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The color of twilight

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

January 27, 2006

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

She has always been Grandma to me, even though my dads real mother, Martha, died before I was born. Long before my grandfather married either one, just as he was to go off to college, life intervened. The Great Depression forced him to leave New York for California to help his uncle in his shoe store. Things used to be like that, Im told. But while in Los Angeles, he met my biological grandmother, and thats why youre reading this.

After she died prematurely, Grandpa Ben met Lucille, the grandmother I have always known. Longing to return to California, he brought her there to live. He has been gone for some time now, and Grandma has remained there. And when he died, I vowed to stay in touch and never let the miles separate us. I keep the promise.

Hi, Grandma! Its Michael. How are you?Yes, still at school, having a wonderful time Sure, and the familys all well O.K.;

Ill give them your regards. And have you been feeling well and playing golf? I love you too. Month after month, year after year, I keep the promise. It follows just this way. Almost.

As years pass, I see a different promise being fulfilled. I didnt make this one;

it was made for all of us. Answer this question, my friends: Whats the one thing thats absolutely guaranteed? What is the one and only thing that is indisputably true? I guess Ive dropped enough hints already. Ill let it be.

Some of those we love are taken from us without warning. Others leave us slowly. The greatest heartbreak is that they know it as it happens. From one minute to the next, Grandma slips in and out of the world we know, moving effortlessly, helplessly, from clarity to confusion. So she asks about school, the newspaper I write for, and the family. In case shes misplaced them, I give her my address and both phone numbers to write down. And then she asks my name.

As soon as I tell her, she laughs it off: I was just kidding She knows shes forgetting. Control of her world, her own thoughts, all accumulated wisdom, indeed time itself: its slipping away. But not steadily;

it first disappears without warning, hides mockingly, then shows itself once more in a perpetual act of playful cruelty. I am memory, it says. You cant catch me;

one day Ill run away for good.

You dont need to have a biological bond to be a grandson. There is no gene that codes for love. I know Grandma feels that way. Time after time, as a kid, when the other kids picked on me, shed say that if they didnt want to be my friends, they just didnt know what they were missing. She still says it, in new ways. Like when I called her last year, standing in a quiet, blowing blizzard outside of Chums coffeehouse, and, as she does on rare occasions, asked if I had met anyone

Now friends, dont you love how grandmothers always say the same thing? (Well, I think they probably do in all cultures) It goes something like: Oh, what kind of girl wouldnt just die for a handsome, intelligent young man like you? Honest, now, Id like to know if you all havent heard that countless times before.

So I told her times had changed, and meeting people just wasnt an easy game anymore (if ever it was). A fellow could in fact get into trouble, I said, being even the least bit friendly. Well, in that case, said Grandma, if any of those girls give you any trouble, you just give them my number and have them call me;

Ill straighten them out.

Thats right, ladies, you heard Grandma say it: Youd better be nice.

So she asked my name last week, and then went on to talk about Aunt Didi, my dads sister, and my other grandmother, Dora. It so happens that I dont have any family by those names;

I think she was talking about her first husbands family. No, Grandma, I said, my dads sister is Leslie. Im Bens grandson. It didnt clear anything up. She just said, Well, no matter;

you just come on over some time and well figure it out.

I hope I get one more chance.

What does it feel like to live in a world where everything you know, and everyone you have ever loved, can suddenly run away on a whim? How does it feel to suddenly discover that you are not where you thought you were a moment ago? When memorys light begins to fade, what does your world become? What is the color of twilight?

The answers may be ours to know one day, if we are among those who are taken slowly. Yet now, as I remain here watching, I am left with another question that I cannot answer: When, and how, do you say goodbye?

I love you, Grandma.

I am heading for a place of quiet
Where the sage and sweetgrass grow
By a lake of sacred water
From the mountains melted snow.

Paul Simon

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