I bought some sticky notes today, a lesson I learned from Mom.
When I was in my early twenties, she worked ten-hour shifts as a hospice nurse. Before that, she worked in the Transitional Care Unit as the Activities Director playing balloon volleyball and chair yoga with sick folks. And before that, she folded and stocked women’s clothes at a discount clothing store. Even earlier, she was the night manager at Video Connection where she got to bring home life-size cutouts of Dick Tracey and Roger Rabbit. Mom worked hard.
She also attended every home varsity basketball game so she could watch me dance, and every football game to see my sister twirl her flag. For dance competitions she made matching bows for all my teammates.
Our tiny house would have been in shambles had Mom not managed it with the precision of a surgeon. She swept the floors twice daily, folded my stepdad’s shit-stained underwear into perfect squares, hand-washed the dishes to a pristine shine, and often she yelled.
Her temper short-circuited daily. She ripped the phone cord from the wall after I dragged it into the bathroom to talk friends one too many times. She threw bills into the air, chain-smoked her menthol light one hundreds, and cried.
She cried too much, but I didn’t know how to stop it.
My mother’s mother and father had both died, so she put everything she had into us, her job, and the house on Custer Drive to keep herself busy. But she wasn’t great at delegating chores, or maybe we just refused to listen to her. I would rummage through the pantry for pretzels and Pop-Tarts, forgetting to close the cabinet and leaving a trail of crumbs that led to the couch. Jim would leave his dirty dishes on the living room end table and used undershirts balled up in the corner of the bathroom floor next to his wet towels. My sister never filled the toilet paper when she emptied it. Instead, she ’d rest the new roll on top of the old. Just writing all this stuff makes me cringe.
This lack of respect and help went on for as long as I can remember, until one otherwise normal day when I walked in from the bus stop two long blocks away, seventeen and too lazy to get my license. I tossed my backpack in the middle of the living room floor next to one of our three miniature Lhasa Apsos, and bent to rub her belly. That’s when the first note stuck to a case on top of the DVD player came into the corner of my vision. Put away after watching. “Huh?”
I stood and walked into the kitchen, at the time decorated with flying geese, Mom’s latest kitchen craze. In the midst of all the geese, yellow notes with permanent marker scribbled on them clung to everything. Throw me away after you drink me on the milk inside the fridge. Don’t leave me open on the pantry cupboard door, and don’t leave your junk here on the counter, cluttered with unpaid bills.
In the bathroom, replace me when empty above the wooden toilet paper holder and flush me on the toilet with the cracked seat.
Take things up with you on the steps, next to my pile of clean clothes.
“My mom has lost it,” I whispered. But before finding her, I reconsidered my decision to drop my crap in the living room, jogged back to grab it, then scooped up a pile of clothes on my way upstairs and placed them on my unmade bed.
“Mom?” I hollered.
“In here,” she called from her bedroom, the room next to mine.
I found her clipping hot rollers into her hair in the master bath, a cloud of smoke surrounding her and a cigarette burning in the filled ashtray on the back of the toilet.
“Where are you going?”
“Out for dinner with Dad,” she said, smearing burgundy lipstick across her lips.”
“On a date?” They never went out. Especially on school nights.
“Yes. A date.” She added mascara to her eyes, applied some rouge to her cheeks. “You’ll watch your sister. We won’t be long. I need some…time.”
“Yep. Just great. Why?” Mom sprayed a bit of perfume.
“Oh, you know…the yellow notes. They’re everywhere.”
“Those? Oh, nope. Just tired of yelling.”