The Steadfast Sandcastle

Chapter One

I rarely reminisce about time spent without you, my love. It can be fun recounting stories from my mischievous youth, but to me, they are stories, nothing more. I observe no connection to the child I was; I only recognize the person I am when I’m with you. Without you, I am incomplete, bearing a chilling emptiness that remained undetected until we became one.

Do you remember my excitement when we started dating? We were just two immigrants in this strange country trying to get by.

You adapted quicker than I ever could. I’m still impressed by how diligently you studied the language, and I loved watching you chitchat with the natives of our new country. In contrast, I found work at an early age with people from our home country who were trying to build a life but were not interested in learning the native language or understanding the culture.

While my language skills improved at a turtle’s pace, our love progressed in leaps and bounds. My immense joy when we tied the knot and, without hesitation, started a family is still unmatched. After that, life became a lovely chaotic dream, packed with all the ups and downs a family-centered life could offer.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I could soldier through the tough days knowing you had my back. When I worked two jobs, toiling at the factory during the day and entertaining alongside the band at night, you were waiting when I dragged my weary body back home. As the kids got older, and I drove them to countless hockey and soccer games, we still found time to connect, my love. A team is only as strong as the chemistry between its leading players; likewise, our family remained close-knit because we spent what time we could together to ensure our love endured.

Sure, we squabbled, but is bickering really a sign of a love destined to fail? On the contrary, I see it as a positive. Not only do I believe it to be a sign of two people who are not afraid to be completely open and honest with one another, but it also reveals that they haven’t given up on improving their relationship. Show me a couple who smile and nod when there’s an issue, and I’ll show you two people who likely won’t be together much longer. Of course, no relationship will ever be perfect, no two people are entirely compatible, and life’s countless trials and tribulations occasionally cause even the most steadfast of us to act irrationally, which usually spills over onto the rest of the family.

Nevertheless, your family braces through the storm and then rush to support you. Is there any greater asset? They acknowledge you are struggling, yet love you all the same.

So we clashed, and yeah, usually I was the root cause. I can be hard to live with sometimes; if stubbornness was an Olympic sport, our house would be filled with gold medals. So, of course, we quarrelled. You were never one to bite your tongue when I was out of line, and when you combined that with my unwillingness to back down, it made for some intense battles, but eventually, there was peace. Love always prevailed.

When I consider who I am, I only ever see myself with you by my side. Not the child running around those tiny streets in the village I grew up in, and not the man I am now.

As I sit on this frigid bench, the cold winter wind biting at the exposed skin on my face, my heavy eyelids close and your warm smile stares back at me.

My other half.

That is what you are to me, and it is agonizing to accept any reality that doesn’t contain you.

Chapter Two

Where are you, my love?

I’m surrounded by strangers, their smiling faces perpetually taunting me.

Are they keeping you from me?

They must be.

Why have they taken you? You, the person I need more than air, the person I turn to when the world wounds more than this battered heart can bear on its own.

In my despair, I sometimes escape, fleeing from the place that resembles our home.

Despite the house being filled with all the lifeless objects that match the ones that serve as the background of my fondest memories, it instead houses cold strangers who treat me like a child and monitor me like spies.

Is this some distorted nightmare? Some treacherous vision which is, in fact, nothing but the creation of my traitorous mind. The building resembles our home but lacks everyone who made it one. If it is indeed the same structure, it is evident that only sticks and stones remain. There is no home here, merely a prison which torments me by resembling the place I once cherished.

Staying here a moment longer is unbearable, so I throw on my shoes and start walking in a desperate attempt at freedom.

I make it reasonably far, walking in a single direction with no intended destination, knowing anywhere is better than that funhouse of horrors, that damn cage, which haunts me with memories of times never to return.

Times never to return . . . can that be right? Surely my mind is playing tricks on me, or perhaps someone has deceived me. My gut tells me something suspicious is afoot, and I refuse to be had by some half-baked scheme.

You are somewhere out there, my love, waiting for me, and I am willing to endlessly wander until you are in my arms once more.

Despite my best effort, moving at the quickest speed this old body can muster, those wretched unfamiliar faces capture me and return me to the distorted version of our home.

They even scold me, the scoundrels. They demand I never leave this building alone. I worked my whole life to have a home where we could share our lives and live comfortably surrounded by family; yet now, I am a pet monkey who cannot leave his cage without a handler.

What a sick joke. I am a good man who always puts others before myself. What crime did I commit to be locked away, purposeless and alone, waiting for a phone call from you like the darling of a soldier waiting by the mailbox for good news?

The phone rings, and a surge of hope and excitement floods my system as I’m sure this is the moment my wait is finally over. You will be on the other line, and the curtains around me will tumble to the ground, revealing the stage you and I starred on for as long as I can remember.

Time stands still without you, but finally, the second hand on my life’s motionless clock is about to take its long-awaited leap forward.

Oh, glorious day.

Oh, praise the most high.

My lonesome search for you is through.

Alas, that ringing piece of white plastic on the kitchen counter teased me. Again it beckoned me. Again it let me down.

The caller sounds familiar, but I’m heartbroken. The voice doesn’t belong to you. Disappointment pours over me, washing away any hope that remains, so I slam the phone against the counter.

Where are you?

What have they done with you?

Somewhere in the mountains, perhaps? Where you rest and roam, wearing your radiant smile, which matches the sun’s brilliance, as the songs you sing warm the surrounding hearts more than that glowing ball of fire in the sky ever could.

Where are you?

My dreams hold me back from plunging into an unescapable pool of madness.

I am at peace once my eyes close and you return. Any anguish is instantly smothered under the lava from my volcanic joy, which is impossible to keep inside for even a second, and my loneliness is exchanged for the completeness I enjoy every moment spent in your presence. Peace is my world, and love is the air. My fantastic subconscious even does me the courtesy of playing the music we listened to in the early days of our blossoming love. As the two of us spin around and around, the world revolves around us. The sun, moon and stars now orbit our location, as not even a black hole’s mass comes close to that of our shared love.

The bliss I experience with you keeps me going, but despite our nightly reunion, I wake up in the morning, and you’re gone.

I sit on the porch strumming my guitar, hoping my melodies will reach your ears and help you find your way to me, but still, you have yet to return. So this beaten guitar sings its sweet songs until my fingers are sore, then I return to my cage alone.

Inside, I meander from room to room. Eventually, I turn on the TV, but it only momentarily holds my attention. The faces are foreign, the stories on the news so strange, the athletes on the fields so young, and there is no one to watch with. I quickly turn the screen black, then continue my pacing.

When I am peckish, I browse the fridge, yet despite eating well and drinking espresso, it still feels as if the gravity in this cage is tripled. Those unfamiliar faces force me to take pills every morning, and I suspect they are meant to weaken me. I sometimes pretend to swallow them and spit them into the toilet, but no life returns to my struggling muscles.

