You may recall that I have a bit of a history with support groups. As in, I once went to a support group expecting to find Augustus Waters and an abundance of free baked goods and instead found three older gentlemen and one very uncomfortable woman ready to discuss our shared experience with inflamed bowels.
After that tragedy, I swore I would never return to that cramped room with its sand-coloured floor and its square table and its squat black chairs.
I was done with support groups.
Of course, my mother had other ideas.
A few weeks after that first support group, an e-mail arrived in my inbox. In classic mom fashion, the entire message was in the subject line: “support group this week love mom.” There was no further information. Just one attachment.
I clicked on it.
Red and black text. A mass of exclamation marks. “Come on out and chat with others living with Crohn’s Disease…All are welcome!!!” In the middle of the page, the location.
“Seriously?” I muttered, staring at the address.
It was in that same room. With its sand-coloured floor and its square table and its squat black chairs. As if there was only one possible room in the entire city that could house uncomfortable discussions about butt maladies.
After confirming and reconfirming (and confirming, one more time) that this support group was not, in fact, the same support group of Where the Hell is Augustus Waters and My Name is Not Charmaine fame, I decided that I would go.
At best, I would finally meet IBD Augustus Waters, and our sweet, sweet love would blossom in amongst those squat black chairs. At worst, I would have another story.
And, guess what? I have another story.
My sister pulled into the loading zone beside the square beige building, the engine still running. “You go in,” She gave me a small smile. “I’ll go park.”
“If it’s bleak, I’ll text you.” I fingered at my phone in my lap, sliding it open and shut. “And then you should just leave.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m coming with you.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but she cut me off.
“Just go in — you’re going to be late!”
A sigh, slumped shoulders. I slid out of the car and reluctantly shut the door behind me.
As my sister pulled out of the parking lot, I shuffled toward the front door. My shoes scraping against the pavement, my phone clutched in one hand (ready to send an Abort Mission text to my sister: “Have been swallowed into pit of despair/room full of older men wanting to talk about bowels. Turn back while you still can”).
The sun was still high in the sky. Golden light bounced off of the hoods of cars, the windows of the health centre.
I held my breath, and I walked inside.
Laughter, voices. They spilled out of the support group room and into the lobby.
Something flickered in my chest. Something small and bright.
I turned the corner, peering into the room. It was full. Bursting, even. People carried chairs over their heads so they could squeeze into any empty space. People my age.
A man came out of the room and saw me looking inside. My eyes wide, my mouth open. That small, bright thing in my chest swelling.
“Hi, there,” He said.
He wore glasses. An easy smile. He was a few years older than me.
“I-is this the Crohn’s thing?” I stammered, looking over his shoulder into the room. Two girls perched on the very same square table that I had sat in front of a few weeks before.
“Yeah, it is.” He seemed a little surprised. A small line growing between his eyebrows. But, then he smiled another easy smile. “Welcome!”
He walked past me, and I stepped into the room, my mouth still open, my eyes still wide. There were two empty chairs in the far corner. I sat in one, putting my bag in the other.
“Okay. Actual young people, here,” I texted my sister. “I’m saving you a seat on the left hand side.”
I slid my phone into my bag and looked around the room.
The chairs were arranged in a messy circle. Each of them filled. A group of older women directly in front of me flipped through manila folders in their laps and talked about fundraising. A teenaged girl on the other side of the room played with her phone, her bangs slipping into her eyes every few seconds. A couple held hands and whispered to each other. (There were even a few potential candidates for IBD Augustus Waters, people.)
After a few moments of gaping wonder, I looked over to the door and saw my sister slip into the room, her eyes wide.
I waved her over, pulling my bag off her chair.
“What the fuckkk?” She whispered as she sat down, smiling.
“I know, man. I know.”
We both laughed. Breathy, leaning into each other.
It was then that the man with the easy smile, the one who I’d spoken to earlier, sat in an empty chair at the front of the room. “Hey guys, let’s get started.”
The conversations around us petered out, everyone slowly turning to face him.
“Great,” The man began. “Well, let me just say that I’m so happy to see so many people here, tonight. We weren’t expecting such a big turn out.”
I smiled, nodding. The small bright thing in my chest no longer small.
“Okay, why don’t we go around the room and introduce ourselves and then say what our role is for this Sunday.”
“I’m Ben,” He placed his hand on his chest and looked around the room. “And I’m–”
I stopped listening, looking over at my sister who was already looking at me.
“Sunday?” She mouthed, frowning.
“Hi, I’m Tricia,” The woman beside Ben smiled. “And I’m the volunteer coordinator. It’s so great to see all of you here for our Gutsy Walk Volunteer Planning Session.”
