Edited by Luka Riot
“Come in! Find a seat, or wheel yours in. Whichever works better for you!”
A woman stands at the head of a rectangular room, beckoning ten or so people to enter. They are all gathered for a meeting to divulge stories and dreams pertaining to seizures. They enter the room one by one, apologizing for brushing against other bodies.
It is a diverse group. Two of them look to be in their early twenties but have no relation to one another. Three look like ex-junkies, with unwashed hair and clothing. One younger girl who is probably around ten finds a seat between two people who one would assume are her parents. Two people in wheelchairs, one is being propelled by a nurse. The other is completely alone and seems despondent. Finally, the last one to enter the room is a flustered looking woman who stumbled in by accident.
It only takes a minute and everyone finds a spot.
“Great! Everyone seems to be comfortable. There is coffee available at the back. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the budget for snacks this week. We’re working on that!” The woman at the front speaks with grace and warmth. “I am Amanda, and everyone in this circle is a peer! By that, I mean that everyone here fights with some form of epilepsy. Some self-inflicted, some not. Life is interesting!”
“Life is a bitch, you mean.” The gentleman in the wheelchair who propelled himself in utters under his breath, with little regard to who hears him.
Amanda’s demeanour does not falter. If anything, she speaks with a heightened determination to sound less patriotic. “To start, I would ask for someone to share why they are epileptic and how that has shaped their existence. How life has been an adventure, and I don’t want to hear a bunch of you looking for pity!”
Awkward murmurs flit around the room.
Amanda looks concerned. This is not the environment that she wanted to have.
“Okay… let’s start with names, then. As I stated, I’m Amanda! Let’s go left. Your turn!”
“Fine.” One of the ‘ex-junkies’ stands. He does not look thrilled to be there.
“I’m Stan. I was drunk, fell down stairs, and now here I am. O’course, there’s a lot more. What you need to know is that I am Stan, and I am here because I was told I need to socialize more.”
With that note, he abruptly sat back down and turned his head to the right. His gaze almost challenged the person next to him to one up him in some way.
Then, another one of the ex-junkies looked at him with tears in their eyes. “So, you got minor brain damage?”
“Yep. I worked, had a family, dealt with life. The main reason I ended up where I am is because I couldn’t stay conscious through the day. My work decided to relieve me of my position under guise that I wasn’t doing my job anymore. Not because of my injury ‘cause that would be illegal.” His voice cracked. “I was driven out legally. The government jumped in where they could, but I still make half of what I used to.”
Stan fell apart, putting his face deep into his hands. No sound emanated from him, but it was clear from his jumping shoulders that he was crying hard.
“Okay, Stan. This is a safe place, don’t push yourself too much if you can’t.” Amanda stated. She tried so hard to sound delicate. “Thank you for sharing, Stan. That story was heartbreaking and very honest. Who’s next?”
The capable boy in the wheelchair extends his arm while looking at the ground. Amanda realized that he had not even said good morning to anyone around him, and he looks like he came completely alone. Amanda worries, without real reason, that he is alone.
He cleared his throat. “Hello. I am James. I got sick. The result was my brain swelled. It damaged my brain stem. The damage scarred parts of the grey matter.” The group started to murmur with questions and disbelief. “My epilepsy wasn’t even noticed for four years. I passed out and fell out of my chair in front of, who is now, my wife and mother-in-law. They called an ambulance and it was determined to be a seizure.”
“It wasn’t for another few months that the diagnosis came through that I was epileptic. It explains why I failed out of school so tremendously only a year earlier. It explains why I would get so exhausted at times even after I had a solid ten hours of sleep. There was one situation where I remember leaving a classroom, then I am in a wing of the school five minuets away from where I should have been with someone pushing me without permission.” James started to get frantic.
“Here I was, in an apartment that I was living in with the woman of my dreams. All of a sudden, I wasn’t just paraplegic, but epileptic? How was this never caught prior? Why was this ignored for years? Why the f—“
James cleared his throat. “Sorry. Got a bit non-plussed there.” He then wheeled further into the space he made for himself in the circle.
The room goes quiet for a moment. Then, Amanda stands up.
“Thank you, James. That sounds very frustrating. Who’s next?”
“Excuse me!” James shouts from the place is resides in. “Why must you sound so dismissive?”
Amanda looks horrified that someone spoke out against her, regardless of what was said. “You were done, so I’m just moving things along here!”
“You still don’t have to patronize what I said. It came off as dismissive and belittling! How would you like it if you had a bad day and I just responded with ‘who’s next?’ Would that not frustrate the hell out of you? There is a right way and wrong way to go on to the next person.” James was furious. The faces around the room were a mixture of agreement and shock. It was clear that some people saw absolutely nothing wrong with the way Amanda had handled the situation. Some of the other patrons, however, looked just as upset as James was displaying.
“Fuck this and fuck you. I’m going to leave. I’m going to the coffee place down the road, if anyone cares to join me?” James declared to the room. He really seemed like he cared little if he sat alone for the next several hours, or if he made a room full of new friends.