"Why am I in prison?" Meems asked in a quiet, flat voice while pensively chewing on a tiny bite of a donut hole.
My brows wrinkled as I leaned in closer and asked, "What did you say, Mom?"
Again, flat and matter of fact. "Why am I in prison?"
Within a split second, I carefully overanalyzed her words.
Did she feel trapped inside her atrophied little body?
Had there been a brief clearing of the fog that swirls around in her cerebral cortex with bright rays of memory peaking through?
Has she had to spend on hour a day out in the "yard?"
Had her caregivers been dressing her in scratchy black and white striped pantsuits when I wasn't around?
Was her prison number 24601?
My thoughts traveled from the morose to the humorous quicker than a prison guard can slap on a pair of handcuffs. But, for the life of me, I just could not figure out why she thought that she was in prison.
Then, I saw the instigator of her confusion. The bedrail "bars." She was staring straight through them.
"Oh, Mom! You're not in prison! You're in your own room in "your" own house with your own furniture! Those are your bedrail bars not prison bars! This is definitely not prison!" I said trying to coax her back to the land of the free.
"What did I do to get here?" she asked.
I thought I ought not "go with" this strange line of thinking. I do roll with other things she thinks up like "Christmas is Tomorrow" and "I Need to Get a Job." But, prison? Nope. I repeated my reassurances.
"Well. The food is really good here," she murmured.
I was hand-feeding her donut holes - one donut hole equals 6 tiny bites - and, suddenly, I just couldn't resist temptation. "What do YOU think you did to get here?" Notice I didn't say something like "to get thrown into the clinker" or "to get sent up the river?" I tiptoed gently around the elephant.
I could tell that she was thinking carefully before she said, "I think I created something really bad."
Hmm. Created something really bad. I HAD to ask. "Well, what on earth did you create?" Inside my head: A weapon of mass destruction? A plot to overthrow the government? An evil robot that fed on puppies, kittens and small children?"
"I can't remember," she whispered gazing absently through her prison bars. The blue print of her maniacal creation must have been erased from her psyche by a patriotic superhero seeking to protect planet earth.
I couldn't leave her like that - thinking she was in the pokey. I went back to pointing out all of the things that she wouldn't have if she was in prison: soft bed, floral curtains, her favorite painting.
Then, she zinged it.
"You can't know because you're not in prison," she said in the still quiet, flat voice.
"You've got me there. I'm not nor have I ever been in prison. I did get a speeding ticket driving down 98th Street a couple of months ago. But, try as I might, I can't know what it feels like to be behind bars."
The funny thing was that she wasn't saying she in prison like it was a bad thing. Just a matter of fact thing. Meems. Meems. Meems.
About the time she finished her fourth and final donut hole (a grand total of 24 tiny well-chewed bites), I had convinced her that she was not in prison.
I kissed her goodbye and told her that I would be back tomorrow. Right as I reached the door of her cell...um, room...I heard her tiny voice say, "I'm really glad I'm not in prison."
"Me, too, Mom. Me, too."
Ninety-two year olds say the darnedest things.
I'm heading to the grocery store to buy a Betty Crocker white cake mix and a nail file. Just in case.