The first thing I remember is waking up.
It was a normal day, or so it seemed in that split second between waking and sleeping. I thought I was in my bed, at home. I heard footsteps outside my door and imagined they were my mom's, or maybe my sister Lila. My dad would have left for work already, like he always did. He worked as an electronics engineer for some fancy company, and he always left long before the rest of the household woke up. Without thinking, I rolled over. A second later, my mind caught up with me and registered shock at that simple action of rolling over. I just rolled over. I haven't been able to roll over for-what? A year now, maybe two? Then my hand wandered over to the edge of the bed and found, not the steel railing that my bed had to keep me from falling out of bed in the night, but just the edge of the mattress, and then, beyond that, just empty air. Then I realized that I didn't have the plastic of my oxygen mask stretched across my mouth and nose. Something is very, very wrong here...
See, I'm not exactly your average girl. My name is Kyla Bates, and I have a disability called Muscular Dystrophy. Specifically, it's a type of Muscular Dystrophy called Spinal Muscular Atrophy. I'll spare you all the technical crap and tell you that it's a disability where my muscles get weaker and weaker because of a problem with my genes. All my muscles get weaker, including, unfortunately, my breathing and heart muscles. Which is why most kids with MD don't live past their teen years.
I always knew I was going to die. It was always lurking in the back of my mind, though I tried to push it away and just enjoy the years I had left. But as I grew weaker, death came closer, and it became harder and harder to ignore. When I was eight, I lost the ability to walk. I resorted to using a manual wheelchair. It was just two years later, when I was ten, that my arms became too weak to push the chair and my parents had to buy me a power wheelchair. Thank god the insurance still covered power chairs at that point. I don't know how my parents did it, how they paid for all my adaptive equipment and also trips to the hospital at least once a year. We're not filthy rich, but we're not dirt poor, either. We're somewhere in the middle, like most of my friends' families. And then, just a couple years ago, when I was about twelve, I had to get an oxygen mask to wear at night, because the doctors were afraid I'd stop breathing in my sleep. That really scared me, because I knew I had ten years left of my life, tops. That's something not many twelve year olds have to think about. Most twelve year olds have eighty or ninety years to live. I was probably entering the final decade of my life at twelve. But I got used to the plastic mask over the next two years. Which is why it felt strange without it. Hey, what gives? Mom never forgets to put on my oxygen mask. I thought sleepily as I forced my eyes open. Once I got them open, I stared.
This was not my room. My room had splashes of color and patterns, pinks and purples with different animal prints. My room was a mosaic of brightness and fun. My room had a gigantic boom box with huge speakers against one wall and a flatscreen TV against another. In my room, one wall was hot pink, one was purple, one was a calming blue, and one wall was plain white with my name painted in huge letters of gold glitter paint. I wanted my room redecorated so badly after I got the oxygen mask. I was afraid that with the oxygen mask and the bedrails, it would look too much like a hospital room. But my parents couldn't afford to redecorate. As I said before, we don't have that kind of money. So my best friend Kendi contacted the Make A Wish Foundation on my behalf. Contrary to popular opinion, the Make a Wish Foundation grants wishes to kids with all kinds of life-threatening diseases, not just cancer. I got to wish for anything I wanted, and I wished for my room to be redecorated, and they did a better job than I ever dreamed of. Not only that, they redid my entire house to make it easier for me to get around. But the room I was staring at was not that room. It was the bedroom of a stranger.
This room was bland and tasteless, decorated in light pastels. There was a TV, yes, but it was small, and it was perched atop a white wicker dresser. I absolutely cannot stand the color white. I guess it reminds me of all those hospital stays, all the endless nights of rooms of sterile white. I would get out of the hospital and be so overjoyed to see color again that I'd cry with happiness, only to have the realization come to me that I would almost certainly have to do it again. A boom box sat in the corner, half-buried in Cds featuring Ashanti, Sean Paul, and other various rap and hip-hop artists. I can't stand rap, and I can't stand hip-hop. I just don't like those genres, although I like practically everything else. My CD collection, my own CD collection, consisted of everything from oldies to pop and everything in between. Worst of all, I saw no bookshelf. My room at home is practically lined with bookshelves, since I love to read. I have difficulty holding a book, so I have a special book rack that I set up in front of my chair. I prop the book up on the rack and I read to my heart's content. Thankfully I still have enough muscle coordination to turn the pages, though with some difficulty.
Whose room is this? I wondered, my heart beginning to race with fear and panic. I'd like to say I didn't know, that the room was that of a complete stranger. In a way, it was. But somehow, inexplicably, I knew.
This room was the room of 14 year old Elizabeth Kennedy, though her friends called her Liz. She was a tall, thin girl, with blonde hair down to her waist. She had sparkling blue eyes that shone like the ocean on a calm day. She liked to do her hair, and put on makeup, but she was also a tomboy, and her favorite sport was lacrosse. Liz was also head cheerleader. She prided herself on being the most popular girl at John Adams High School, or simply Adams High, as most of the students and faculty called it. In an instant, I knew all of Liz's hopes and dreams, that she had a boyfriend named Galvin, but was thinking about breaking up with him because Jessica had told Laurie, who told Liz that Amy had overheard Gavin saying to his friend Max that he thought Liz was fat. How did I know all this? I had no idea. My head was spinning from the incredible amount of information. It was like I was leading two lives: the life of Liz Kennedy, whose biggest worry was a pimple on her chin; and the life of me, Kyla Bates, whose biggest worry was whether I would stop breathing in my sleep and not be alive to see another day. I was baffled.
I sat up, marveling at how easy it was now. There was no effort, no struggling. I was able to do things that I had only dreamed of before. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed for the first time in my life. And then...I stood up. I hadn't stood in-what? Six years? Seven? I only had a dim recollection of what it was like to be on my feet. It was incredibly satisfying. Swiftly I walked across the room, and it wasn't the kind of walking I remembered, either. It wasn't the slow, shuffling walk of a girl unsteady on her feet. It was the fast-paced, confident walk of a teenager in her prime. I turned left at the door and remembered how I used to fall every time I did that. I was so enthralled by the notion of walking normally that I nearly walked right into a woman with curly blonde hair. My newfound memories told me this was Liz's mother, who she often fought with.
"Hey, honey," she greeted me warmly, spatula in hand. "I'm making pancakes, your favorite!" Um, no. It might have been Liz's favorite, but no way was it mine. My favorite breakfast food was bacon...lots and lots of bacon-oh god. My stomach rumbled noisily just thinking about it.
It was then that Liz's mom moved aside slightly to flip the pancakes and I caught sight of my reflection in the shiny chrome of the stove. My stomach, which had been so hungry a moment before, suddenly felt queasy. There, staring back at me, was not my face. It was the face I had suspected I'd see from the moment I woke up. It was the face of Liz Kennedy. And I was trapped in her life.