It is not just the pictures on the walls that remind me of the alternate universe I once resided in, where I was happy and surrounded by the people I love, and it’s not just the unfamiliar faces who keep me confined in this prison. What tears apart my sanity most, like cheese on a grater, is the constant boredom. The younger me was always on the move. There was no stopping me. I had responsibilities, and I used every drop of energy to be there for the ones who relied on me.

Even though it always felt as if there was never enough time and always more to do, even though there was no shortage of fires that needed putting out, even though my feet were always sore and some days I had to fight to keep my eyes open, compared to this empty existence, that was nirvana. Give me a to-do list longer than Santa’s, and I’ll give you a nod of approval before getting to work. Then, at least, there was something. There was a purpose, there was necessity, there was a reason to keep climbing, and there was you to help me up if I fell.

Now I’m falling, but I can’t find the ground. Won’t you catch me like you’ve done countless times before? Won’t you spread your golden wings, glide down and whisk me away to the world where we never must part.

The vision of you holding me in your arms as we soar toward the heavens intoxicates me, and I’m weightless as I rest my eyes.

I black out and awake, cornered by two men. I’m shouting at them, but they don’t back down. Others are watching, but no one does anything to stop the advancing strangers. I look the men dead in the eyes. They seem familiar, but there’s no time to try and recall where I know them from.

A thought occurs to me—these men kidnapped you—so I act without hesitation, confronting them for playing a part in your abduction.

“Where is my wife?”

My words hit one of the men like a knife to the gut. He winces and bends at the hips, resting his hands on his thighs. The other man’s expression switches from determination to grief, and he backs away.

Realizing the power in my words and deducing that this must be proof that they are, in fact, the men who took you from me, I repeat myself.

“Where is my wife?”

I’m approaching the bent-over man now with violence in my mind. If they will not return you to me, they will suffer. The second man retreats further as my fists slam against the head and chest of the first. Surprisingly, he does nothing to defend himself as he stands upright; instead, he simply absorbs my blows. His eyes are filled with tears, but my intuition tells me the large man’s pain is the result of something other than my continued assault.

He stares at me as a man stares at the ashes of what was once his home, wondering if there is anything of value left to salvage or if the heartless flames devoured everything he loved.

The others in the room grab me and hold me against the wall as blind rage makes me writhe and scream. Then the world goes dark.


There is a memory that continues to puzzle me.

You and I sat in an office together, and I vividly remember such pain in your eyes as you shouted, “How can you not remember? We did that yesterday!”

I was unable to respond because a man in a white coat entered the office. He greeted us politely and proceeded to retrieve a file from the cabinet behind his desk before sitting down. Unfortunately, his English was difficult for me to understand as he used a lot of medical vocabulary that was above my level of comprehension.

Instead, I found myself observing him more than listening. The dark bags under his eyes suggested exhaustion, and how his eyes darted away from us as he offered a weak smile gave me the impression that the news he shared was unpleasant. Finally, he said something in a gentle tone, and you cried.

I instinctively grabbed your hand and held it tight, slowly rubbing my other hand on your back in an effort to soothe you, even ever so slightly.

Your stare didn’t stray from the doctor as you asked several questions I could only slightly make out. Bits and pieces were understandable—how long, is it reversible—but I lost the rest as you frantically whispered.

The secrets you and the doctor shared caused you tremendous pain, so I longed to decode your messages and uncover a way to ease your heartache.

My confusion led to anger, and I demanded to know what was going on.

After getting into it with you, you said you weren’t feeling well and asked me to bring you a glass of water. Seething, I stormed out of the office and stepped outside for some fresh air.

I never did find out what that meeting was concerning. Would I know why you were taken from me if my English had been better?


Was it something I did? When thoughts like this occupy my mind, I clean the house, do my dishes, shower, shave, take out the trash, and complete every other chore I can think of to show you how sorry I am for whatever I did.

Despite my best efforts, you are nowhere to be found.

What mountain must I scale, what ocean must I cross, what galaxy must I explore, so I can be by your side once more?

Where are you?

Chapter Three

At least I have our garden. There’s a feeling of necessity among the plants, and as autumn approaches, I enjoy the fruits of my labor. The three long rectangular gardens that span the perimeter of the backyard are full of plants that need my care. I tirelessly pluck weeds, nurture struggling plants, fertilize when necessary, and prune any dead or dying areas.

Though the work leaves my back stiff and sore, there is something incredibly delicious about biting into something you grew yourself. Compared to the products in the grocery store labelled fresh, which likely were only fresh before being packed onto a boat and shipped across the ocean, the quality of our veggies makes them taste like a different species.

I wake up and head downstairs for breakfast, where our daughter sits by the kitchen table reading a newspaper. I cheerfully greet her, and she does the same. She tells me she bought me some groceries. I thank her but assure her you have bought groceries already. She responds with a weak smile before turning her attention back to the newspaper.

I decide to try and fit the two large bags of groceries, which she left on the counter, into our modestly sized refrigerator. I swing open the door to find a nearly empty fridge, the glass shelves holding only a container of cake and the door’s shelves some sauces. I turn to our daughter. “Why hasn’t your mother done the shopping? There’s nothing in here.”

Her eyes tighten, and an angry expression momentarily creases her brow, but it is replaced by a softer gaze and a compassionate smile. “She’s just been busy, Dad.”

Something is troubling her, but before I can question her further, she abruptly excuses herself, hugs me, and walks to the front door.

As she begins the arduous process of putting on her expensive-looking heels, I ask, “What’s wrong?”

She brushes my questions off as if she doesn’t hear me.

Annoyed, I repeat louder, “What’s wrong?”

As she wiggles into her first shoe and begins battling with the second, it dawns on me that I haven’t seen you today, and a wave of anxiety hits me. What if her sudden evacuation has something to do with your absence?

“What’s your mother busy with?”

No answer.

“Where is she?”

Our daughter struggles to keep her balance as she works a shoe horn against the back of her heel in an attempt to set her slender foot into the tight shoe.

She is ignoring me, so my irritation turns to outrage.

“Where is she?!”

My outburst startles her, and she falls to the ground, dropping her shoe and the shoehorn.

My compassion subdues my fury as I watch tears run down her cheeks. Finally, I whisper, “Where is she?”

We stare at one another, tears dripping from her chin, until she grabs her shoe and purse and gets to her feet. She turns to leave but glances back and whispers, “She’s just busy, Dad.”

With that, she’s out the door, hobbling like a peg-legged pirate, her shoe and purse swinging by her side as she hurries away.

As she drives off, I mumble, “I’m sorry.”

After the rear of her car is lost behind the neighbor’s enormous, unmaintained shrubs, my fury, smoldering in my gut, returns to full force.

