The Tattered Road Atlas
Join me, sit for a spell, and I will tell you about a woman and a man who found their second chance at love, and that second chance at love ended as all love stories must end. This is a story about a woman and a man whose love story ended at the hands of Alzheimer’s disease.
My feet swing back and forth as I sit in this old porch swing. I am thinking of my husband, Alfred. The tears start flowing down my weathered cheek as I remember the look he gave me when they came to take him to his room in the nursing home. My heart was breaking. They told me to keep smiling, and that way, he would not be frightened. How do you keep smiling when your heart is breaking and falling to your feet in tiny pieces?
I met Alfred in a flower bed, planting flowers for the apartment complex where I lived in Indianapolis. I had moved recently to Indiana from my long-time home in Arkansas. We were middle-aged and both from broken marriages. I was going to school and needed a part-time job to help me get by. I talked to the manager of the apartment complex. He hired me that very day. My job was to help the man in the flower bed plant flowers. Alfred was the flower planter.
My first day on the job, I walked over to Alfred the Flower Planter. He looked up and said, "Are you the new person?" I said, "Yes, and forgive me, but I am hearing impaired.” He said, "My name is Alfred." "Well, I just wanted you to know I was hearing impaired.” We both burst out laughing at the same time.
We worked side by side, laughing and talking for 2 weeks, before he asked me out for a date. Six months later, after 4 trips to my home in Arkansas he asked me to marry him. I loved him, and I knew he loved me. We got married in Arkansas and went to live in Indiana.
One week-end Alfred asked me if I wanted to take a week-end vacation. We got our coolers, food, and things that we thought that we would need, and bought a Road Atlas, an Atlas that would mark our journey of life and love. We loaded our old dogs up and off we went.
We ended up at a State Park with a small lake on it. It was the first of spring, the wind was blowing softly, and you could smell the flowers, grass and clover. All we saw were deer, rabbits, and birds. We laughed, we held hands, and we talked about the past, and the future. I told him about the abuse that I had gone through before. He told me about the things in his past that had hurt him. We talked about being so lucky the second time around. When we left that park, our spirits were lifted and we felt whole.
After that, we started taking week-end vacations all summer. We would pick out a road and highlight it as we went. We found Flea Marts in small towns. When I would find a small treasure, Alfred would laugh and say, "All right Mama!" We traveled many roads, found many treasures. Best of all, we found each other.
Then some years later, I noticed Alfred reading the same book over and over.
I asked him why he was doing that. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and
said, "Lovey, I don't remember reading it the first time." At first I denied that any thing was different, then Alfred would stare with an empty expression on his face. No longer would he say, "All Right Mama!" when I found a treasure. My world was falling apart. I knew something was wrong with my beloved husband.
We had to go to several doctors before we found out. Alfred was in the early stages of Alzhiemer's. I wanted to scream, and I cursed, I asked God, how he could do this to us. One day Alfred told me we had better move to Arkansas to be near my family so I would not have to be alone when I had to face all this.
We bought a home and moved. Our minds were always on Alzheimer's. We were forgetting that we had each other for right now. One day Alfred looked at me. His eyes were not empty, they were clear. He said, "Lovey, I think we need our week-end vacations." We loaded up our stuff and took the old Road Atlas, with the page on a map of Arkansas now, instead of Indiana.
That first trip was on a road that ran down beside a river. We drove about 5 miles and came to a low water bridge. It looked like a waterfall. The water was flowing under and over the bridge making the water throw mist in the air. It was so blue and cold. There was a meadow with a herd of deer standing around in it, the birds was flying over us.
We could smell the water, flowers, and the clover. Alfred turned to me and said, "Lovey, do you remember being here before?" I knew that he was remembering the first weekend vacation on the lake. I put my hand in his and said "Yes, Alfred I remember."
We took many more weekend vacations. We highlighted every road we traveled. Our last week-end vacation lasted 9 days. I could not think of turning around and going back to face what I had to face, knowing the time was getting close.
We ended up at the Grand Canyon. Alfred would stand on the rim and look out. His eyes did not seem so empty. He turned to me and said, "Lovey, I really want to remember the beauty of all this." I hugged him to me and said, "You will remember it, if not in your mind, it will be in your heart." He just looked at me and dropped his head down a little bit.
I think Alfred knew this was our last weekend vacation. Soon after that vacation Alfred started to wander. I had to tie him to me with a string to be sure I knew where he was at. At night he would look at me and ask if we would be staying over night here, or would we be going on down the road. I would look at him and smile and say, "Oh, we will stay here tonight." Then he would be quiet, and just sit, and wait for me to tell him we had to go to bed.
I was getting older. Alfred was getting worse. He could not form the words to let me know what it was he wanted to say, and this would make him angry. I would cry, not wanting to do what I had to do. Sometimes I would be angry, not knowing who to be angry with.
Then came the day. I had to put him in the nursing home. Every day I would go see him. He would see me and smile a big smile. He did not know who I was, but he knew he loved me. I always took the old tattered Road Atlas with me. We would sit, and I would tell him about our love, about all the roads we had traveled. He would take his fingers and trace the highlighted roads, then look at me and smile.
After 2 1/2 years in the nursing home, Alfred died. The last thing he did was look at me and say, "Lovey, there you are! I love you." Then he died peacefully in my daughter's arms. I kept the worn out Road Atlas, with all the highlighted roads in my car, thinking that someday, I would take a weekend vacation.
One day, I had the oil changed in my car, the worn out Road Atlas disappeared. I still had my memories of the love of my life who I had met in the flower bed. I had memories of all the roads that we had traveled--the good ones, and the bad ones.
I can still hear him laughing the way he laughed as we traveled those roads. I know that Alfred is waiting for me so we can travel those back roads again. I can see us sitting beside each other in the seat, bumping down those back roads again. I know both of us will have a smile on our face.
© Lovella Fern (Allred) Rush
Lovella Fern (Allred) Rush was born in the Arkansas hills near the small town of Alpena. She graduated from the University of Indiana with a degree in Accounting. After working for the State of Indiana for many years, she moved back to Arkansas to be close to her 5 children and grandchildren. Her husband (Alfred) died in 2004. Her short stories have been published by The Springdale (Arkansas) News.