, shows me that relying on others is essential, no matter how desperately I try to avoid it.


The rain ceased and the clouds were blown away. The second half of our ride on the catamaran was sunny and fun. I took the towel off of my shoulders and put my sunglasses back on. Many guests cloistered in the ship’s galley returned to sunbathe on the main deck. The captain came on the PA system. “Looks like the rain is over,” he said. “Now, it’s time to party! Is everybody having fun?” He played a song with a Caribbean beat.

We had one final stop before returning to the dock at the resort. The sailboat lowered its anchor while we sat above a deep trench near the shoreline. The captain announced over the PA that a waterslide connected to the bottom rear of the boat was now open, and he invited us to go down the slide or jump off the side to play in the water.

I was tired of worrying about inconveniencing others. The slide was the final straw. I wanted that.

I got over myself and asked for help from my stepdad, my brothers-in-law, and some of the crew in carrying me downstairs to the slide. As I was hauled past those in the galley, many turned and stared. Of course they did — someone was being carried through the boat. But they smiled and didn’t judge me, as part of me had feared. And my family — my mom, my personal care attendant Charleen, and my sister Morgan — seemed very excited that I had moved from the deck. Morgan even decided that despite FA, she would go down the slide next, too.

They put me on the seat of the slide, and I pushed myself down the short curvy tunnel. Then I hit the cold water of the Atlantic ocean. A lot of salty water got up my nose and in my mouth, but I was able to cough it out. I floated there, in my life jacket in the Caribbean Sea, and I realized something: I was OK. Even better, I was great.

(Courtesy of Matthew Lafleur)

Next week: My final reflections on the vacation.


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