With no one around to lash out at, it turns its wrath on me. I berate myself, “You foolish old man, she did you a favour, and you scared her away. Are you happy now? You lost your cool, and like always, nothing good came of it!”

I try to find anything that will bring me peace, but nothing is capable of such a feat. I flip through channels for a total of two minutes before turning off the TV. I walk to the fridge and put the groceries away. Even once the task is complete, my self-destructive dialogue has not ceased.

As the sun creeps past the shades covering our kitchen doors, I remember tending to my garden always does the trick when I’m in a bad mood.

It has been a while since I’ve harvested, so I grab a large bowl from under the counter, slip on my sandals, and head out into the sunny backyard.

The fresh air, cool breeze and unobstructed sunlight hit me like the morphine administered before my last surgery. The tranquillizing effect when stepping outside eliminates all negative emotions. The relief is well-needed.

I take a deep breath and proceed toward the garden.

My inner peace turns to displeasure, then to rage as I find more and more of my vegetables were plucked from the plants, ripped apart and discarded in the dirt.

I walk along the garden’s edge and find more and more destruction. Whatever vermin chose to dine in our garden treated it like a buffet, nibbling on this and that but discarding most of the meal.

With nothing on my mind but revenge, I return inside and walk downstairs to my workshop.

Concealed under my workbench’s tabletop, a wooden box covered in a thick layer of dust is fastened. With some effort, I loosen the latches that hold it snugly in place, and it tumbles to the ground. Lifting the box, years of dust coating my hands, I place it on my workbench. The contents haven’t been touched since I built the box many years ago. In it, a silver BB gun rests next to a plastic bottle filled with metal pellets. The weapon is pristine, as I locked it away shortly after purchasing it.

I bought it to deal with animals in the garden, but an inaccurate shot caused our neighbour to call the police after I struck his house, so I packed it away for a rainy day.

I won’t miss again.

I return to the backyard, grab a plastic chair from around our glass table, and place it at the edge of the grass. I wear my leather coat and rest the gun in my lap, on top of which I drape a blanket.

Sometimes trembling with anticipation, watching squirrels and cats running along the top of the fence, I make no advance. They aren’t the ones I’m waiting for.

I let out a long yawn and study the sky. Many hours of daylight are left, but I haven’t eaten anything today. My stomach lets out a loud growl, demanding a snack.

I’m considering leaving my post for a quick bite to eat when I notice two squirrels paused on our fence. They both stare, their tiny eyes locked on me.

One senses danger and retreats the way it came, but the other is either brave or stupid as it crawls down the fence instead.

I know who you are. You’re the god damned thief I’ve been waiting for.

My hand slowly slides under the blanket, my palm finding the gun’s rubber grip as my index finger rests on the trigger.

For a second, my thundering heart, sounding like the beat of a bass drum, seems loud enough to scare the intruder away, but I am relieved to see the squirrel doesn’t notice, instead occupied with a ripe tomato.

It pulls the tomato from the vine, nibbles, and discards it after noticing something new. Its new fancy is closer to me, so it brazenly approaches, seeming to forget my presence entirely.

I’m slipping the pistol from its hiding spot but stop as it reaches the edge of the blanket.


I inhale one long breath.

Get the bastard!

The next seconds are a blur. I fly from my chair, swinging my gun towards my enemy, firing again and again. My first shot hits the distracted animal in the side above its back leg. Evidently, one shot isn’t enough as it absorbs the impact and begins to retreat.

That damn root in the center of the backyard, which I’ve tripped over countless times but haven’t gotten around to removing, catches my foot. Stumbling over it as I rush forward causes me to only slightly lose my balance as I fire my weapon, but enough for the shot to go above the target and ring off the glass of the neighbour’s window. Regardless, I’m not deterred, regaining my balance and continuing my pursuit.

I’m on its tail as it climbs the fence, and I hit it a second time, causing it to fall.

I fire two more shots to be safe, but my foe is no more.

For a long moment, I stare at the body of my vanquished adversary but recall my shot that went wide and hit our neighbour’s home. I race inside, go straight to the basement, and return the gun to its hiding spot. Then, I head back to the battleground.

I survey the scene of my victory, and my gaze falls on that bothersome root, so I gather the tools necessary to remove it once and for all. I’m rejuvenated, my blood pumping rapidly and sweat pouring from my forehead as I dig around and chop at the large section of root.

When all is said and done, the pesky root is in my hand, and a sizable hole is in the center of the backyard. Despite wearing gloves, large blisters formed on my hands. The sting they deliver reminds me of my hard work, representing a job well done.

I throw the root into the compost and return to my work site to clean my mess. Then, reaching down to grab my shovel, I eye the lifeless body of the tiny invader.

You deserve a burial.

I grab a torn, oil-stained rag from the shed, wrap the now cool squirrel in it, then place the small package in the hole and slowly cover it with dirt.

Chapter Four

As I watch the news, the lead anchor introducing today’s headlines, I notice the date in the corner of the screen. Tomorrow is your birthday.

Combing the house from the basement up, I encounter an unfamiliar face in one of the bedrooms, who politely say hello before turning back to the TV. Next, just to be safe, I check the garage, where our car is parked, and the backyard, which is just as quiet. Finally, I check the kitchen counter for a note from you, but there is nothing but a blank pad of paper, a pen, and my dirty dishes from earlier.

I have yet to buy you a gift, so a fever of excitement comes over me. I make myself an espresso, then sit and sip the calming drink, considering what to get you. Savouring the last few drops, I am still without any ideas.

As my mind struggles to solve my dilemma, it wanders to the diary you frequently write in. If there is something you want, you would have written it in there.

I climb the winding staircase, enter through the double doors of our bedroom, then open your bedside table’s top drawer, and remove the little blue book. I skim through the hundreds of entries, relieved you recorded them in our native tongue.

At random, I stop at an entry towards the end and begin to read.

July 17, 2000

I’m terrified that my condition is rapidly progressing every day. This insidious disease saps every ounce of my energy, making simple tasks almost impossible. My pain is tremendous. Even when I lie on my back, focusing on my breathing, I cannot escape the discomfort below my stomach.

Despite my hope that I would get used to the treatments, the poison is as potent as ever, the nausea is relentless, and the process as it “kills” the disease feels like battery acid eating away at my innards.

But the constant suffering I am subject to is not the cause of my fear. No, not at all. If anyone knows of my acceptance of my predicament, it is you, my little friend, your thin pages holding the secrets my mouth cannot mutter.

When surrounded by family and friends, I force a smile and act as if I have a slight case of the flu, joking about how some water and rest are all I need. Why can’t I reveal my agony and allow those who love me to offer all the assistance I know they wish to provide.

