I was broke when duty called me to minister to those less fortunate than myself, so maybe I'm no Florence Nightingale. And maybe in light of all that happened with Piper and Jodi, I'm not qualified to care for anybody. The fact is, at thirty-nine, with a gap in my employment history spanning the better part of the technological revolution, I'm not qualified to do much anymore.
But don't get the idea that just anyone can be a caregiver. It takes patience, fortitude, a background check. Not to mention licensing and a mandatory curriculum of continuing education, as evidenced by my certificates in Special Needs in Dementia 1, Positive Crisis Management, and Strategies in Nonverbal Communication. The bulk of what I learned about being a licensed caregiver, I learned from the Fundamentals of Caregiving, a twenty-eight-hour night course I attended along with fourteen middle-aged women at the Abundant Life Foursquare Church right behind the Howard Johnson in Bremerton. Consuming liberal quantities of instant coffee, I learned how to insert catheters and avoid liability. I learned about professionalism. I learned how to erect and maintain certain boundaries, to keep a certain physical and emotional distance between the client and myself in order to avoid burnout. I learned that caregiving is just a job, a series of tasks I'm paid to perform, as outlined in the client's service plan, a binding care contract addressing everything from dietary constraints, to med schedules, to toiletry preferences. Sometimes, that's a lot to remember. Conveniently, the Department of Social and Human Services has devised dozens of helpful mnemonics to help facilitate effective caregiving. To wit:
I had a head full of these mnemonics and a crisp certificate when, three days after I completed the course, the Department of Social and Human Services lined me up an interview with my first potential client, Trevor Conklin, who lives on a small farm at the end of a long rutty driveway between Poulsbo and Kingston, where they do something with horses — breed them, sell them, board them. All I really know is, that Trevor is a nineteen-year-old with MS. Or maybe it's ALS. Something with a wheelchair.
I've got one more cash advance left on the old Providian Visa before I'm cashing out the IRA, which will only yield about fifteen hundred after penalties. For a year and a half after the disaster, I didn't even look for work. All told, I can hold out another month before I'm completely sunk. I need this job. My last job interview was eleven years ago, before Piper was born, at the Viking Herald, a weekly gazette devoted primarily to Scandinavian heritage, pet adoptions, and police blotters. The Herald was hiring an ad sales rep at the time — a telemarketing gig, basically. I met with the head of sales in his office at the ass end of new business park on the edge of town. Right away I forgot his name. Wayne. Warren. Walter. Not so much a salesman as a miscast folk singer, someone you might find strumming “Tom Dooley” in the shadow of a cotton-candy stand on a boardwalk somewhere.
"Have you ever sold anything?" he asked me.
"Muffins," I told him.
I didn't get the job.