Essays and poetry Student Productions

December Anniversaries

One of my favorites lyrics from decades old music comes from James Taylor:
“The thing about time is that time isn’t really real.”

What a concept! I suppose that this is a primary difference between us humans and the rest of
the animal kingdom. What are we but hairless apes with opposable thumbs and a supposed
heightened sense of self awareness, which is accompanied with some troublesome aspects.
Most troubling, the knowledge that always comes too soon and unexpectedly, that we will all die
one day. Despite our best efforts, particularly in the western so-called “civilized” world view, that
by focusing on the youth culture, we can deny the most undeniable fact in the universe, that
death awaits us all.

The passage of time, as we understand it, is most perplexing and often disturbing for those of
us experiencing PTSD. Particular dates on the calendar seem to have a more powerful effect on
us than the seemingly “normies” that populate our surroundings. Usually in a bad way, some
very bad ways. How fucking crazy is that, that by simply looking at the beautiful Zen inspired
calendar hanging in my bathroom I can get so worked up every December? Every one since
1985, with particular tragedies added to the mix over the years. The influx of feelings of survivor
guilt, all the “what ifs”, self doubt, increased depression, and worst of all fear. Fear that upon the
moment of death we will be met by all the young dead guys that we know, and they will meet us
in judgement. Judgement about how much time we wasted with the most precious gift ever
given, another breath.

At dawn on 12 DEC 1985, my supply sergeant brought me a typically cold breakfast of watery
scrambled eggs, greasy bacon,and soggy so called toast. I had spent the dark and stormy night
guarding left over ammo from our 81 MM mortar platoon live fire while deployed to Ft. Stewart,
GA for a three week joint exercise. Not normally in the duty description of the platoon leader, but
thru a series of cock ups, I felt at the time that the responsibility lied with me. So I did it. Far
more troubling than the shitty breakfast SGT Beasley brought me the news of a plane crash in
Gander, Newfoundand. A charted airline had crashed & burned on take off after it’s refueling
stop. It was bringing back to Ft. Campbell 248 soldiers and a crew of eight that had just finished
a six month deployment to the Sinai, Egypt monitoring the border between Egypt and Israel. I

had tried my best to get assigned to this unit,the 3/502 Infantry, “the O-Duece”. If I had been
successful, I would have been on that plane, along with their mortar platoon. We all naturally
assumed that it had been a terrorist attack. The subsequent three and a half year long
Canadian investigation’s finding that the cause was “icing on the wings” only fueled our
conspiracy theories.

Although the community response surrounding the 101st Airborne Division was absolutely
amazing, as well as the country as a whole, the impact of the crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285 was
devastating personally and far reaching. As a kid growing up and into young adulthood,
Christmas had always been my favorite time of year. This was destroyed for me at the moment
of impact. I grew more and more resentful over the years at the cultural implications that
celebrating the arbitrary, supposed birthday of the baby Jesus should be a source of instant
happiness, made even happier by buying and receiving the perfect gift. And oh by the way,
anyone who might have issues with the “most wonderful time of the year” is either a godless
heathen or just an unrepentant Scrooge. Fuck that noise! I’d much rather have a month long
nap every year and just miss the madness.

As a point of honor, we members of the 101st conducted each and every one of the funerals,
with full military honors of our fallen comrades. We also provided all the support activities for the
families, doing our best to ensure that they were well taken of. This duty took months, due to the
unfortunate fact that the entire battalion’s medical files, including dental records, were on board
the plane, thus delaying the positive identification of the remains.

So, 12 DEC 85 is a significant anniversary date for me. I dread the entire month every year. So
is 26 DEC 2000. This is the day my father, Arne Andreas Nelson died. He had been in the
hospital for a few days recovering from a bout of pneumonia complicated by COPD. We thought
Dad was doing well, that he would be home with me in a couple of days. We spent Christmas
Day cycling throughout the day, where family came by with gifts and treats for Dad. He was able
to see my siblings and their kids and their kids too. I got the call at 02:30 the next morning
summoning me to the hospital. My Dad’s heart had stopped, the docs had revived him but he
had not regained consciousness and it wasn’t looking good for the home team. He was 88 years
old, had lived a good but tough life, toiling six days a week, 52 weeks a year for over 40 years
as a pharmacist in his own drug store. He provided well for his wife and five kids, of which I am