No, not me. I’m the small soldier, and I’ll maintain a strong front and keep fighting until the last ounce of strength is squeezed from this dying body.

Yet, again, I must return to my growing fear. As my love’s condition worsens, I worry about who will be there for him once I’m gone. My time is limited, and I fear for the fate of my love when I must make my final exit. Even though we have family members and friends who will do their best to look after him, he can be a handful, and as his mind wanes, he becomes more and more challenging to manage.

Despite my growing weakness, my love for him remains as fierce as ever, but how much longer can I hold on?

I’m bewildered by the eerie words you carefully penned but must just need more context to make sense of what you’ve written, so I flip to an earlier entry.

June 11, 2000

I’m furious with that sick man. I know it’s not his fault, but how it aggravates me when he forgets such simple details. How long have I watched the man I love wilt before my eyes? The man who sometimes makes me cry with laughter, who sometimes causes my blood to boil, who sometimes plays beautiful music, who sometimes wants to chat with anyone around. There is less and less of that man inside my husband’s body. He is fading. I try everything I can think of, showing him pictures and videos from better days and telling him stories we once both cherished, but it seems he hears only half of what I say, as if I am a TV show that barely holds his attention. I’m losing him, but physically he is as right as rain. When he is at his worst, like today, his clueless grin and innocent questions are enough to drive me mad. I wanted to revile him. Who’s that? Who’s that? That’s your grandson, you imbecile! But instead, I found the strength to hold my tongue, unlike the many previous occasions when I could not. Can those who have not experienced something similar to this hardship imagine the feeling of having your love in your arms but realizing you hold only the tattered pieces of what you treasure most?

What does any of this mean? Lightheaded, I collapse into the rocking chair across from our bed. I flip to the earliest entry.

December 25, 1993

Today is Christmas, and my daughter bought me a diary. I wish I could start this book on a positive note, but I’m genuinely worried about my love. He drifts off during conversations and sometimes cannot recall prominent events from our past. On top of that, he wandered outside without his coat today, and my son found him standing on the sidewalk, shivering a block away. We will visit a doctor and have him checked out after the holidays.

January 7, 1994

A new year has arrived, but I’m far from optimistic after visiting our family doctor. He told us my husband’s symptoms point to Alzheimer’s, for which no known cure exists. He didn’t understand what the doctor told us; instead, he got angry and stormed out halfway through the consultation. Diary, I pulled myself together when we left the office and drove home, but my tears were unstoppable as soon as I was alone in the bathroom. Even now, my tears soak into your delicate pages, distorting the devastating truth, blurring the words describing my husband’s foggy mind. I keep imagining a recently turned-over hourglass, seeing all that makes my love who he is as the sand. As days are lost to night, so are pieces of my love, never to return. How long will it be before he doesn’t remember our children’s names, or how to play the guitar, or, worst of all, wakes up one morning and doesn’t recognize me?

January 31, 1994

All I want is the cure to what ails my love, but nothing can defend against what has invaded him and wishes to devour his soul. His body is no worse for wear, but his essence becomes less defined, a castle in the sand fighting a losing battle against the unstoppable tide.

My desire for his return and my understanding that he never will battle in my heart. The sickness growing in my soul since I first recognized something was not quite right with him has become another nightmare, polluting every part of me. I have been feeling unwell, which at first I chalked up to my devastated spirit. I should probably visit my physician, but I can’t bring myself to go. Any more bad news could destroy me.

What does any of this mean? I’m trying to understand, but I’m grasping at smoke. I yearn to know where you are and what gift will bring you joy as you celebrate another trip around the sun. So I skip forward until I find a page with smudged ink. Your writing is shaky, while drops of liquid have mixed with the ink and caused it to pool.

November 29, 1994

The life I’ve built around me is collapsing, and no matter what I do, my best efforts cannot hold up the walls as they crash down around me.

I’ve spent so much time caring for others that when the doctor called me to his office, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I entered, and he somberly greeted me. The news he gave me was exponentially more painful than the biopsy performed earlier this month, which he told me was precautionary and would likely deliver a negative result.

A half-hour later, I was shaking in the car. Cancer! Dear God. I have cancer. Everyone has cancer nowadays, but I never imagined I would. I’ve always taken good care of myself. I never smoked, only occasionally drank, and constantly stayed active.

The doctor’s news was as unbelievable as if he had told me my legs were snakes and my hair spaghetti. I laughed at first, but when he didn’t return a smile, I understood no joke was being played. Instead, he told me they caught my cancer early and would do everything in their power to slow its spread. He repeatedly mentioned how far cancer treatment has come, but the long list of people I know who died from cancer in the last five years screamed liar at the calm man across from me.

I remember now, my love: you have been sick for a while. Always lying on the couch, but I thought you had gotten better. Perhaps that’s where you are, at the hospital. My concern for you is overwhelming, but my aspiration to give you a rejuvenating gift is only reinforced. Even if you are still sick, I’ll provide you with something unimaginable to lift your spirits and bring your beautiful smile to life.

Of course, the answer I seek must be closer to the current date. So I skip forward, then continue studying.

October 12, 1999

I have never believed with such certainty in the powerful connection of love as I do now. As my husband’s condition worsens, forgetting the names and faces of those closest to us, the disease spreads faster within me. Every ounce of my husband that is lost adds an ounce of sickness to my system. It seems that our love connects our decline.

My want for a cure for him is as strong as ever. I sat in the living room today and had an interesting train of thought. If an angel came to me and offered to cure one of us, whom would I choose? After some reflection, it became clear that it would certainly be him. My reason, dear diary, is not one of a selfless wife, always looking out for her husband; actually, it’s quite the opposite. No, my choice is entirely selfish, for to be cured and watch as my love fades to black before my eyes until there is nothing but skin, bones, and a pale imitation of the man I love would be the most excruciating torture, but to spend my remaining time with the wonderful, funny, hard-working, boisterous, devoted man whom I spent my whole adult life, would be the greatest gift. What I wouldn’t give to chat with the complete man I love, no memory fog, no loss of focus, just me and him staring into each other’s eyes, the powerful bond of our love turning two into one once more. If only for a moment, what a miracle that would be.

Chapter Five

I’m frozen for some time, the avalanche of information burying me under questions.

Despite my sudden paralysis, I am no less determined. I ponder your ponderings. If an angel offered that choice, you would choose a clear-minded me over your recovery.

As the room spins, my worries waltzing through my mind, I stubbornly pursue the train of thought that led me to this book held tightly in my hands in the first place. Despite its plain cover, its pages overflow with secrets.

A gift for your birthday, something you desire more than life itself.

Is there truth in your writing? Are there really holes in my memory?

Looking back on my life, the sheer lack of information I can recall astonishes me.

In a panic, I start at the beginning.

