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You were so handsome. Goodness, you really were. It’s easy to see why I fell for you so quickly. The way your eyes sparkled like you were just barely holding in laughter. Your adorable dimple. That interesting little crescent scar on your ear. I remember you telling me about the time you got that. What was it? A kitchen knife? Or a pair of scissors? I find it harder and harder to remember. It pains me to admit, but things are escaping my memory with each passing day. Why can’t I seem to recall exactly the way your voice sounded when you whispered in my ear? Or the way your hands felt in mine? The way you kissed me?
The music. Oh, the music is so beautiful. I can’t describe the perfection… the way it weaves through my memories, swirling and flowing in perfect harmony. It swells as I caress a black-and-white snapshot of our wedding day with my gnarled fingertips. I close my eyes and lose myself in the sweetness of the moment.
When I open my eyes, I feel myself frowning, and I know that if I looked in a mirror I’d see those two wrinkles I hate forming between my eyebrows. Do you remember when I first noticed those? I was so mad because I vowed when I was twelve that I would never get wrinkles. When I confided that little secret to you, you simply laughed and kissed my eyelids. Oh, to be twelve again. If only. If only.
Stop this. Stop. I must stop. Taking a deep breath, I open my tired, burning eyes again. The music is now more painfully beautiful. The piano notes float gently through the air, mixing with the swirling dust in the shafts of golden sunlight. My chest aches. The feeling reminds me of our first kiss. That was so long ago, but I can still hear the crickets’ song. The chilly November wind whipped my coat around, but I remember being only conscious of your lips touching mine, and the warmth spreading slowly, wonderfully through my body.
It’s funny how the little things come back to me – the trivial, insignificant snippets, but not the important details. Like your middle name. That one has been haunting me for a week now. What was it? Michael? James? I feel horrible, all mixed up inside. And guilty. Why can’t I remember? Why?
The doctor said this was normal, that my brain would hold onto some things and others would start slipping away as time went on. A few months, was that what he told me? A few months until I can’t remember anything. Maybe that’s why it’s so important to me now, to relive those happy years while I still can. Because once the past is gone, what remains? Nothing is left, at least for me.
Turning the page, my mouth curves into a smile as I gaze upon the pictures of our honeymoon. I can’t let myself ruin this moment. It’s supposed to be joyful. So I clear my head and simply focus on the beautiful simplicity in each snapshot.
There’s a picture of us waiting at the airport, arms around each other, suitcases in hand, excited smiles on our faces. Then us standing in the parking lot in Paris. Sitting at some café with expensive pastries and coffee, laughing. Of course, us in front of the Eiffel Tower. I’m looking at the camera in that one, but you’re gazing down at my face. I love that picture.
Then I see one I don’t remember you taking. It’s a profile shot of me standing on the balcony of our hotel room, looking out at the gorgeous city lights. I’m resting my elbow against the railing, chin in my hand, with a hint of a smile on my face. How I miss being twenty. My hair was long and dark, tumbling in waves over my back, and I wore an elegant evening dress.
I turn the page. There’s a picture of you clutching your hat and scarf as they threaten to blow away. You’re laughing, I can tell. I slide my glasses back up my nose and squint to see it better. I take in every curve and angle of your glorious face.
I think you know by now, I can’t bear to forget you.
The minutes tick by as I lock page after page of memories into my heart. If they disappear from my brain, at least I’ll have them locked away in a secret place where no one can steal them.
And then I let out a little gasp, and my throat tightens with emotion. I touch the picture of Lila and notice my fingers are shaking. Lila, oh Lila, my precious angel baby. Mostly I try not to think about her, but how can I not? She remains, every day, at the edge of my mind. I know she couldn’t leave. I wouldn’t want her to. But seeing her again, after so long, this one and only picture of the sweet one whom I had for only two lovely weeks before the Lord took her away… It brings back the flood of pain that I can’t bear. It’s like a punch in the gut, and the scrapbook slides off my lap with a clatter as I double over, clutching myself.
I’m holding in the tears, and I know it. I’ve hidden all the pain inside a place so deep that nobody – not even I – could retrieve it. But it aches there, dull and throbbing. And now it’s more intense than I’ve ever felt it. The cumulative years of grief are suddenly all weighing down on me, and I feel myself giving in, suddenly relenting to the sorrow.
The tear leaks out of the corner of my eye, slides slowly down the bridge of my nose, drips onto my finger. I stare at the little wet droplet for a few seconds, shocked. And then I’m sobbing, agonized cries escaping my lips. I let myself get carried away in the moment, and I don’t stop myself. Clenching my fists, I rock back and forth on my knees. My body racks with sobs, and I taste my own tears. They taste like salt and freedom.
Why am I laughing, all of a sudden? When did crying turn to laughing? What’s come over me? Am I going crazy? Perhaps I am. I’m losing my mind, after all. But there’s a sensation of joy that I haven’t experienced. Ever. I feel light, and I don’t notice my arthritis for once as I slowly sit up. This is new.
This is very new.
I feel younger than I have in a long time as I slowly pick up the scrapbook again. I’m… not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid of forgetting. Because I know that you will always be a part of me no matter what happens. And I can let go now. I can let go of my past.
And when I finish the book… I don’t feel that numbness of ignored pain. I don’t try to escape.
Instead, I close my eyes, feel the gentle warmth of the sun’s last rays caress my face, and smile the happiest smile. The music whispers its last notes, and I’m free.