«Don’t try to say anything,» she tells me. «Let’s just feel the moment.»
And I do, and I feel heaven.
HER DISEASE is worse now than it was in the beginning, though Allie is different from most. There are three others with the disease here, and they are the sum of my practical experience of it. They, unlike Allie, are in the most advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and are almost completely lost. They wake up hallucinating and confused. They seldom recognize the people who love them. It is a trying disease, and this is why it is hard for their children and mine to visit.
Allie, of course, has her own problems. She is terribly afraid in the mornings and cries inconsolably. She sees tiny people, like gnomes, I think, watching her, and she screams at them to get away. She bathes willingly but doesn’t want to eat regularly. She is thin now, much too thin in my opinion, and on good days, I do my best to fatten her up.
But this is where the similarity ends. This is why Allie is considered a miracle, because sometimes, just sometimes, after I read to her, her condition isn’t so bad. There is no explanation for this. «It’s impossible,» the doctors say, «she cannot have Alzheimer’s.» But she does. On most days and every morning, there can be no doubt.
But why, then, is her condition different? Why does she sometimes change after I read? I tell the doctors the reason — I know it in my heart, but they don’t believe me. Four times specialists have travelled from Chapel Hill to find the answer. Four times, they have left without understanding. I tell them, «You can’t possibly understand it if you use only your science training and your books,» but they shake their heads and answer, «Alzheimer’s does not work like this. With her condition, it’s just not possible to have a conversation or improve as the day goes on. Ever.»
But she does. Not every day, not most of the time, and definitely less than she used to. But sometimes. And all that is gone on these days is her memory, as if she has amnesia. Her emotions are normal, her thoughts are normal. And these are the days that I know I am doing right.
DINNER IS WAITING in her room when we return. It has been arranged for us to eat here, as it always is on days like these, and once again, I could ask for no more. The people here are good to me and I am thankful.
The room is lit by two candles on the table where we will sit, and music is playing softly in the background. The cups and plates are plastic and the jug is filled with apple juice, but rules are rules and she doesn’t care.
She inhales slightly at the sight. Her eyes are wide. «Did you do this?»
I nod and she walks into the room.
«It looks beautiful.»
I offer my arm in escort and lead her to the window. She doesn’t release it when we get there. Her touch is nice, and we stand close together on this crystal springtime evening. The window is open slightly and I feel a breeze. The moon has risen and we watch for a long time as the evening sky unfolds.
«I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, I’m sure of it,» she says.
«I haven’t, either,» I say, but I am looking at her. She knows what I mean and I see her smile.
A moment later she whispers, «I think I know who Allie went with at the end of the story.»
«She went with Noah.»
I smile and nod. «Yes, she did,» I say softly, and she smiles back; her face is radiant.
She sits and I sit opposite her. She offers her hand across the table and I take it in mine, and I feel her thumb begin to move as it did so many years ago. I stare at her for a long time, living and reliving the moments of my life, remembering it all and making it real. I feel my throat begin to tighten and once again, I realize how much I love her.
My voice is shaky when I finally speak.
«You’re so beautiful,» I say. I can see in her eyes that she knows how I feel about her and what I really mean by my words.
She does not respond. Instead, she lowers her eyes and I wonder what she’s thinking. I gently squeeze her hand. I wait. I know her heart and I know I’m almost there.
And then a miracle that proves me right. As Glenn Miller plays softly in the room, I watch as she gradually gives in to the feelings inside her. I see a warm smile begin to form on her lips, the kind that makes it all worthwhile, and I watch as she raises her hazy eyes to mine. She pulls my hand towards her. «You’re wonderful…» she says softly, and at that moment she falls in love with me, too; this I know, for I have seen the signs a thousand times.
She says nothing else, she doesn’t have to, and she gives me a look from another lifetime that makes me whole again. I smile back, and we stare at each other with the feelings inside us rolling like ocean waves. I look about the room, then back at Allie, and the way she’s looking at me makes me warm. And suddenly I feel young again. I’m no longer cold or aching, or almost blind with cataracts. I’m strong and proud and the luckiest man alive.
By the time the candles have burned down a third, I am ready to break the silence. I say, «I love you deeply and I hope you know that.»