Thanks for the Memories
A Unique Perspective on His Survival by Stroke Survivor and Comedian John Kawie
They’re here. They’ve moved in with us. They’re everywhere, like the movie The Birds, perched on walls, mirrors, and even on the TV screen. To the untrained eye, they look as random as the paint drippings on a Jackson Pollock canvas. Each one, however, is planned, strategically located to goad my memory like a cattle prod. I hated to admit it, but I was glad they were there. I needed them. Desperately.
My memory was shot after the stroke. But Post-Its® saved my life, my dignity and, many times, both.
If it wasn’t for Post-Its®, I could have been a headline on a news bulletin: “BREAKING NEWS…New York City, man caught sneaking out of restaurant without paying, because he allegedly forgot his money and credit cards.”
“THIS JUST IN…Seventy crack addicts take over man’s apartment and trash it because the door was left unlocked while he was out buying cheese.”
“NEWS FLASH…Greenwich Village apartment building burns to the ground… many innocent people perish. The source of the fire was traced to 10-F where a man was intently watching the mating habits of kangaroos on the Discovery Channel while he forgot that he was boiling water for tea. A Post-It® was found on the premises that read, ‘Boiling water for tea.’”
This last news item came dangerously close to being true. I can’t remember how many pots I melted, yes, actually melted, boiling water and trying to watch TV at the same time.
“This one looks like Sponge Bob Square Pants smoking a cigar,” my wife Marilyn joked, staring at my latest creation. Then I discovered Post-Its®. Problem solved. All I had to do was write “boiling water for tea,” on a Post-It® and put it on the TV screen, like that screen-in-screen thing. I’d sit there and watch the show, something like Pimp My Ride, for example, and stare at the Post-It®.
Watch the show, stare at the Post-It. Watch the show, stare at the Post-It®. Then, I’d get nervous, get up and go into the kitchen to see if the water was boiling. Of course, it wouldn’t be boiling, so I’d go back and watch the show, stare at the Post-It®.
This cycle of hell would continue until the next time I went into the kitchen, when I’d forget why I was in the kitchen. I’d go back out, read the Post-It®, and discover I was boiling water for tea. I’d go back into the kitchen, but the water was still not boiling.
Now frustrated, I would just stay in the kitchen and wait for the water to boil. But waiting for the water to boil is boring, so I’d do some cognitive memory exercise that they teach in therapy, like trying to name different modes of transportation for every letter of the alphabet.
I’d sit there, staring at the water, and say, “A: AIRPLANE. B: BOAT. C: CAR. D: DOGSLED. E: EDSEL. F: FRIGATE. G: GREAT FRIGATE. H: HOLY FRIGATE.” Okay, it’s all downhill from there, but you get the idea.
There is an upside to pervasive memory loss. I go to bed with a different woman every night. Of course, the Post-It® says her name is Marilyn, my wife.
Originally published in Stroke Connection May/June 2006.