the youngest. We had discussed “End of Life “ issues, as the pros call it, a euphemism I found
to be tragically clean and clinical. What it means is who is responsible for making the call to pull
the plug. In my Dad’s case, and my Mom’s three years earlier, the responsibility was mine.
I had taken on the roll of primary caretaker of my folks five years earlier, after my Mom’s stroke
which left her left side paralyzed. I had left my paralegal studies at Pierce Community College to
join my brother Walter’s brilliant scheme to open an Adult Family Home, where we could offer
licensed assisted living for the elderly and or disabled. My main inspiration for signing on was to
simply keep Mom and Dad from the indignity of a future in a Medicare funded nursing home
where the constant smell of old piss would permeate their daily lives. Walter thought it might be
a money maker as well. My folks were the only residents we ever had. Great plan. Not so much.
My Mom, Helen Ruth, worked hard on her rehab after her stroke. One of the more remarkable
aspects of her recovery was a surprising uptick in her sense of humor and accompanying
cleverness. I remember watching her unobserved during a PT session in the hospital. As the
therapist was transferring her from her wheelchair to the table, my Mom quite deftly pickpocketed
a pen out of the therapist’s scrubs. She proudly presented the pen with a flourish
worthy of the Hope Diamond along with her crooked half smile. The next, and sadly, last three
years of her life were peppered with her wicked wisecracks and observations that always
brightened my day and made my life easier. The three of us enjoyed taking picnic lunches to the
park at the ferry dock in Edmonds, enjoying the scenery and fresh air coming off the salty Puget
Sound. A bit of a tricky exit out of the park, dealing with the ferry traffic, the adjacent set of four
railroad tracks and stop lights that were never timed in our favor. On one such exit, with Mom
safely strapped in her wheelchair in the seatless rear of our Dodge mini van and my Dad next to
me as co-pilot, I made a bit of a hasty left turn after the light had turned red. Bumping noisily
over the tracks, Mom cries out: “Holy shit Houston, we’re coming hot! Send Fire and Rescue!!!”
I had to pull over, Dad and I were laughing so hard.

Although the date on Mom’s death certificate is 22 APR 88, she actually died on the 14th after
my failed attempt at CPR with her on our kitchen floor. She had choked on a Svenson’s apple
danish, and despite my many CPR certifications throughout my 24 years in the Army and the
shouting back and forth with the 911 lady. I had fucked the dog in the worst possible way. The
medics arrived within six or seven minutes, and they were only able to clear her airway with a
narrow suction tube, and then were able to get her breathing restored. But not her
consciousness. The tests at the hospital the next day showed no brain activity. I told the Doc
that she did not want to remain on life support, nor did I. Mom hung on in hospice for a week.
The worst week of my life. Her death always hits me hard at Christmas; I miss Mom’s Oscar
worthy performances of surprise at the annual gift from my Dad of a two pound box of
Whitman’s chocolates. On her last Christmas she exclaimed “ Oh WOW! Just what I was hoping
most for! Whoopee ! We are living it up now boys and girls!!!”

The most recent December anniversary that fuels my annual wish of a month long sleep is
20 DEC 13. Three months after my left knee was replaced, I let my dogs, Kimo and Cooper, out
the back door of my cabin for a quick piss. It was about 08:00 on a cold and rainy night, and I
wasn’t up for a proper walkies. Cooper, a four year old blue heeler, was usually the first one
back; often we would have to go out in search of the older and wiser mutt Kimo. That night,
Kimo was first back, after about fifteen minutes. We waited another ten minutes before setting
out in search of Cooper. She was micro-chipped and had her collar and tags on, so I was not
too concerned at first. But after hours of searching and calling out “Cooper… Cooper…
COOOOPER!!! Here girl, here girl!”, no luck. No sign of her. I did the LOST DOG posters,
continually checked with all the local shelters, all to no avail. There have been coyote and
cougar attacks on dogs close by over the years, but there were always some evidence left
behind. I did my best CSI:Lake Cushman imitation, but never found a trace. That’s the worst, the
not knowing. My only hope is that some asshole scooped her up and presented her as a
Christmas gift to someone who is taking good care of her.

Apart from the unconditional love, one of the things I most admire about dogs is their different
sense of time. It seems that they are able to live in the moment, only remembering the good
things. Like when supper time is and where the biscuits are kept. They have taken JT’s lyrics to
heart, and are embodying them every moment and with every breath.

So don’t take it personally if you might overhear my muttered “Fuck Christmas” in response to
“Merry Christmas” or the even worse PC “Happy Holidays” uttered by the fake cheery
utterances from the bell ringers or the over worked and under paid retail clerks. It’s just part of
my baggage, my cluttered and clouded world view. I’m working on it. I’d much rather have Santa
bring me that month long nap.