I’ve written before about the way my writing has sometimes anticipated, in odd ways, people or events in my life. Yesterday, I had another of those moments.
Earlier this year, as I was finishing up a class discussion of James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” in a creative writing class I co-teach at UC Berkeley, one of my students suddenly went into a massive seizure.
The student has suffered these seizures repeatedly since he was a young child, and he is confined to a wheelchair so he won’t hurt himself if he seizes and falls down. His lovely mother–a shoo-in candidate for mother of the year–is his constant companion, shuttling him from class to class and everywhere else her son needs to go.
I had known beforehand that his seizing was a possibility. However, it was still a shock when, as I began to prompt the class to begin a writing exercise, my student began convulsing in his chair. I rushed over, and with his mother’s help and guidance, eased him out of his chair and onto the floor, supporting his head and neck as his seizure continued. Several of my other students, reacting quickly, called 911. The student’s body eventually calmed and he fell into a kind of sleep. The Berkeley Fire Department arrived with impressive speed, and the student was taken to the hospital, where he recovered quickly.
An upsetting event for all concerned–my student’s mother especially–but I was proud of my other students for their take charge and compassionate responses. They warmly welcomed their classmate back to class the next week, and he continued to the end of the semester with impressive perseverance and his customary good cheer.
And then yesterday, I was working over a long manuscript of fiction–cutting and cutting and cutting–when I came across a short passage I’d forgotten. I’d first written the scene 5 or 6 years ago, before I’d begun teaching creative writing at Cal, and not having witnessed a grand mal seizure since middle school when a classmate of mine suffered one.
In the scene, a fiction writer is out to dinner with colleagues when one of their party suddenly collapses. The other people leap into action, attending to the person who has passed out and fallen to the floor. Meanwhile, the fiction writer sits paralyzed, doing nothing but watching the others. After describing that initial action, I wrote this:
He was reminded of his shame when a few years earlier a student had gone into an epileptic seizure in one of his creative writing classes and how he’d stood in place the entire time, saying not a word as a series of future take-charge types in the guise of hooded freshmen who couldn’t write had kept the poor boy from biting off his tongue and thereby exposed their instructor as a man not to be counted on in a crisis. He’d barely been able to return their gazes for the rest of the semester; everyone in the class had gotten an A.
I’m glad that my actual self responded better than the fictional character did (probably thanks to my student’s mother). And my actual students were much better writers than the fictional ones, although, sadly, not everyone earned an A.
Still, it was a mini “Whoa” moment. And I think I’ll keep that scene in the manuscript.