“We are a house of notes.” Brynn Chancellor
Like the ones we use at work to remind ourselves of things mundane and important, such as L tried to steal sugar from the kitchen, or J is out of toilet paper and wiping herself with her hand, or P’s blood pressure is high and to notify nursing. At the end of each shift you can see the staff’s trail for the day in yellow squares of hastily scrawled blue or black ink (the state mandates all documents must be done in black or blue). We then translate our notes into documentation on official tracking papers called IDAPS (Individual daily activity plan). This lets the caseworker and the state know how our people are doing. We then collect those sticky notes into a log entry to tell the oncoming staff what is happening in the house. It all sounds chaotic and it is, but it is how we communicate, how we keep track of the lives of the men and women we watch over, when we are short of time and nearly always understaffed. It is how we remind ourselves, these notes, of what happened in the blur of requests and call offs, of giving medications, of outbursts and tantrums, all the short circuiting of the brain injured, all the CTOs, which means Consideration to others, the small things they might do that show empathy, handing each other a cup or holding a door or saying please and thank you, these are hard for them, the frontal lobe damage makes the lives of others hard to see, but we see. We write them down on yellow sticky notes, we mark the smallest gestures. It tells us they are getting better, or they are remembering at least what it is to be a person who can see someone other than themselves.
My wife likes to use sticky notes on the fridge. So does her mother. I tell my wife I can tell when she is drunk by how legible her notes are. She writes Milk, Pop, Lettuce, and I know she is sober. She write something that looks like Hambergah, Funch Feirs, I know she has either become Danish or Dutch or she has been hitting on a fifth of Vodka she hides around the house. I love her sticky notes. I love the ones she writes on our children. Once I found one that simply said Mittens. It was so simple and tender I nearly wept. It was late October and she was thinking ahead. It might have read in the space around the letters, I love my children and I promise I will not die.
When she was most sick, when she had wounds on her feet and was in the hospital for weeks, I would find her grocery lists. I could not bear to throw them away. I have a drawer full of the lists of the most mundane things: frosted flakes, ketchup, pork chops, bread crumbs, pierogi. Perhaps this is all love really is—the simple daily inscriptions we give and let go: shopping, washing clothes, a passing brush of a hand, mowing the lawn. Everything we hate to do is part of this. We do the chores, we go to work. We lend a hand. This is what our brain says. Luther Vandross sings "A chair is still a chair, even when there's no one sittin' there/ But a chair is not a house and a house is not a home." What is a home? After the arguments and the pleading, after the nights alone and the cops knocking on the door. Between the children screaming and the laughter, between the long hours of work and fighting with the government about disability checks, after the bills have been sorted, at the end of it all, dolls and Legos left out on the carpet, dishes that still need to be done, taking out the trash to the curb in the cold. I walk back into the house; our daughters are in bed. My wife draws a heart on a sticky note and places it on my head.
Sean Thomas Dougherty is the author or editor of 17 books including the forthcoming All My People are Elegies and Alongside We Travel: Contemporary Poets on Autism both from NYQ Books; and The Second O of Sorrow and All I Ask for is Longing: Poems 1994-2014published by BOA Editions, He works as a care giver and Med Tech and lives with the poet Lisa M. Dougherty and their two daughters along Lake Erie. More info on Sean can be found at seanthomasdoughertypoet.com
Photo by Emma VieserEmbrace. Digital Photography. 2018. 21.5"x31" print.