The earliest image my mind can recreate is of rolling hills and the village where I was born. I witnessed such a remarkable view from a bench under a bridge where you could see the entire village from high above, with the sea as the background between two mountains. When I was young, I often sat there for hours, scribbling away in a notebook and letting my wandering mind float between the mountains and over the sea toward the horizon. At five hundred meters above sea level, the sun baked the bustling village, allowing plants to flourish and food to be plentiful. Nights were a blur of music, dancing, laughing and playing, surrounded by smiling faces.

I can see those green hills in my mind as clear as day, hear the lovely music dancing through the dark, and smell the aromas drifting from my mother’s tiny kitchen. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with my memory if I can clearly recall such a distant memory.

Trying to remember a more recent memory, I find pieces of one, accompanied by the ache of sadness and growing anticipation.

But why?

I struggle with the slippery memory, but after making another coffee, sitting in silence, and focusing on my breathing to calm my agitated mind, I am able to recall the memory.

In it, I sat at a local cafe in the center of my hometown, a regular meeting place for many of the town folk. A modest church stood across the road from the cafe, which sporadically rang its bell, often causing the unexpected young me to jump in his seat.

This memory remains forever engraved in my heart for a reason. It was the day I bid farewell to my old life in the warm hills of southern Italy and embarked on a long trip by land and sea to the cold flat center of Canada. I sacrificed comfort, familiarity and my cherished home for the opportunity to live a wealthy life. My brother and I voyaged overseas, leaving my mother and baby brother behind. Although this memory is nothing near a teary goodbye, behind my smile was heartache and a nagging fear, which is impossible to avoid when leaving everything one knows for the great unknown. I try to remember the words we said as we bid farewell to one another, but there is only a still photo in my mind of them staring at me from around the cafe’s table.

The fact that I cannot recall words spoken fifty years ago proves nothing of my cognitive ability. Who but one with a freakish memory could retrieve such minute details. Nevertheless, I accept I once could recall every word spoken before leaving on that grand adventure.

I’m momentarily annoyed but brush the feeling aside. Time takes all; forgetfulness after fifty years is no reason to make a fuss. Despite the difficulty of this endeavour, you are always on my mind assuring me it is all worth it. You who always stood by my side through the good and the bad. You who always loved me despite my shortcomings.

The struggle is real, but I will fight on. I will give you what you wished for, my love. I will recall every detail of my long life, and you will have what you long for, me as I once was. I will brush out every cobweb, oil every gear and scrape away any rust from this dusty mind.

I walk upstairs, still skeptical of what you wrote concerning my memory. Of course, I’m having trouble reliving memories from decades past. Who wouldn’t? That has nothing to do with any disease; rather, it’s just a matter of distance from the present. There is nothing wrong with my memory.

I return to the rocking chair. Continuing my recollection, a massive ship sails through my mind. I try to recall anything from my time aboard, but nothing comes to me.

I must be tired, so I head downstairs and make an espresso. Despite my best effort and the little energy boost from my soothing beverage, I only gather minute details. There is the overwhelming claustrophobia and prolonged discomfort, but nothing more. It wasn’t a short voyage…there must be something to recall…yet nothing comes to mind. It must have been a dull trip.

Perhaps remembering those long-ago events is difficult because those that didn’t involve you are not stories worth remembering. Undoubtedly, it is impossible to forget a moment spent with you.

When did we meet? That’s easy but uneventful. After arriving in this unfamiliar land, I rented a bed from your parents, providing me with shelter from the unrelenting winter and a place to hang my hat. Isn’t it ironic that the beginning of my long, back-breaking journey that led to our cozy home and happy family was in your family’s home? You were there at home base when I started running, and you were there as I rounded third and approached a home of my own.

A house is not a home without you.

These final words repeat in my aching skull, but unlike an echo, they grow louder and louder until I scream to hear anything else. Still, my deafening bellow is not enough to chase away the haunting words.

A house is not a home without you.

Maybe thinking happy thoughts will chase away the words that seem eager to reveal a dreadful secret, some beckoning truth, that will annihilate me if faced.

Our first date. Where was that again?

The day I proposed, when was that again?

A house is not a home without you.

Nothing but that repetitive thought, growing louder as it bounces unimpeded through emptiness, occupies my mind.

Where are those foundational moments on which we built this life?

Where are you?

My unwillingness to comprehend those words also suppresses the memories I desperately search for.

A house is not a home without you.

I bargain with myself, begging my mind to reveal the truth it has hidden away. That truth, once revealed, may explain everything, but my fury defensively returns.

I will not accept a life without you in it.

I refuse.

I grab my espresso cup and hurl it across the table. It soars through the air sending drops of coffee flying this way and that, until it crashes into a picture high on our hutch. It falls to the ground, and the sound of shattering clears my mind.

I grab a broom and a dustpan from the other room. Once the glass and ceramic are swept, I pull some newspaper from the newspaper rack and spread it on the table. I scatter the shards on the center of the newspaper and, more carefully still, wrap the sharp pieces before throwing them into the garbage bin in the garage. I return to the kitchen and inspect the frame for any damage, which I placed on the table before cleaning the debris. First, I examine the edges, then the back, then the front, but luckily, the dark wooden frame is intact. A new sheet of glass and it will be as good as new. What is the closest store that can sell me a replacement?

The familiar face of the girl in the frame stares at me with a friendly smile, but I cannot recall her name. While I vividly remember her staring up at me and yelling “Nonno,” I cannot come up with her name despite every drop of my brain’s power being exerted.

Is she my granddaughter?

Of course she is. Why else would you have a picture of her in your kitchen? Why else would she call you Nonno? Unable to recall her name, I decide to try again later and place the frame where it was before my cup struck it.

There are other pictures to the left and right of it, of which some I can put a name to the face, while others I cannot. A young boy to the left catches my eye, and I grab his frame, smiling.

“Davey!” Of course, I know my grandson David. He’s the son of . . . who are his parents again? I feel immense shame as I accept the significant gaps in my memory.

As loud as ever in my sore noggin, those words return with a vengeance.

A house is not a home without you.

Remember! I will unbury the past for you.

I run to the TV room and approach our large cabinet filled with photo albums. I yank a large green one from the shelf, sit on the couch and read its spine—VACATION 1989. I open it in the center and find a picture of you, me, my brother and a woman sitting around a plastic table on a beach. The setting sun reflects off the clear water behind us, extending a golden path along the calm sea.

This must be Italy, but the unfamiliar landscape doesn’t resemble our home country, and the strangers’ faces smiling at me look not joyful but mocking, sneering at my forgetfulness.

Damn them all. What need do I have for remembering anyone but you? I thumb through the pages but still have no clue where these were taken as I reach the last.

I toss the album aside, the plastic cover squeaking against the leather couch, and grab an enormous purple album from the shelf below the one that housed the first.

