pulitzer prize-luminary commended author
EPILEPSY AT JOB INTERVIEW
Epilepsy is a condition which is extraordinarily difficult to treat. It is completely trial-and-error. You try a medication. If you don’t seize afterward, then you stick to it. If you do seize, you have to try another one. Or, worst situation of all – you have to try a cocktail of different drugs, each at different milligrams. But, the thing is, you never know if it’s right, until you don’t, or do, have a seizure.
After multiple attempts at multiple anticonvulsants – I had tried four different ones during the course of a few years -- I was finally on a medication which was working. I was seizure-free years until a job interview took that safety away.
In 2012, even after I had signed my book contract, I had no money. Unless you’re Stephen King, John LeCarre, or Danielle Steel, it’s hard to become a millionaire by writing books. Advances, or at least my advance, couldn’t really pay the rent. And you only get paid if you sell enough books to pay back the advance. And even then, your royalties are not that great.
So, I was badly in need of a 9-5 job even after the book came out, and I did my best daily to score job interviews. It was hard to land one, though, as there was such a huge gap of employment in my resume.
I started looking for jobs via Craigslist daily, which, I discovered, can actually be employed for purposes other than finding sex. On one generic Thursday summer, I finally found a good possibility, which would utilize my previous history in public relations and degree in journalism: Communication Associate needed. Even better: the company was a non-profit, dealing with the fight for marriage equality. (Obviously, this was before equality and freedom rang in 2015). This organization was one of the most famous nonprofits in America to fight for this cause.
So, not only would I be working in a field at which I could excel, I would also be healing the world! I called the number right away, and spoke to a charming fellow named Juan. He liked what he heard, I emailed over the resume, and – bam! – we scheduled an interview for the following Monday morning.
The day came, and I was ready to shine. Waking up to my alarm at 8:00 AM, I got ready for the big interview. This was not a corporate situation, so I knew to dress business-casual. Like every other person of Indian descent, I had bad vision and wore contacts. This day, however, I chose to wear my black-framed glasses, the ones lovingly mentioned in The Day My Brain Exploded. They always made me look smarter; since I needed to look smart that day, I needed to wear them. I accessorized these with a black long-sleeved polo and generic Gap khakis. My mega-heeled patent leather dress shoes completed the look.
I was happy that the office was located just two blocks away. I lived in Chelsea, the gay mecca of Manhattan, so that location of a “marriage equality office” made sense. I was not surprised to discover that the building looked like an everyday brownstone, instead of a glamorous high-rise, a glassy classy one, a see-through one like the Apple Store, a building like the ones on Madison Avenue. It was a nonprofit, after all; plus, I had heard the old ACT-UP offices back in the 80’s weren't remotely fancy.
So, upon entry I found no lobby, no security guard, not even an elevator. Juan had said his office was on the 4th floor. I was a sweaty nightmare the time I reached that floor. Not good for a hairy guy. The interview was during the height of August, and this place wasn’t air-conditioned.
After walking through a rather dark and ominous hallway, I rang the doorbell of the ‘suite’ in which the interview was to be conducted. The man opening the door was Latino and short – less than 5 foot 7, shorter than me, even – and amazingly girthy. I thought all Chelsea guys were supposed to be slim and trim, if not muscular? He was wearing a light-blue, somewhat stained tee with an image of Debbie Gibson. Not sure if he was Puerto Rican or Dominican. Didn’t want to ask.
“Hi,” he boomed, “you must be Ashok!”
He pronounced in it “Ass-hookah” for some strange reason. Had no idea where the “hookah” came from.
“I’m Juan Edward Sanchez!”
“Yep, that’s me!” I said, head bobbing and smiling widely, and then corrected him about the pronunciation, wondering why he would say his middle name like a Hollywood actor.
“I’m so sorry for that. Please come this way.”
He led me to a cramped chamber in the back, with tall bookcases against the walls, suffocating with books. Looked like a larger version of my living room.
