Jayme Severance was hungry after a game of paintball with his brother, and convinced him to stop on the way home to get some eats. The restaurant was right there, Severance said, right in front of him. And then he blinked.
"I tell people all the time, I blinked my eyes in 2006," Severance said. "And in the next eye blink it's 2007."
Severance actually doesn't remember if he ate at the restaurant or not - or if he even made it there at all. What he's been told is that on Oct. 29, 2006, about a month after his 17th birthday, his brother pulled his Toyota Tercel out of the parking lot of the burger joint on Route 3 in Hooksett. A Ford F 150 struck the car on the passenger side, right where Jayme was sitting.
Despite wearing his seatbelt, Severance was severely injured, suffering a lacerated liver, fractured ribs and pelvis and a traumatic brain injury, which left him with permanent brain damage. He was rushed to Elliot Hospital where he lay in a coma for the next three months.
But Severance is not someone to be underestimated. Not only did he survive the accident, but he relearned to walk, finished high school, graduated college, traveled in France and wrote a 500-page memoir.
He's jumped, clawed and fought his way past every obstacle to get to where he is. There's one more roadblock, and it's proving to be thorny: He can't get a job.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 17 percent of the disabled population was employed in 2014 as compared to the roughly 65 percent of the non-disabled population. Of those disabled workers, about 33 percent were employed part-time, according to the BLS.
While these numbers are skewed a bit because the population includes a considerable number of elderly people, the BLS said its research suggests that people with a disability, across all age groups, were much less likely to be employed than those with no disability.
According to a 2014 report by New Hampshire Employment Security, there were some 69,500 disabled residents between the ages of 16 and 64, the group most likely to be in the labor force. Of the 26,000 disabled residents who were actually in the workforce, 3,100 - almost 12 percent - were unemployed.
"It is a common occurrence," said Lisa Beck, manager of the Manchester Regional Center of NH Vocational Rehabilitation. "Whatever the disability, they are considered 'other,' they are considered 'not normal,' they're not the typical employee. And always underestimated.
"But they are valued members of society, they are very good employees and they are very dependable."
When Severance woke up from his coma in early 2007, his body was frozen - vegetative, they said. But in a particularly cruel twist of fate, his mind, though damaged, was alive and active.
Severance said he remembers his head was pointed toward a doorknob. Not being able to move, that's all he could see, just that doorknob, for hours and hours. On the inside, his mind screamed out against the boredom, wanting desperately to look away, to look at anything else. Outside, he was just a still quiet young man, laying in a bed, staring at nothing.
Even sitting up in a wheelchair wasn't much better. His arms curled into his body, his neck unable to pivot his head upward, he could only look as far as his eyes could roll in any direction.
"I couldn't move my head," he said. "And a person, I'm not sure who, used to wave a stuffed animal in front of my face as if I were a baby. You know? I was pretty angry. I wanted to say 'Get that out of my face.' But I couldn't speak."
He also couldn't eat solid foods, though he wanted to desperately.
"At that point, I thought I had died and went to hell and as punishment, I would see food, but I wouldn't be able to eat it, kind of like Tantalus in Greek mythology," he said.
Even his sleep cycle didn't cooperate. He'd drowse during the day and lay awake at night - head up, staring at the ceiling. One night, he couldn't take it. He had to move. Had to. Summoning all his courage, all his frustration, all his determination, and whatever strength was left in his disobedient limbs, he forced himself to just roll.
Before he knew it he was on the floor. He'd done it. He wanted to move and he moved. He wanted out and he got out. That night he started winning the battle against his body and began putting himself and his life back together.
He started small, but over the next several months he relearned how to eat, how to go to the bathroom, how to stretch his arms and legs out, how to speak. By the time he was moved to Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield later in the year, he was ready to start relearning to walk. This time he had a goal: to walk into his senior prom.
He did the work, using walking bars to regain his strength and balance. He loved the activity, he said, because that part was fun. It was the long hours in between, he said, that were enough to do him in.
