“I see we have a couple of new faces here today. Well then, to start things off, my name is Sarah, I’ve been leading this little group for about a year now, and as unfortunate as it is to see new faces, I hope you are able to use this place as a way to cope, to come to terms with, and get past what has happened. Now, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve had anyone new, so I’d just like to make clear that you’re not required or expected to share, not right away at least” She smiled at the group and made eye contact with the newcomers. “We’re just here to let you know that you can get through this – that you aren’t alone.” She nodded to the man seated beside her and lowered herself back onto her seat. The seat was backwards and she leaned intently over it, arms folded and resting atop its back.
The man stood, he was slouched and ordinary, perhaps a little short, but sported an impressively full head of hair for someone his age. “Hello everyone, my name is Martin. For the two of you that are here for the first time, I’d like to remind you that at some point, each person in this room has fallen victim to the same thing. It’s been over eight months since my wipe; it was a struggle, no doubt about that…but it does get easier.” He spoke softly, and had to clear his throat before continuing. “I’d say it took me a good few weeks before I thought I’d be able to come back from it, but it’s not as bad as it first seems, and if anything can get you through this, it’s talking about it. Sarah’s been a wonderful help, and it would be great to hear you open up, even if it takes time. We’re here to listen.”
A member of the circle began shuffling uncomfortably; he was wringing his hands and his features were twitching in a distressed manner. Martin caught himself as he was about to sit and walked over to the man, kneeled before him, and took his hands. “Jay, it’s alright.” He clasped the man’s hands firmly and maintained eye contact. James’ eyes were darting about the place. “Hey, look at me…look at me, we’re going to help you work this out – no matter how long it takes. Do you feel up to sharing today?” What began as a headshake manifested into a violent, nervous shiver. “Alright, no pressure, another time.”
With James calmed, Martin stood and returned to his own seat. As he sat, he realised that one of the new members was standing. “My name is Amy, and I don’t exist.” She practically whispered the words and began fidgeting, playing with something in her pocket. “Or at least I don’t know for certain anymore, I may as well not exist, I just…I don’t really know what to do. I’ve never hurt anyone; I was just talking about this with a friend a few weeks ago, about how scary it is that this can happen – it’s crazy – that it would happen to me, it doesn’t make any sense. Why-?”
“W-we don’t really know why, or a-at least most of us never get to find out. There isn’t really an answer, t-they are still trying to work out what’s happening, why it’s h-happening.” James began scratching his head erratically, ruffling his longish hair. Martin attempted to stand, but James motioned for him to remain seated, despite appearing to have his eyes shut. “It’s a-alright Martin, I’ll share a little, I think, and maybe for these, today I might be able.” He was blinking forcefully and in quick succession. “Sure, if you think you’re up to it, you have the floor.” Martin reassured.
Amy was still standing, transfixed on the awkward man who was clearly unsure of how to continue. “ Well, I…I’ve been coming here for about five weeks now, and I, I think that I was the last new member before you guys arrived today. My name is James, I’m twenty-four years old, and I was wiped the week I was due to get married.” He flinched, Amy flinched. The as yet unidentified gentleman two seats over was sitting with his head in his hands. “Nobody would do anything to help, I didn’t even realise it had happened until I got on the bus, I w-was already late and they w-wouldn’t even let me on…five of my team got hit, lost everything, and we were only a few months from being contracted, t-three more months and we’d have had a secure backup, redundancies, insurance. We worked in digital security f-for fuck’s sake, I don’t know h-how, and, t-they didn’t even offer any help, we were all dropped, and everything just fell apart.”
The other new member stood up and walked out. Nobody pursued. If he didn’t feel like contributing, there was no reason to try changing his mind. James continued. “Lily left me, I lost every photo, every account, it took three weeks just to get back into my bank, it was all up there, every trace of everything I’d done since I was a kid, all lost. I just, I, I don’t know. Why do I feel so helpless? I’m blank, I’m a blank and nobody will talk to me, I was at the height of my life and now there’s no evidence of a-anything before October 12th, it’s a wash…I’m inexistent.”
Amy was stupefied, her head rocked back and forth almost imperceptibly, she had clenched her fists so tight that she had drawn blood from one of her palms. James collapsed back into his seat and continued sobbing. Through the tears he attempted to speak to her. “You’re probably luckier, you’re how old? Sixteen? S-seventeen? You’ll have lost things, but there’s still t-time for you to pull back from it…the older you are, the worse it is. I’m s-s-, I’m sure there are people that have it much harder than I do. We just have to hope we can recover.”
“Exactly right! We have to stay strong. The government are looking into drafting protocols to mitigate the effects on the most vulnerable, and aid in rehabilitation for those who fall victim to this. We can’t stop it happening, but we can prepare.” Sarah smiled at James, who had retreated into himself, and then to Amy, who was lowering herself to her seat, quivering. “Once they put contingencies in place, they’ll be able to compensate people, maybe even provide temporary identities. For now, we just have to be patient and bear with them until they figure out exactly who or what is doing this.”
Sarah looked at the crowd, who appeared to have lost interest in contributing further. “Well, if that’s all for today, you guys should go home and try to take it easy. The next meeting is on Thursday, at the same time. If you think it will help Amy, you could bring a friend.” Amy stirred. “Anyone’s welcome here, not only those who’ve been wiped.” Amy forced a smile, and with that, she stood up, picked up her bag and made for the door.