Urban stimuli: BAM! A wakeup callOpen mic night at The Bunker, Ybor City

Richard Lloyd Westly Autumn is propped up in his “zero-gravity” chair with his cane resting on his right leg. His glasses, slightly crooked, stand out on his round face as he cocks his head to fully engage himself in conversation.

“I also am blind on the left side of both eyes, just another one of those freaky-deaky brain injury things that just so happens to be on my record,”  says Autumn, a military veteran injured in a car crash while on leave. “So that doesn’t really help my resume, huh?” 

The scars run deep. One starts directly behind his right ear, tracing a line around the entire backside of his head, leaving a clean line through his buzz cut.

Residing in Winter Haven, FL, Autumn travels about 50 miles west on the first Sunday of every month to The Bunker, a coffee shop/cafe in Ybor City to perform stand up comedy in Art2Action’s open mic night for veterans. Making others laugh helps Autumn cope with the reality of his injuries.

Autumn, a water purification specialist, spent his time in the military desalinating ocean water from the Atlantic Ocean at Virginia Beach, VA. 

He lost the entire right hemisphere of his brain in a civilian car accident while off-duty, resulting in a 17-day coma. His family, friends, and doctors didn’t think there would be any chance of him pulling through. His parents had even bought a casket, preparing for the worst. Autumn now jokes that an unused casket isn’t exactly an easy product to return to get your money back.

Cornelius Roberts, Autumns’ caretaker, takes the stage every month next to his friend even though he’s not a veteran.

“I’m a supporter of anyone who is working to better themselves,” Roberts says. He talks fondly of the Arts2Action program started by Andrea Assaf, explaining how important the arts are in coping with PTSD and other traumas veterans face as a result of their years' of service.

Autumn went through all the stages of grief after waking up from his coma, realizing the world he once knew was flipped upside down.

“I was addicted to skateboarding, running, digital audio creation, that was all me. Then, traumatic brain injury hit. BAM: Wake up call,” Autumn says. “I met God when I was in a coma for 17 days. I woke up unable to tell reality from the spiritual world. Things were pretty strange for a while.”

It was turning to God that finally pulled him out of the depression and accepting that this was now his life. Focusing on stand up and music has helped him turn his life around.

“Ironically, the right side of your brain is the part that is the creative side, but somehow, I think through the spirit of God that resurrected me, it inspires whatever neurons are firing to still be creative.” 

Looking forward, Autumn is taking his life just one day at a time, explaining that reality is really just a perception-based event, turning to Forest Gump, agreeing that life really is just a box of chocolates, and each day he doesn’t know exactly what he’ll get. 

“Yeah, I am crazy, but I’ve been dying to live since my comatose state. Life is a roller coaster you know what I mean,” Autumn says, “Stay weird.”

For more information, here are links to Arts2Action, Veterans Community Open Mic, and The Bunker
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Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.