Severance started writing to while away the hours and stave off the loneliness. In time, he finished a five-part memoir topping out at more than 500 pages, scads of essays, loads of short stories and heaps of poems.
"I started out writing bad rhyming poetry," he said. "My earliest poetry is downright depressing: being lost in the desert, thirsty, going to die. A lot of the poetry I wrote was expressing how I felt at the time about missing my senior year."
In February 2007, he stopped using a wheelchair. That May, he attended his prom on his own two feet, date at his side. As he describes that night, he closes his eyes and a smile spreads across his face. "It was unimaginable joy," he said.
He made his way out of Crotched Mountain and graduated officially from high school in 2008.
Before the accident, he was an excellent student but had no idea what he wanted to be. Since college is expensive, he didn't want to spend the money if he didn't have a goal worth spending it on. He'd planned to join the Army, but of course the accident scuttled that plan.
After graduation, he decided to go to college after all, and started at Southern New Hampshire University before settling on Colby-Sawyer College, where he could get more individualized attention. He went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree in creative writing from Colby-Sawyer in 2014. The college also awarded him the James Duane Squires Book Award, which recognizes and honors students who have performed academic accomplishments above and beyond expectations.
After graduation, however, success has been harder to come by for Severance. Now 26, he has overcome a lot, said his job coach Greg Hendrick, who Severance has been working with through New Hampshire Vocational Rehabilitation for the past two years. But hope and perseverance don't always translate to marketable skills.
Since he hadn't been able to work from the time of the accident until his graduation from college, he was light on real world job experience. He also still has some challenges as a result of the accident: his voice is very quiet and wispy, and his brain injury causes disinhibition, which he says usually manifests in occasionally saying something inappropriate. The injury also makes it hard to make quick decisions in conversations. And, he can't drive, making commuting difficult.
But what his injury hasn't taken away, the thing that cries out loud and clear from his writing, is his fertile and agile mind, his storytelling. So where someone hearing him may get the sense he's disabled, someone reading him is left with a much different impression.
Still, what people see and hear is usually what gets a person hired, Hendrick said. It's not uncommon for Severance to snag an interested employer, only to lose that person once he or she hears him speak, Hendrick said.
And Severance would dwell on that, if he had the time. But he doesn't; he's too busy making things happen. At the beginning Hendrick told him to try to turn in five applications per week; Severance turned in 10 and now turns in so many Hendrick can barely keep up.
When Hendricks suggested setting up some informational interviews with a few firms, Severance did those and then set up, via email, more of his own.
When that was going too slow, Severance - who would like to be a copywriter - joined professional public relations groups and the NH Writers Project. He then spent his spare time navigating the Step Saver bus system in Manchester in order to get himself to networking events, where he hands out his business cards and prospects for more leads.
Still, nothing. No matter; Severance hunted up an unpaid internship for himself at Superinterns.com, where he works for free to help other people write cover letters and resumes to get jobs. The irony, he said, is not lost on him.
That gig was only supposed to be 200 hours of work over the course of six months. Severance put in 2,000. And, wanting as much work experience as possible for his resume, he continues even now to work for them for free while looking for steady paid employment.
He even submitted one of his essays to a head-injury website called Headway and was published.
And yet, nothing. No offers.
"Our goal on our best day," said Beck with Vocational Rehab, "is when we can say, here's Jayme, he's a fantastic writer, he's a great employee, he's very dependable and reliable, so if you can get past the exterior, or the communication issue, you are going to be rewarded with someone who is a fantastic employee who can help your bottom line."
Severance won't give up. He's hoping that when people hear his story, when they read of what he is capable of, they won't hear his voice, they won't see his quirks, they will instead understand in vivid black and white who he is, they will feel his tenacity and champion his grit and in doing so, will give him a chance. And even if they don't, it doesn't matter, he's still not giving up.
"I haven't found what I'm looking for yet, but that doesn't mean I give up," he said. "When I think something might work, I'll try it out. And if it doesn't, I'll try something new. The scientific process at its finest. I'll get there, eventually, despite whatever challenges I may face. Some might call that being optimistic."