“Have a seat,” he continued,pointing to a small plain beige sofa. “Edgar, the head of the organization, will be here shortly. Until he comes, tell me about yourself. I see your resume is lacking references; it also states that you suffered a ‘health crisis.’ You do have excellent educational credentials, though. If it’s not too much to ask, can you tell me what happened?”
He looked uncomfortable, and I was confused. Didn’t employers research info on their job applicants these days? How come he already didn’t know about my memoir? Maybe he was just lazy.
I decided to tell him the complete story. The hemorrhage, the memoir, the blindness, the epilepsy, the psychosis. What the hell, this company was supposed to be about equality and freedom. If I can’t be free to talk about my life here, where can I?
I was nervous – didn’t think I would have to say my experience since it was already in a book – and I noticed that I was sweating even more that I had been during my 4-story climb to the office.
I began losing concentration, just watching this overweight mocha man in front of me, without understanding his words. His lips just seemed to be gyrating, with nothing coming out of them.
“Are you OK?”
I did hear that barely, however, and responded. “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?” At least I thought I was saying that. Then everything became fuzzy. I felt paranoia set in, fearing thatI was having a seizure. Couldn’t be, I thought. I’m not running around wildly, or moving at all! Just sitting here.
Soon he left the TV screen which was my sight. All I saw was some flashing strobe-lights, and I was inhaling a strange air which tasted like old Chinese food mixed with burning rubber. I kept hearing “Are you OK?” in the background.
This time I didn’t believe I said anything. From the strobe lights, I started seeing motionless colors – colors which looked evil, dark, terrifying. These were set against a backdrop of lightning, thunder, and pure red-black sky. The fear of death struck me, but it was odd as since I knew I was not moving in the office. Wherever I was, I wanted to get out. Besides the fearsome, loathsome colors and sky, this place smelled badly.
What is going on? Am in in New Jersey?
My eyes closed and I started jogging, fleeing from the colors, which had started attacking me like living demons, an animistic force of wickedness. I kept fleeing until my legs ached and the evil hues subsumed me, devoured me, spit me out and chewed me again. The stench was awful, even worse than Jersey.
This shit was real; I had no clue how I had left the office into that malodorous, lightning-engulfed armpit of our nation. I was dying, I knew it, then and there. After what seemed like days, the colors vomited me from, well, their orifices, as they had no mouths.
Then, silence. After about an hour or so, I say Juan once again, sitting in front of me, and he was speaking to me.
“Ashok? Are you OK??”
I felt my eyes open, and I was confused. Strange, how could I have left the room so fast and come back? It had been days, what was I still doing here? For some odd reason, my mouth was tightly closed.
“You just blacked out for a second there. Was I that boring?”
Smiling weakly, I nodded. He laughed.
That was when I remembered something called an absence seizure. A seizure like this occurs when the victim goes through the nightmare I had encountered – a nightmare which seemed to last for days – but, in effect, it was a second-long, barely-there blackout.
I was so used to having the kinds where one actually shakes that I had forgotten this type ever existed. I guess my meds hadn’t worked. I suppose the extreme heat, combined with my nervousness, had provoked a seizure.
Good lord. I had just experienced a seizure. That was what I probably had.
A fucking seizure.
“Juan, would you mind if I went to the facilities for a minute?”
I needed to compose myself.
“No problem,” he muttered, pointing me to the room right by the door.
I went to the sink and splashed cold water on my face, vigorously. That was when I felt something strange in my mouth. Shit, I really should have flossed.
Looking into the mirror, I saw what I never wanted to see. My tongue was bloody and pitch black. I had bitten it badly; it looked nearly chewed off.
Oh My God. I really had a seizure. In the middle of a job interview.
A fucking seizure.
I ran back to the office, my hand covering my mouth, telling him, quietly, I had an appointment and had to leave.
The plump man in the Debbie Gibson tee looked stunned. “Are you sure? We haven’t even finished the interview!”
Never heard back from him.