The Ambassador of Happiness awaited, but Lariq Byrd was stressing over his sunglasses.
The ones that matched his white tux and, more important, accentuated his prom date’s custom-made dress were broken.
Now he had to choose between a more casual pair of frosted aviator types — nice, but fancy enough? — and a gold pair of wraparounds his mother, Erica, dug up. Are these yours? he asked, incredulous.
After some debate inside the cramped front porch of his Frankford home that became his bedroom after he was shot and paralyzed in 2015, his mother’s contribution won out.
“Those stand out more,” said his nurse, Briana Taylor.
“Right,” his mom said, feeling vindicated. “They’re more … prom-ish.”
Byrd, 17, conceded. “The jury has spoken.”
Glasses on board, it was time for his family to hurry him into his black shirt and gold bow tie, which they fastened around his breathing tube, and then scooted him from his bed to his motorized wheelchair and out to his awaiting chariot.
Lariq Byrd, headed to his prom date’s house – with flowers and a corsage. Byrd was shot and paralyzed the day after Christmas, 2015. @MageeRehab made it possible for him to go to prom, with a wheelchair accessible van. pic.twitter.com/hAtpUGGGpI
— Helen Ubiñas (@NotesFromHeL) June 1, 2018
It had been months since Byrd had left his bed, bound there by a wound. An opportunity to go outside, around people his own age, made the prospect of accompanying his best friend, Daameira Carr, even more magical.
Without Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, Friday’s celebration wouldn’t have happened.
Robin Parry’s official title is concierge, but patients see her as a sort of Ambassador of Happiness.
She and the other guest relations workers are charged with doing whatever they can to help those working through grueling rehabs. If that means comfort food from a favorite restaurant, they get it. If that means scrambling to plan a rooftop wedding, they do that, too. In fact, they did, in 2014.
But as far as anyone can remember, this was their first prom.
Byrd hadn’t been a Magee patient for a while, but when his mom struggled to find accessible and affordable transportation, she thought back to the can-do team at the hospital and how they responded after her oldest boy was caught in the crossfire while hanging on the front porch of a friend’s house the day after Christmas 2015. One of the two bullets that struck him hit his spine, paralyzing him.
“She called me really upset,” said Robin Parry. “She asked if I could help her find a van, some rental, something they could afford.”
Parry did one better: She reached out to Fritz Louis-Jean, who is in charge of transportation, and who immediately said yes.
And after some last-minute primping, Byrd was boarding a wheelchair-accessible van driven by another ambassador, Kevin Clark, and headed to his date’s home about 20 minutes away.
Outside Carr’s house, a growing group of friends and relatives awaited the couple. “Nice glasses,” an uncle told Byrd as he rolled off the van.
The house was decked out with graduation decorations. As Carr appeared at the doorway, Cardi B’s “Drip” blasted from the porch and a car. Her grandmother Felicia Bailey scrambled to set down two runners, a white one coming down the front steps for her granddaughter and a red one in the alley next to the house.
“So the two could meet at the bottom of the stairs,” the grandmother explained giddily.
On cue, Byrd maneuvered his electric wheelchair down the alley and to the front of the house as Carr, 18, made her way down the stairs in a stunning blue and gold dress.
The teens have been friends since they were eighth graders at Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School. They took some of the same classes and ran track together. After Byrd got shot, she was one of his friends who visited him most.
She had hesitated to see him in the hospital, unsure what to expect.
“I was nervous,” she said. “But he’s still the same person to me, strong-minded.”
I got a taste of that the first time I met him about a year ago. He had big plans — to keep attending school, graduate and go to college. I remember walking out of his house wondering just how possible any of that would be.
He graduates next week.
“A lot of people, when something like this happens to them, they shut down,” Carr said. “But he’s still the same. He still likes to interact with people, he still likes females.”
With that she pauses and laughs. “He’s still the same Lariq.”
She transferred to Simon Gratz High her senior year, but the two have remained close, talking and texting regularly, and deciding early on that they would go to her prom together.
He smiled when he saw her descend the steps.
The plan was for him to be driven back home around 9:30, but as the clock inched closer to the bewitching hour, the Ambassadors of Happiness struck again.
They let them stay longer, making it possible for them hang out and hit the dance floor for some selfies.
“I just enjoyed the entire thing,” Byrd said.
And just like in any proper fairy tale, he made it home by the stroke of midnight.