A few weeks ago, I went to my first ever support group.
Now, I had some very strong opinions about what a support group should be. And these opinions were obviously based off of The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS).
In case you haven’t read it, TFIOS is about a teenage girl named Hazel Grace Lancaster who loves to read one book, and uses words like ‘hamartia’ in everyday conversation, and comes up with pretty stellar pieces of poetry on the fly, and also happens to have cancer. And a teenage boy named Augustus Waters who is a metaphor-loving, video-game-playing, hilarious-joke-making slice of heaven who also happens to have cancer.
And where do these sweet little sugar blossoms meet? Support Group.
Now, obviously there are some differences between me and Hazel Grace Lancaster.
But, in my opinion, it’s only fair that Incurable Illness + Support Group = Augustus Waters.
I should mention that I am well-versed in this kind of math. The first summer that I worked as an administrative assistant, I was pretty sure that Office + Terrible Boss = Jim Halpert.
The closest I got was the guy who liked to stare at me over the top of our cubicle divider, and when I asked him what he was doing, he said, “Just watching,” in a way that made me think that he was measuring me for a skin suit.
I should’ve remembered this sad truth on the day of support group. But, Office + Terrible Boss = Potential Skin Suit is a less attractive equation than Incurable Illness + Support Group = Augustus Waters.
So, I rolled up to the health centre confident in my impeccable math skills and believing that the Augustus Waters (- Cancer + IBD) was waiting for me inside, a cigarette dangling lazily from his lips, a metaphor waiting to be discussed.
My sister was with me ‘for moral support.’ I was grumpy about this. How was I supposed to flirt with IBD Augustus Waters with my sister hanging around? But, at least I’d talked my mom out of coming. I had no desire to be the future author of Flirting Beside Your Mother, the worst how-to book ever.
So, my sister and I walked into the health centre and looked for a sign telling us where to go. A limp piece of paper was taped to the wall. IBD SUPPORT GROUP, it read, with an arrow pointing left.
In the general direction of left, there was a room with people in it. Three men sitting around a square table. Two of them were on the far side of 65. The other was younger. Forty, maybe.
We strode past. That obviously wasn’t the support group.
There were only closed doors and empty rooms until we reached the elevator. We looked around, confused.
“Maybe it’s downstairs?” I shrugged.
We went down. The elevator door opened up into a hallway full of more empty rooms and closed doors. There were no more limp pieces of paper taped to the walls. No more directions.
“Do you think…” My sister trailed off. She knew what I was thinking. The three men. The square table.
“No.” I shook my head violently. My math was falling apart. Incurable Illness + Support Group = Intimate Group of Older Men Discussing Their Bowels.
We got back into the elevator. We rode up (or, down, into Hell. Depending on how you look at it).
“You should go. Just go.” I tell my sister. Jaw clenched, eyes fierce. Like I’m about to go to my brutal death. “You don’t need to see this.”
“No! I’m staying!”
“I’ll be fine. Just go!”
(So, essentially, that scene from Harry and the Hendersons — minus the face-punching).
The elevator doors opened. We walked back down the hall of empty rooms and closed doors. Back toward the limp piece of paper taped to the wall. Back to the only open room.
I walked up to the door. Miraculously, I still had a voice. “Hi…is this the IBD thing…?”
“Yes!” The oldest man at the end of the table smiled. Tall (even sitting down), thin, and pale. His name tag said ‘Walt.’ “Come in.”
The two other men stared at me and my sister, wide-eyed.
There was no IBD Augustus Waters. The only person with a cigarette was a guy loitering outside the health centre, and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t see it a a metaphor, since it was lit.
I looked down at the floor. It was the colour of sand. I wanted to sink into it. Disappear.
My sister pressed into my back. We were going in.
*Some of the details of this story (names, etc.) have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.