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November 21, 2022
"Mes de los Muertos"

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)

By Tony Gloeggler

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)

Every few minutes or so,
Jesse earns a point for calm
hands, calm body and a quiet
voice. Mary, today's worker,
reaches out and Jess clicks
the counter in her hand.
Whenever he's fidgety, loud
or perseverates they stop, wait
for him to become quiet, calm
again. His worker constantly
stays with him and carries
a clipboard with his schedule
printed on it. 10:00, walk
to Shaw's super market
with Mary for one drink.
Soon as he pays the cashier,
Jesse says, cross out please
over and over until Mary
finds her pen and draws
a line through that section
of the schedule. He seems
happier watching his worker
cross out the words describing
his just finished activity
than spending hours on water
slides and roller coasters.

Back home, he takes a break
for eight minutes. 10:28,
means a half hour of table
work. He finds and circles
words from rows of jumbled
letters, reads news articles
or plays Blink. 11:09, drive
to the gym, work out on five
machines three times each,
then yoga, hot tub. 12:16,
Mobil Gas Station for drink
and snack. 12:34, drive to lake,
throw rocks, watch the ripples
disappear. Intermittently,
the worker asks if Jesse
wants to cash in his points
for a five minute break, music
in the car or another drink.
Jesse always says, Yes, please.

In between activities,
they stop and talk. Jesse
what did we just do? Who
went to the lake with you?

When Jesse responds
with a word, a phrase,
a nodding head or finger
flapping she says, Full
sentence please
. Sometimes,
she writes the answer
down, tells him to read it
slowly, clearly. I went
to the lake to throw rocks
with Mary.
He recites it
like a robotic operator
who can never tell you
what you really want
to know. Jesse, what
does it feel like to be you?
What can I do to help?
Do you miss me as much
as I miss you?
Still, words
coming out of his mouth
can feel like the first drops
of rain after years lost
in a desperate desert.

It's Jesse's choice for lunch.
Any place that serves
scalding hot chicken fingers
and French fries, apple
juice with ice will do.
Never forget the clipboard,
the task list and marker.
Wait for table, order food,
wait for food, eat food, wait
for everyone to finish, wait
for waitress to bring check,
pay money, wait for change,
walk to car. Click a point,
cross out after each step,
talk about the activity,
take a breath, read schedule
and follow the damn thing
as precisely as possible.

Maybe you're thinking
psychology class, labs
with rats and mazes, Pavlov's
pets? Me too. But sometimes,
what I see is early winter
mornings, a hand rail
to grab as I walk down
icy stairs, my Uncle Dom
with his crutches and braces
that helped him move
from his bed to the living
room, then outside to spend
summer evenings on the front
porch. Now and again,
images of the earth following
its path as it spins around
the sun circles inside my mind.

Later, when the worker goes
home and it's just Jesse
and me, we put the clicker
away. He hangs out in his room
tearing thick illustrated dictionaries
into thin strips. I read or write
with music playing softly
in the living room, stop
to look in on him on my way
to the bathroom or kitchen.
He lifts his head, a bit
annoyed, and barely grumbles
something that sounds
like good night. Both of us
at ease, waiting for sleep
and believing that the pieces
of the world will all be
where they belong tomorrow.






Originally published in San Pedro River Review




Article © Tony Gloeggler. All rights reserved.
Published on 2020-07-13
Image(s) are public domain.
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