Long December

“So, what are these things again?”

“They’re tacos, Mom.”  Replied my mother.  “Remember?  You used to make them for all the big family reunions.”

Her eyes light up, “Oh, right!  Sure, tacos.”  She pauses here, looking quizzically down at the Styrofoam container encasing her lunch.  Home in Colorado for Thanksgiving, my mom and I have brought my grandmother lunch from the upscale Mexican restaurant two blocks from what will be her last home, Maplewood Acres, a “memory care” facility.

She can’t remember how to eat those tricky semi-circles; their contents tumbling out of both ends at a mere touch.  I get her started, and she picks up the tilted-head, angled-wrist sideways entry technique quickly, to my relief.  The specter of a grandchild feeding his grandmother remains just that.  So far, she can do it on her own.

Running through my head is the wistful love song of regret and passed time by a band I don’t particularly like called Counting Crows.  The song is A Long December and while not technically December yet, I feel the frosty presence of this year’s final month as it peers with elliptical cat-pupils on the institutions of my loved ones.

My grandma is not the only important person in my life who is confined – against their will – to institutional living.  I’m also here to see my brother, who currently sits out his days in a “correctional” (who knew The State was so filled with self-edifying optimism?) facility, and will likely do so for another 7 years.

It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

So much is stripped away from a person when confined to life in a institution, bereft of so many thoughtless freedoms most of us enjoy.  Finding my grandma’s soul while surrounded by such overuse of linoleum and concrete forces me to conjure my own motionless memories of a sun-dappled childhood still sticky from melted push-ups.  It demands deliberate recall of Saturday mornings sitting on the “Davenport” watching Batman and drinking orange juice in a round bottle that looks exactly like a big orange.

When I see my brother, my hero, encased in his own steel and bricks, it is hard not to lose sight of him.  There he sits, treading helplessly among statutes and manipulations and moral failings; covered in the rough textures of a prison-issue green body suit.  In these times, I have to stir up neurotransmitters from a cauldron of memories, plunging to the bottom of that old dented pot and scratching vigorously on an already-scratched surface.

Frantically, I scrabble for even fleeting memories of the valiant rescues and great conquering exploits of two young boys.  The industrial-strength disdain surrounding these olive-drab human failures seems pumped into the visitation room with such dysfunctional enthusiasm.  In that air, it takes real energy to recall all the lessons he gave (and still gives) about school, friends, girls, driving, sports, money, parents, physics, astronomy, cards, sex and the Denver Broncos.

Here comes December…

I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower,
Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her
And its been a long december and theres reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last

As the institution subsumes my relationships with infuriating dexterity, I am intimately conscious of time as it shuffles past with a painfully urgent indifference.  I’m jealous of the time it takes just to get up and pee.

One will die in her institution, the other wages a day-by-day battle to remember himself because of it.  To combat those realities we -resident and official approved visitor – fight the passage of time like paladins.  We do in fact laugh slower, talk lower, and begrudge the feeling of truncation that even the unusual span of 10 solid hours together cannot assuage.

It’s more like 2 hours with my grandma.  After that, confusion and crying overwhelm her mind, blasting into her beautiful mental stillness like those sudden summer afternoon rain squalls on the Colorado plains where she will live out her last days.

I don’t think this December will be better than the last.  Probably not this year, either.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean.

One will be lucky to ever see the wild beauty of the sea again…one most certainly never will.

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