“My little sparrow,” he’d called her. Betty seemed so tiny, so fragile, now, that it seemed more fitting than ever.
“Louie, where did my baby go?” she fretted, peering into the photo.
“Precious, he grew up. That’s Sean.”
“But where’d that baby go? ” she sobbed, clutching the photo.
“Betty, that photo is nothing but a shadow. That baby’s not here, but he’s not lost. He’s just changed. He’s now your grown up son, Sean. This photo was a promise given by God of better things to come.”
“Louie, I’m scared.”
“Sweetheart,” he said, cupping her cheeks tenderly with his hands, “I know.” Louie saw the familiar look come into Betty’s eyes. Her constantly scanning brain had just switched channels.
“Someone took my laundry basket, Louie. I can’t find it anywhere. Do you think that man took it?”
“Oh, you know, that one…. YOU know his name…”
“Betty, your laundry basket is right there on the dryer.”
Louie took both her hands in his. “Betty, do you know I love you?” (Lord, let that memory be the last to be erased.)
“Louie, where’s my laundry basket? Did you take it?”
“Betty, let’s go out for ice cream. We used to do that. Remember?”
She didn’t answer. A detestable thing chomped away at her brain, daily, severing connections without care. He loathed it. He’d been forced to watch, daily, as it eroded the link between her thoughts and her sight, bringing a fleeting, vacant stare that would eventually become permanent.
“What’s your favorite flavor?”
“Oh, you know….”
He’d no longer push her to find answers that she couldn’t find.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
Louie held the door open and waited as Betty turned back, unconsciously locking the door to their life together. He faced into the breeze, willing it to dry his eyes.
“Betty, did you know that this is our fifty-sixth anniversary?” She didn’t reply.
As he drove with Betty beside him, he remembered a long ago groom impossibly in love. She’d worn a navy wool suit with a matching hat perched jauntily on long, blonde wavy hair that held shimmers from heaven nestled in their strands. To ever leave her would have been unimaginable: losing her, he’d be nothing but an abandoned plant shoved into a small, dark closet. Glancing over, he now saw a seventy-eight year old lost soul. Her locks now seemed to duplicate the dullness in her eyes. Tragically, her remarkably healthy body could now carry her dependably into whatever dangerous situations her brain might concoct.
After arriving, Louie opened her door. “Come out, sparrow.” As he grasped her hand to help her out, his fingers met with her burn-scarred fingertips. He winced. Three weeks before, she’d taken dinner out of the oven without a potholder.
“Is this the ice cream store?”
“Yes. Come, dear.”
Taking her hand, he guided her toward the Alzheimer’s care unit. Lord, he thought, how do I walk away without her?
Walking in, arm in arm, they entered the lobby to see their family and friends holding flowers and balloons. “Surprise!” they shouted. Betty scarcely reacted.
Her sons came up for hugs, one by one, careful to say their names.
“Hi, mom! Happy Anniversary! I’m Tom.”
“Happy Anniversary, Mom! I’m Drew.”
“I’m Sean. Happy Anniversary, Mom!”
Betty seemed distant and confused.
The party drained him, yet he wished it would never end. As the last guest left, he gently turned Betty around to face him.
“Sweetheart, I have found a brand new place for you. I hope you like it.”
“Louie, don’t leave…” She whimpered and shook.
“Betty, don’t worry! I’ll stay and tuck you in…and you can be sure that I’ll be here early for breakfast. Come on,” he urged, “let’s pretend we’re walking down the aisle…”
It was a game they’d played on every anniversary, but, this time, it carried them toward a separate future.
He walked out into the night…alone. My little lost Sparrow, he thought. Seated in the car, he turned on the interior light. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out a photo taken of him and Betty at the party earlier that evening. She’s not there, he thought. She’s lost. Laying his head on the steering wheel, he began to sob, then suddenly stopped. Putting the photo down, Louie recalled Sean’s baby picture and found something on his face that had become very foreign to him: a smile, giving him the needed strength to drive away.
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