Volunteer Planning Session? Volunteer Planning Session???
My sister stared at me. I stared back.
Volunteer. Planning. Session.
I was immediately outraged at everyone and everything. Why hadn’t they put a notice on the website saying that the support group was cancelled? Why hadn’t there been a sign on the door? Some kind of message?
Why had we come at all?
I shrank in my chair, glaring at Ben The Betrayer, replaying our conversation in my head: “Is this the Crohn’s thing?” “Yeah, it is. Welcome!”
Meanwhile, everyone took their turn speaking. Gail, registration. Ellen, sound. Fred, photographer.
My mouth tasted sour. I squirmed, sweating. What was I going to say? That this was all a mistake? That I was impostor who didn’t even know what the Gutsy Walk existed? That I was really just here to talk about my inflamed bowels/meet the love of my life? WHAT?
The small bright thing in my chest was gone. All that was left was my heart beat. Fast, racing.
Maybe I could jump out the window. Maybe I could say I was going to the bathroom and then just sprint out the front door. Maybe I could–
Martia, the water station.
And then there was a silence. And the chairs in the room creaked as everyone turned toward us, smiling. My sister’s cheeks turned pink.
“I’m RG’s sister, and this is RG–” She pointed at me, and I sank in my chair. “And I just want to make sure — this is the Crohn’s support group, right?”
Ben nodded, smiling.
“Okay. Then, I have no idea what we’re talking about,” My sister laughed and everyone laughed with her. Everyone except me and Ben.
His smile faltered. “Oh. Well, maybe this is a good moment to talk about the Gutsy Walk.”
And so he talked, and we listened. And we realized that we were at a volunteers-only meeting for a fundraising walk that we had never heard of and had no intention of attending. (NOT, as Ben has confirmed multiple times, THE CROHN’S SUPPORT GROUP.)
Ben finished his speech about the Gutsy Walk and looked at me expectantly.
My cheeks burned. I shifted in my seat. “Uh, um, I’m RG. And, I also didn’t know about the Gutsy Walk until just right now.”
Ben nodded like this was a normal thing to say in a volunteers-only meeting for the Gutsy Walk, and then the woman beside me began speaking. Everyone nodding and smiling and continuing on.
Like. No one stopped and considered the fact that not one, but TWO, people in a volunteers-only planning session had never heard of the walk that they were supposedly volunteering for. That maybe those two girls shifting uncomfortably in the back of the room are actually looking for a support group (as they have stated multiple times). THAT MAYBE THEY NEED SOME SUPPORT.
About forty-five minutes in, my sister squeezed my knee. Our eyes met.
“Oh my God,” I mouthed. “This is the worst.”
Okay. It wasn’t THE WORST.
THE WORST was my first day of university, when I confidently walked into my first ever class (Introduction to Theatre) and then realized (when I was handed a syllabus) that I was sitting in a 400-level Canadian Theatre lecture and it was too late to turn back. I sat through the entire thing. I even gave my name and e-mail to the woman beside me ‘in case she missed a class and needed notes.’
But, still. This was pretty bad.
The time inched by. People asked questions about security and the right kind of food to serve and whether or not we could have freshly sliced watermelon and what was the exact right thing to wear. And I thought of 400 different ways I could potentially exit the room (one of which was running through the wall like the Kool Aid Man).
Finally. “Any more questions?” Ben asked.
The woman in front of us turned in her chair and stared at my sister and I intently, blinking and smiling for a deeply uncomfortable length of time. Eventually, we both shook our heads. She looked slightly disappointed as she turned back to the front.
“All right!” Ben clapped his hands together. “Looking forward to seeing everyone on Sunday!”
Everyone started packing up, shoving folders into bags, and chatting with the people beside them. We sat for a moment. Staring, stunned. Until Tricia, the volunteer coordinator, hurried over to us with a clipboard clamped to her chest. “Hi! Do you guys want to volunteer?” She was too happy, too bright, for the kind of darkness we’d just endured.
“NO,” We essentially screamed at her. “Thank you,” We added as an afterthought, as her face fell.*
And then, we pushed our way out of the room, avoiding eye contact with the people around us.
It wasn’t until we were out in the parking lot that we looked at each other. And then we started laughing. And we didn’t stop until we got home.
- I should note that, reading this now, my sister and I both agreed that we were assholes to poor Tricia. But, I had just spent an hour of my life trying to decide if I could survive bursting through a solid brick wall LIKE THE KOOL AID MAN, so maybe you can give me a break, Tricia. Maybe you can forgive me.
Also, in all seriousness, the Gutsy Walk is actually a cool thing. Check it out here.
And, names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.