Postcards From the Margins: Your Tax Dollar at Work

Vincent Van Gogh's "Cottage With Peasant Coming Home," 1885
Vincent Van Gogh’s “Cottage With Peasant Coming Home,” 1885

My cognitively disabled cousin was my personal GPS in our travels last week as we tackled the task of getting him settled in his wonderful new group home. He found me the K-Mart, the post office, the doctor’s office, the grocery store and even a hotel he’d never been to before. His street map-quality recall of the layout of his own city and surrounding communities is phenomenal, and (unlike my phone app) did not fail.  By contrast, for the past several years he hasn’t been able to remember to feed himself, to wash his clothes, or to pay his bills and while we were together he repeatedly couldn’t remember that he was moving the next day. Even so, he accurately recalled events from the distant past–from the specific taunts and bullying of classmates when he wore a 40-pound, full-body cast following Harrington rod surgery for severe scoliosis, to the bitter disappointment, 25+ years ago, of falling off a piece of equipment at a job his father helped him get, a job which he then lost because the incident called for a medical examination his dad had (originally)  helped him bypass.  It was all over, my cousin said, when they saw the neck-to-tailbone scars along the length of his back.

A brain-, nerve- and bone-disfiguring heritable disease, cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, ADHD, FAS, family addiction issues and my cousin concluded:  I think that’s where it all went wrong, when I lost that job.  If I hadn’t been screwing around on that job, if I hadn’t been so cocky I think I wouldn’t have fallen and it would have have been OK.  It’s all my fault, for being cocky on that job.

How does anyone respond to a statement like that?

It’s generally good (right?) when a person takes responsibility for his or her behavior.  But what about a person whose cognitive and physical skills, reasoning ability, judgement and short-term memory are so impaired that he can’t give himself a break?

I guess I’d just like everyone who has ever wondered who is using their hard-earned tax dollars to live, who is “on the dole,” who is “reaping the benefits of the entitlement state:”  It’s my cousin.  He’d rather make it on his own.  But he can’t.

His new group home is on a pleasant suburban street.  Five other developmentally disabled adults live in the home, which is run by people so caring, so kind (as well as organized and efficient, as evidenced by our intake meeting) it took my breath away.  If my cousin has half as many opportunities for meaningful work, friendship, socializing and personal development as they suggested he would, he will be ten times better off than he was on his own, than maybe he has ever been. My guess is that he’ll gain twenty pounds in the first few weeks.

And I hope that’s just the start of what he gains.

Thanks for your tax dollars.  And thanks for all of your thoughts and prayers. Let me know when I can return the favor.






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