By Litsa Dremousis
“YOU SAW THE job applications, right?” the social worker asks me and nods in the direction of a bulletin board festooned with red construction paper stars. I imagine the staff meeting where someone asked, “You know what would totally liven this place up and make people forget they’re applying for food stamps and other means of government assistance? STARS! Fuck yes, I’ll get my tracing paper.”
I’m sitting on a gray plastic chair and my crutches are perched against the social worker’s battered wooden desk. I reply, “Yes, I saw them,” and my voice sounds uncharacteristically timid. She is a woman in her fifties with short brown hair and seems neither kind nor cruel. She briefly makes eye contact before checking a box on the first page of a tall stack of forms. I’m certain she’ll forget me by the time I hobble out the sliding glass doors and into the parking lot littered with candy bar wrappers and broken glass and other detritus that somehow didn’t make it to the state-issued garbage can perched right there. I need her to remember my case, though, and feel humiliated and desperate.
It’s Seattle, January 2002 and this isn’t how I’d planned on starting the new year. But four months prior, I’d experienced a severe relapse of CFIDS, an illness that presents in many ways like M.S., and I’d found myself in a wheelchair for the second time in a decade. By now, I’ve progressed to crutches again but am still far too ill to resume work. My money is gone and my parents have been incredibly supportive emotionally and financially for the past ten years, but my depleted health has likewise depleted their savings.