I was nervous that first day as I made it to room 10B in the Center for Disability, a run-down, twelve-story building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I had never before considered myself “disabled,” but now, as I begrudgingly accepted that possibility, I tried to prepare myself for my first meeting with my new peers.
Twenty people, wearing resigned expressions, sat on cheap blue plastic folding chairs arranged in a circle. The dingy white walls, offset by blackened gray tiles on the floor, enclosed a room that was suffocating in stale air.
Daunted but not deterred, I looked closer. All those in the circle displayed evidence of brain injury. Some had paralyzed legs, some were blind, some were deaf. Some were quadriplegic.
Kari picked me to follow Charles. When I was done confessing, I looked around the room. Everyone appeared shocked. One wheelchair-bound elderly Hispanic woman, who had yet to speak in group, introduced herself as Natalie.
She stared at me.
“You seem very healthy and well-spoken, young man,” she said. “You must have had the brain injury around ten years ago, am I right?”
“Not really,” I said, looking down.
“Actually,” I said, “this happened to me three years ago.”