This one is titled Bill’s wedding. I drop it on our centre table and, with some effort, kneel beside it. After I’ve made myself as comfortable as possible, I open the album. Several men in suits stare coolly at the camera, and I recognize every one of them. There’s me, my two brothers and my four sons. As I flip through the pages, several moments from the joyous occasion return to me, but even as I laugh, recalling a witty speech given by a family friend after dinner, the night is still so damn blurry. Nevertheless, encouraged by the pieces I have been able to summon, I work through the entire album, reliving as best I can this day long past. After absorbing every memory I can scavenge from the stuffed album, it is certain that my unyielding stubbornness has awoken and planted its feet firmly in the ground.

Despite what seems to be a few missing pages of the story of my life, I now know it’s possible to recover what I’ve lost, return myself to all I was, and give you the gift that will warm your heart and bring tears to your eyes.

I make another coffee, add a little milk so I can down the entire drink, and return to the room where those albums wait to restore me. I spend the next several hours flipping through page after page, each book with a story to tell.

A strange woman enters the room and scolds me for the mess, but I pay her no mind. I have one goal, my gift to you, and not even an earthquake or tornado could distract me from delivering it.

I finish the last album late into the night, the clock under the TV reading three o’clock. Despite the time, I feel no weariness. On the contrary, my mind bursts with merry memories, friendly faces and eventful encounters. Finally feeling complete, exactly what you wished for in the pages of your little blue book, I rush upstairs to wake you from your slumber. To my surprise, our bed is empty, the sheets untouched.

I’m desperate to share the gift I’ve spent hours bringing to life. To be denied my one desire after so much work is crushing, but I was never one to give up, and there is nothing more vital than completing my mission.

As I reminisce on all that transpired today, I am reminded of the little blue book’s final pages. You wrote you were not feeling well, and where do sick people go? The hospital! That’s where you must be. The hospital is a short drive from the house. I will go to you at once and tell you the tales of our past until your smile hurts your cheeks and your laughter makes it hard to breathe.

In case you want to write a new entry about the birthday gift you receive, I grab your diary, then return to the main floor. I throw on a heavy jacket and my fanciest shoes, then cram the book into a jacket pocket before buttoning up and tying my shoes. I go to grab the car keys, but to my surprise, they’re missing. I check the garage and find our car is still there. I search the laundry room for a minute but discover no keys. You must have accidentally grabbed them as you hurried to the hospital. Regardless, I cannot be mad at you for such a simple mistake; after all, today is your birthday. Anyway, I’m too eager to see your expression when you receive your gift. The hospital isn’t too far on foot, so I will embark on a quest, which isn’t such a challenge but rather, at some points, a literal walk in the park.

I exit our home, committed as ever to finding you.

Chapter Six

The world is cold, snow sprinkling the dark landscape, but I feel neither frigid nor exhausted as I embark on my journey. Despite the darkness, the idea of reuniting with you lights my way. Despite the cold, my blood boils with anticipation, knowing the distance between us shrinks with every step. Despite the pain in these stiff joints, the need to make you smile gives me the strength of a hundred men. I am unstoppable. You will receive my gift.

The ankle-high snow hinders my already slow pace, powder finding its way into my low-cut shoes. My thin socks and unfortunate choice of footwear do little to retain any heat in my feet, but they continue their steady march nonetheless.

I repeat the directions to myself to occupy my mind. Through the alley, along the edge of the park, turn right at the main road, then the road signs will guide me the rest of the way. It’s not rocket science. I gather myself and increase my speed. The cold begins to nip at my toes, but noticing an alley in the distance encourages me. I’m getting closer to you, my love.

I arrive at the mouth of the alley and stare down its dark throat. No light illuminates the long straight path except for the full moon. No snow removal has been done for some time, but the footsteps of past travellers make the path slightly more manageable. A twang of fear plucks my heartstrings, momentarily raising the question of whether this is such a good idea, but there is nothing more important than seeing you.

I continue.

A sudden blast of wind stops me in my tracks, but I put my head down and push forward. The moonlight creates strange shadows which surround me, menacingly waving their limbs in my direction, but I proceed down what feels like an endless path.

Halfway through, a patch of ice beneath the snow takes my feet out from under me. The snow’s burn is nothing to me as I press my bare hands into the ground and stand. I brush the snow from my jacket, then cup my hands together and blow hot breath against my frigid palms. The warm air feels lovely against my cold skin, adding a slight smile to my expression of icy determination.

I glance over my shoulder to see how far I’ve come. Halfway there. No sense in turning back now. I’ve got somewhere to be.

Through the wind and snow, I proceed.

I carefully walk the rest of the path but encounter no other hidden patches of ice.

Nowhere near the end but one step closer to you, there is a slight sense of achievement upon finishing the first step of my quest.

The feeling lasts mere seconds, for as I exit the path, which hooked left at the end, I’m greeted not with the sight of the beautiful park we’ve visited countless times but rather by another street.

I pause and try to comprehend what went wrong. Did I get spun around when I fell? No, that can’t be right. Looking back, I can see the end I exited from is hooked, whereas I entered a straight path. The wrong path, then?

Of course. There are two paths near each other. I must have missed the path I was meant to enter and went down this one instead. I could retrace my steps but am unwilling to reenter that deathtrap of an alley, my fall still fresh in my mind. So instead, I will proceed on the streets, as in comparison, they are well maintained and have a layer of road salt on them. I’m discouraged by my lack of progress and the need for a detour, but nowhere near quitting. This road will also lead me to the main road.

I’ve been lost for some time, wandering, searching for anything familiar, but nothing is. I’m cold, my once fiery determination now an icy resolve spurred on by my relentless love. You are the single thought in my mind.

My toes and fingers no longer sting; the feeling has left them. My hands are stuffed deep into my pants pockets, curled into tight fists. My mind no longer races, empty now except for the beat of my heart’s drum. The soldier in me presses onward, despite my confusion.

Where am I?

Nothing is familiar; everything is blanketed under a white veil. Houses with Christmas lights sparkle on either side of me, but the festive decorations mean nothing to me. There is only one light to follow, yours, but I lost it in the snow. Won’t you ask a fellow star to guide my way?

I finally reach a main road and approach the street signs to get my bearings. I read the name of the street I’m on and the one that intersects it, but I’m astonished to find that I’ve never heard of either.

How far could I have walked?

I didn’t cross any main streets. This doesn’t make sense.

I’m terrified by my surroundings, this place so opposite the country where we were born, the icy wind assaulting my will. A snow plow skirts down the road, startling me and causing me to jump back. I trip over a pile of snow and fall backwards, the impact against my back and head softened by the white cushion below.

I lay here hopeless.

My efforts have been for nought.

I must have walked in the wrong direction.

You are farther from me now than ever before.

