On this side of the hill

Ah, Christmas. It's on! My December has been marked by the traditional encounters of the season—with family—but in decidedly untraditional ways.

I got the call from my little brother in San Diego, asking if I could come down to his place for a few days and help while he recuperates from surgery. Yes, Tommy got hisself a new hip for Xmas, and while he certainly isn't all that crazy about it now, I'm thinkin' that by Feb, he'll be fab and able to once again walk around the block without downing a fistful of Advil. But right now, the adjective “painless” is not applicable.

So I flew on down, spending the week nuking various microwavables, shuttling those into his room, and hauling out a steady stream of Gatorade bottles, filled trucker-style by a bladder that was obviously functioning a lot better than his hip. This scenario lent itself nicely to us resuming our decades old snarkoffs, with me chiding him for not being prepared for his convalescence by stocking the pantry with helpful ho ho ho THC muffins, and him telling me to shut the hell up and fetch another soda. It took about two hours to get our good old groove on, one that we can effortlessly slip into like favored sweaters.

After listening to him exercise up and down the hall with the eerie thump of his walker (which prompted all kinds of hilarious, at least to me, Walking Dead “walker” gags), it was time to roll on up the coast to see my dear old Mom, who is still hanging around at 87, and now in her eighth year of Alzheimer mode. At this point, she's not in real good shape. Positively skeletal and confined to a railed hospital bed, I was fairly dreading this visit. The last time I'd seen her, in July, it had been pretty grim, and frankly, I was surprised she was still here on Earth.

When I walked into her room, she looked up and began stroking the rail of her bed. That appears to be her main recreation now, rail-stroking. Daft as a loon, stroking away, stroking and stroking and stroking. Her palms must feel good or something. I sat next to the bed, and we made eye contact. These days, she'll look straight through you without giving a damn if you're comfortable or not. She can't talk, she can't communicate, and she can't give a damn. All she can do is look. So i looked back. I mean, shit, it's cool. She's my mom, ya know?

And I asked her, as I always clumsily do, if she knew who I was. Quickly, she grabbed my hand and looked me in the eye in a way that seemed to imply that I really had some nerve to ask such a dumbass question.

Driving home later that afternoon, it sank in to my head and heart that I will receive no nicer gift this holiday.