We are in one of those public halls sitting on uncomfortable foldable chairs in a circle. Gloria next to me has just finished talking about her experience and I feel the anticipation of the facilitator introducing me to the group. In fact, I nearly jump the gun and a sound only audible to me comes up my throat, bounces around my mouth but doesn’t go any further than that.
Phew! That was close, I nearly let that one out. I smile to myself as I focus on the floorboards at my feet. Light beach in colourt, they would have been polished once but the money probably ran out.
“Tim, would you like to share your experience with us today?” The facilitator says as he looks towards me. The eyes of the rest of the group follow his gaze.
I’m feeling jumpy and excited. I was expecting this moment but I didn’t expect it now. Well…I did but I guess not like this.
I smile “Oh yes please.”
The group waits and looks on in silence. I like to leave a bit of a pause before I start because it calms me. I open my mouth and my story starts coming up my throat, through my mouth and out into the room.
So, I was at work, a typical Tuesday. You know, Monday has passed but you still have so much to do and the weekend still seems like an impossibility.
I’m sitting at my desk staring at the screen, it was about 10:15, no – actually it was 10:17, I remember because I looked at my phone and I saw a notification that made me head off to the toilet to open it in privacy. You know, one of those messaged. I used to get a lot of those.
I looked at the number seven and thought damn, that’s a bad luck number in some countries. It means death; kind of like our unlucky 13.
I got up, locked my screen and walked out of the office area and into the side hallway.
The disabled toilet was occupied so I just went to the regular toilet, entered one of the free cubilces and checked the message. The photo wasn’t even’t that bad, I could have looked at it at my desk but in hindsight I’m actually glad I didn’t because then I wouldn’t have realised that it was happening.
I left the cubicle and went into the next room to wash my hands. From there I looked up to check my hair. Hair was fine, so I started checking the rest of my face.
That’s when I first noticed it. Right then.
At first I thought maybe the mirror was warped – my face looked distorted. I got closer and looked at my features; one of my eyebrows had moved up close to my hairline and my right nostril was drooping.
I moved to the next mirror, same thing – I recoiled and felt panicky.
Was it happening to me? It couldn’t be. I was sure I hadn’t come into physical contact with anyone who it happened to. But then, that’s what we thought at the time – we know now that it’s not spread like that.
I remember touching my face and feeling what I had seen in the mirror. As I felt my face, even more of it had moved and by that point I was too scared to look.
I knew I had to leave, but I didn’t know where I would go, if I went back into the office they would know. If I went onto the street I would surely be collected.
To be honest, I must have been so shocked I didn’t notice Russell walk out from the toilets. He must have seen me and alerted my team.
I was getting messages on my phone but I couldn’t respond to any of them.
The dinner that evening was no longer a possibility. In fact my life as I knew it was about to become an impossibility.
Then came the knock.
“Tim, are you in there?” The voice belonged to Darren who was my senior.
“Yeah…” I remember responding.
No one knocks to enter the toilets. He knew.
“Everything okay in there?” He sounded worried. He knew.
“Oh…umm…yeah, I’ll be out in a sec.” I said as I looked back at the mirror. It was getting worse.
“Mate…I think you should stay in there. Russell saw you. Just stay there, we’re going to get you some help.”
That was it. I knew I was going to be collected.
“Oh…okay…” was all I could get out.
I couldn’t believe it. What would they all be saying? I bet everyone was talking about me now from the safety of their desks.
That’s when I snapped.
You know something? I was always to nice to everyone. I put up with other people’s shit. I always followed the rules. Now that I had it, they were going to take me away. None of it mattered.
They smiled at me everyday and had empty conversations with me but as soon as this started happening to me, they couldn’t wait to have me collected. Everything was a goddman joke.
From there it got a little fuzzy but all I know is that disobeyed what Darren said and I ran right out of there. I made sure I touched him on the way out, and Russell too.
I don’t know how far I got but I eventually got collected.
How long was I locked up? Beats me! It could have been weeks, months or even years.
The collective spotlight of the groups gaze is still on me. A few others nod with their distorted features. Some eyes blink out of synch and saliva drips out of gaping mouths. “And thats when I became lopsided.” I finish off and wait for the applause as my eyes track down again to the shabby floor boards. They still don’t shine.