The wind blows powder over my motionless body. Perhaps it’s best to lay here a little longer, my suddenly exhausted body begging for a break.

As I rest on my frigid mattress, I imagine you lying in a hospital bed, alone and equally hopeless, praying I find my way to you.

For you, I am mighty.

For you, I defy all.

I roll to my side, sit up, brush the snow from the back of my neck, sending ice sliding down my spine, and get to my feet. How much time have I wasted wandering? What I need is directions, then I can press on.

Across the street, a coffee shop is still open despite the time. Directions and coffee are just what the doctor ordered.

Pulling the glass door open, a wave of heat greets me as it blankets my grateful body. The door closes behind me, and I am relieved as I breathe in warm air. I exchange a smile with the man behind the counter as I brush my snowy shoes on the entrance carpet. Once satisfied that I won’t make too much of a mess on the spotless floor, I approach the counter.

When I arrived, the young man had been watching a TV on the wall. A news anchor warns of an incoming blizzard and shows an image of a weather map with lines and colours moving this way and that.

The young man greets me, “Good morning, sir. What can I get you?”

Good morning? I glance at the clock above the kitchen window and see it’s almost dawn. I walked for hours, yet I have no idea how far is left to go. I search for my wallet but instead come across some snow and the blue book, its plastic cover ice cold after my long ordeal. Despite its freezing temperature, it is a blazing reminder of my mission.

“Could you give me directions?” I ask. “I’m a little lost.”

“Sure, no problem, happy to help. It’s a cold one tonight. Glad I’m not out there. You got a long trip ahead of you? Where you headed?”

He speaks with an accent, but I get the gist. He’ll help me. “I’m looking for Lontano Hospital. My wife isn’t feeling well, so she is staying there for a few days. It’s her birthday today, so I thought I’d go and surprise her but got turned around in the flurries.”

“You’re not too far. It’s around a five-minute drive east of here. I’ll write the directions down for you.”

He presses a button near his cash register, and a blank piece of paper snakes its way out from where receipts are printed. Once satisfied with the length of the paper, he releases the button, then rips the paper from the machine. Finally, he writes a short list of directions, then hands it to me.

Left out of this store, right at the stoplight, then straight until you reach Vinco. Make a left on Vinco, then straight for approximately a hundred meters. The hospital will be on your right.

As I look over the instructions, the realization that I was wrong earlier, when I believed I had failed, fills me with unexpected joy. Despite my confusion, I covered most of the distance between my starting point and where you lay waiting. Incredulous, I give thanks to whatever angel chose to guide me tonight.

The young man pulls me from my amazement. “Can I get you anything else?” he asks with a smile.

I fold the thin paper a few times before storing it in my inner jacket pocket, which I zip up. “A black coffee would be great,” I reply, feeling an energy boost is just what is needed for the last leg of my journey.

“Coming right up.” He turns, grabs the coffee pot behind him and a mug, and begins to pour. Then, he hands me the steaming beverage. I gratefully accept it with both hands, pressing as much of my freezing skin against the hot ceramic as possible. It stings, but the warmth creeping through my hands is so pleasant.

“That will be two dollars, sir.”

I sigh, put the mug down, and search my pockets for my wallet. My pants’ pockets have a box of Tic Tacs and some used kleenex, the two front pockets of my jacket have a pair of thin black gloves, which would have been wonderful to find a few hours ago, and in my side pockets, I find your blue book but no wallet. Finally, I check my inside jacket pocket, but there’s nothing but the slip of paper I received moments ago.

“I forgot my wallet. Sorry.”

“Maybe it’s in your car,” the man offers, glancing at the mug.

“No, I walked. I must have left it in my other jacket.” Disappointed, I push the mug to his end of the counter. “I guess just the directions will do. Thanks for the help.”

I smile and start to turn to the door, but the young man calls out before I turn all the way around.

“If you’re walking to the hospital, you’ll need all the strength you can get. It’s still a ways away. Tell you what, this one’s on me. Just don’t tell anyone,” he says and shoots me a friendly wink, pushing the mug back to my side of the counter.

“I appreciate that, really.”

“Don’t mention it. Make it to the hospital in one piece, and I’ll be happy.”

A phone rings behind the counter, and the man says, “I should answer that. Good luck.” He turns, grabs his phone, and begins a heated conversation in a foreign language.

Sitting at a booth by an east-facing window, I sip my still-steaming beverage, watching as the sun reveals the world once again, and recognize where I am. I’ve been by this coffee shop a thousand times, but this is my first visit. It’s funny how the night and some snow can make one imagine they’re in another world.

Savoring the last sips of my above-average cup of coffee, my spirits high, I pull the directions from my jacket pocket. Left, right, left, right. Easy enough. Despite this being my first time taking this route, I’m not worried. Feeling like the hard part is behind me, the sky finally taking a break from powdering the ground, I quickly use the washroom, wash my hands with the warmest water the sink will provide, enjoy the heat from the air dryer against my still chilly skin, then finally exit the restaurant, waving at the friendly gentlemen behind the counter. I turn left and continue my journey.

In contrast to the nightmare I endured in the dark, the second leg of my trip is smooth sailing. The weather is considerably warmer, the wind has died down, the sidewalks have been cleared, and my future is as bright as the sun ahead of me.

After no time at all, I reach Vinto avenue, where I turn left and glimpse the hulking hospital in the distance. A tremendous smile blooms and my legs carry me at a younger man’s speed, faster than they’ve moved in years. I’m panting when I reach the hospital’s front doors, but my face remains stretched in a tenacious grin.

I’m so close.

All cold has left me, my heart radiating a heat that I’m surprised doesn’t melt the surrounding snow. I step through the automatic sliding doors and enter a bright reception area.

Walking towards the intake counter, I forget to clean my shoes and trail snow and dirt along the floor. A middle-aged woman in a white blouse, her hair pulled tightly back, with dark bags under her eyes, the ones of someone approaching the end of a long shift, sits behind a sliding window. She looks up from a pile of papers and asks, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m here to see my wife. Could you tell me what room she’s in?”

I give her your name, which she inputs into the old computer on her desk. I rock with excitement, knowing I am moments away from seeing you.

The woman looks slightly confused. “Sir, are you sure you’re at the right hospital? There’s a patient by that name in our system, but her last visit was over two years ago.”

She hammers away at her keyboard, asking, “Maybe her name was inputted wrong. Could you give me some more information?”

So I give her our address, my name, and other details. The woman compares them to the information on the screen, her smile fading the more I say.

I’m beginning to worry, so I ask her, “What’s wrong? Would it be possible for you to contact the nearby hospitals if she isn’t here?”

“That won’t be necessary. Do you have someone we can call? A family member, a friend, a caregiver? It’s better if you have someone here with you.” The woman’s eyes tighten as she forces a thin smile.

