Jan 03, 2024, 06:24AM

The Recycling Bin

Help has arrived—will Jules accept it?

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Becca texted her mom as she drove toward Santa Barbara’s airport. Reva had just landed and was waiting for her bag. Becca put on a meditation podcast to settle herself before her mom entered the car. She had 10 minutes to find inner peace.

Becca was a patient driver. Not too aggressive, but not hesitant either. She wound her way over the airport ramp as the sun was setting. The horizon was a swirl of gold and orange, with magenta wisps of cloud above. Becca was grateful to be entering a midsize airport. Picking her mom up at LAX the day before Thanksgiving would’ve been harrowing. She spotted Reva, stopped the podcast, pulled the car over, parked, got out and ran to meet her mom. The two gave each other an extended and genuine hug.

“How was the flight? Becca asked.

“Two flights. First one was fine. A mean, old grump sat next to me on the second. Sat down at the last minute in Denver. His breath was all hops and garlic, a messy guy. Complained the whole time. But here I am, ready for family time!” Reva explained.

“Here we are!” Becca echoed.

Becca took a deep breath, choosing to take in another glimpse of the sunset as she followed her phone’s navigation system north and east toward Jules’ house.

Reva had strategized on the plane. Becca saw she was referring to a note she had created on her phone.

“Here’s the list of things that have happened over the last two months. Forgot about laundry. Lost his house key. Forgot Thanksgiving was coming up when we talked on the phone two weeks ago. Forgot to get groceries. I’m sure there’s been more.”

Reva knew there was much more, but her dad didn’t tell her everything, for fear he’d be treated like a man who was losing his mind. Becca was already tired.

“Can we get there first, Mom? Can we give Grandpa a hug first? We’ll have time to discuss this stuff,” Becca responded. “He’d probably be less defensive about the idea of change if it came up during a lighter moment. Like on a walk or during a game of Scrabble. Or not immediately.”

Reva digested Becca’s need for them to all enjoy spending time together, rather than simply spend the visit attempting to fix the impossible problem of communicating to an independent, somewhat stubborn, and lifelong self-reliant older man that it was no longer safe to be fully independent and that he was less able to rely on himself because of his mind slowing down. People who’ve rarely doubted their ability to think and remember throughout their lives have trouble with their mental malfunctions. Or maybe everyone has trouble with remembering the basics.

Reva knew Becca was right about the more indirect approach, but she was also afraid the topic would get deflected until the last few hours before leaving, and didn’t want the visit to end like that.

Reva let the silence sit. Then quietly asked, “Who knows how many more visits we have left with him?”

Becca stopped the car at a gas station. She asked Reva if she wanted anything. Reva asked for peanuts. Becca bought herself a KitKat and an orange juice. Her mom was causing her to dive into sweets already. They were 10 minutes from Jules’ house. While she waited in line, Becca texted Marisol: “My mom is obsessed with my grandpa’s memory. This is going to be exhausting. I’m already exhausted. Hope your mom is more tolerable than mine.”

Marisol replied immediately: “I miss you. I can’t even lay down on my old bed without my high school boyfriends haunting me. My mom keeps asking me about church. I told her I’m done with church. All she can say is, “Church is not done with you!”

Becca walked back to the car and offered her mom a rectangle of Kit Kat.

“How about your sister? Heard from Neve?” Reva asked.

“No, not much. What should we expect from this James character? And the crazy dog?” Becca responded.

“Oh, right. Travis Bickle. Hmm. That movie was unnerving. I think I saw it in college. Anyone who names their dog after that character is questionable,” Reva added.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll question him,” Becca quipped.

Becca planned to ask Reva about her adventures in dating, but they were turning onto Jules’ winding street.

When they arrived, Jules came out to the porch to greet them. There were hugs and kisses. He seemed both delighted and a bit puzzled. He’d thought Neve was meeting them at the airport, too.

When they got inside, Reva noticed the way things were piled in the corners. He’d stopped trying to put things away. Just pushed them off to the side. Reva put her bags in the guest room and took a shower.

Becca was starving. She ordered Chinese food for everyone. Jules asked if she wanted a beverage. She opened the fridge and saw he’d picked up the Thanksgiving supplies. 

Becca also saw behind the bulbous turkey, there were some ancient-looking leftovers. She scooped them out of the back and asked Jules about dumping them. He didn’t recognize the containers.

Becca saw empty plastic bottles were filling old shopping bags. She went out the back to drop them in the recycling bin, but it was gone. Uh-oh.

When she came back in, she asked, “Grandpa? Where’s the recycling bin?”

“Strangest thing, I think my neighbor stole it,” Jules explained. “It was about a month ago. After the garbage day, it was just gone.”

“Let’s get you a new one, then.” Becca was already looking up how to order one from the city, searching on her phone.

“Thanks, honey,” Jules said, shaking his head.

Reva finally came out of the bathroom, hair dripping from her shower.

“Still love a good shower?” Jules nodded to her.

“Still need the hot water to cleanse my mind,” Reva replied.

The doorbell rang. The Chinese food arrived. Becca was ravenous. Jules rarely ate big portions. As they sat at the oval dinner table, Reva opened up the cartons of pot stickers, veggie spring rolls and dipping sauce, and a huge tray of Kung Pao chicken. As they were about to dive in, Jules asked if they could hold hands.

They sat in silence for a moment.

Becca heard her stomach grumble.

“I’m just glad we’re all together,” Jules said, a tear starting to form at the corner of his eye. “I’ve got myself tearing up here. I guess that means I love you both more than life itself.”

“Love you, Dad.” Reva squeezed his hand.

“Love you, Grandpa. Let’s eat.” Becca added. 


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