That damn anger of mine rears its horns once more, but my desire to see you keeps it in check. Through a forced smile of my own, I respond, “I only need one person right now, and I already gave you her name. If you could guide me to the hospital where she’s being cared for, I will be on my way. You see, today is her birthday, and I would like her to start her day with me by her side. I’ve got a gift for her I know she will love.” The woman glances at her screen, and her frown deepens.

I held my polite tone for as long as possible, but my composure breaks, “Just do your job, and tell me where she is!”

After my final comment, the woman rolls her eyes, sighs, and responds, “There’s no easy way for me to say this, so I’ll just spit it out. The woman in our system who was here two years ago, who you confirmed is your wife with the information you provided, has passed away. It says she passed away due to a long battle with cancer two years ago. It’s never easy, but this can’t be the first you’re hearing of this. So please, let me help you. Could you give me the phone number of someone I can call for you?”

I’m petrified, thunderstruck, shaken to the core, but no words can express the magnitude of the pain which hit me with the force of an atomic bomb.

As she talks, my haggard mind replays a memory. One where I wear a suit. One where a line of people keep shaking my hand, hugging me, and wishing me condolences. One where crying people kneel and pray by a… What are they kneeling by?

This memory is the one I desperately hide from, the one I sometimes recall but push so far from my mind it should pop out of my ear.

The smell of incense. The sound of soft classical music without the slightest upbeat moment. A dreary, monotonous repetition of sorrow.

I knelt, staring into the large box in front of me. There was something precious in that box.

Despite my inner conflict, a part of me desperately fighting to keep this truth buried, I know, deep inside my exhausted mind, my eyes squeezed tightly shut now, that it’s you in that box, my love.

I’ve always known.

My defense against such an unbearable pain was to forget, pretend, and escape.

I kneel on the hard hospital floor, just as I did that day, tears flowing onto the stone tiles, each drop slapping into a growing puddle. The woman stands and bends over the counter, staring down at me.

She stammers, “I have your daughter’s number on file as your wife’s emergency contact. I’m going to call her.”

I hear the woman pick up the phone and dial a sequence of numbers, but the need to be alone overwhelms me, so I jump up. I spin on my heels and exit the way I came, the woman’s pleas sounding distant as I do.

Right now, all I need is to be alone, but home is so far, and if I return, there are those unfamiliar faces. Even at home, I cannot be alone.

Where then?

I stagger away from the hospital as far as my legs will take me before collapsing on a bench at the edge of Vinto avenue. My tears fill me with shame as pedestrians stare, but nothing can plug the holes from which they flow.

I remember everything.

Years of you becoming sicker and sicker, my denial growing stronger and stronger, forcing myself to forget more and more. The sicker you became, the more I repressed, concealing all that was connected to the disease growing inside you.

My love, a house is not a home without you, and my world is empty with you no longer in it.

I drop to my side on the snow-covered bench and feel something hard pressing into my lower ribs. I sit up and examine the bench for what caused my discomfort but find nothing. I press my hand to where I felt the pain and feel the blue book nestled in my jacket pocket. I produce it and hold it out in front of me with both hands, as someone would hold a priceless artifact, one of a kind and with so much to teach. This piece of you, its pages full of your thoughts and dreams printed in your neat handwriting, is my remaining connection to you, so I hold it against my heart. After some time, I realize there are many pages of this book still to read.

I open the book.

There is nothing but soggy pages.

The relentless snow crept into my pockets overnight, then melted, making every word undecipherable.

My horror is immense.

There is no hope of seeing you.

I now understand that is impossible.

My rage is insatiable.

I tear page after page from your little blue book, throwing them into the wind where they fly away, just like you did. I cannot stop until none of those hundreds of pages remains.

Breathing heavily, I examine what’s left of the book and am shocked to see your handwriting on the inside of the back cover. The last pages had been blank, so I hadn’t thought to check for any writing at the end of your little blue book.

I struggle to still my shaking hands so I can read the few words I have left from you, preserved on the plastic cover.

Eventually, my will prevails as my hands grow still.

What came first, my sickness or your forgetfulness? Even I cannot remember. Perhaps the two came as one, a double disease that destroyed us from both ends. How else could a love as strong as ours be assaulted if not by a joint attack? The more you see me sick, the more you forget, which makes me sicker still. A cycle of degradation leading to our inevitable demise. Temporarily, we suffer, but eternity awaits, for when our mortal shells are shed, you and I will finally be free. I will go first, but I’ll be waiting patiently for you. Take your time, and enjoy your days. Heaven together, infinity with you by my side. I’ll tell God I want nothing more.

Your words, sweet and hopeful, remind me of every magnificent moment we spent together. Our home, our family, our friends, our music, our ups, our downs. Every moment together floods my mind. All the good times we enjoyed and all the hard times we overcame, every moment spent with you deserving of my fond reflection.

My reflection eventually leads to the beginning of yesterday when I realized today is your birthday. Laughing, I recall the events of my little adventure and how determined I was to give you a gift you would love, me without my cognitive impairment.

How would it have gone had I been successful?

Here’s your gift, honey.

Where is it?

Right here.

What are you talking about?

It’s me!

You would have rightfully been confused until I recited the tales of our life.

I imagine how your eyes would have grown wide when I recounted story after story. I envision how your smile would have glowed when you recognized the gift you were given. Me at my fullest.

All I ever wanted was for you to be happy.

I regret not being able to provide you with what I restored, but a sudden idea comes to my mind. As I grow eager, ready for another improvisation on my long journey, I accept that I am indeed the stubbornest human to walk the earth, as I have concocted a final plan to complete my mission, to give you what you wrote about on those now lost pages.

I stand.

I’m exhausted, not only physically from my journey or lack of sleep, but spiritually. Reliving a lifetime of memories drained me more than a hundred hours of gruelling labour, and my painful realization in the hospital was like puncturing a hole in my gas tank, allowing what was left of my energy to leave me. Most of all, I’m exhausted from living without you. Life without you is like an engine with half its cylinders firing. I am acutely aware of how dynamic life is with you in it, so in comparison, it is sluggish and often nonfunctional without you. No mechanic can install the plugs needed to get it going. I cannot derive any pleasure from living such a life.

I accept that more than the truth of what happened to you, I’ve been hiding from that emptiness I endure when you’re gone, that horrible void that drains any good from my life, leaving it grey and muted. There is no music without you, my love; the world merely hums a single flat note. The flowers do not bloom, the birds do not sing, the sugar is not sweet, and my heart barely beats. It has been a tough road without you.

I see the end to my exhaustion and a way to deliver my gift to you, speeding towards me from the end of the street. Its lights and bumper seem to form a smiling face, so I smile back as I step onto the street to meet it.

My love, I’m on my way.