Lorraine did not need a watch to tell her it was getting on to three o’clock. She felt it in her bones; she felt it every weekday in her bones, and she had ever since she started letting Becky Lee walk home from the bus stop by herself last year in fifth grade.
Goodness, was it just last year? Seemed like forever ago. But Becky Lee was in sixth this year, so must’ve been. She hadn’t wanted to let her do it, but Becky Lee threw fit after fit till she just wore her mama out. And truth be told, all the other kids had been walking home alone for a while already.
Lorraine knew she was over protective without James having to tell her. And to give him credit, he never did say it. But she saw it in his eyes when she argued with Becky Lee, and even if he never said anything, she knew what he was thinking. So in the end she just threw up her hands and said fine, walk home by your own self, but you better be in this house by three o’clock every dang day or I’m coming to get you and you won’t never walk home alone again.
Every day when it was close to three o’clock, Lorraine knew it, felt it, and she stood by the window and peeked out. All this time, and she still got the nervous stomach waiting till she got that first glimpse of the child coming up the walk. She tried not to let Becky Lee catch her at the window; she didn’t want her to know she was nervous still. When she spied her on the walk, she’d hurry back to the chair, pick up her stitching or a book or whatever might be handy and wait, all nonchalant, till Becky Lee poked her head in. Then she’d say, oh, is school out already? My, this day has just flown by.
Now she held the thin curtain in her hand and moved it just a little so she could see the walk. Her stomach was getting sore from the nerves. Becky Lee must be a little bit late today. Lorraine tried to keep the bad thoughts away but they came anyhow. Things could happen to a little girl in three long blocks between the bus stop and home. There’s bushes people could hide behind. She’d read one time about a car that pulled up and a man snatched a little girl off the street, right in the middle of the day, right in plain sight. Just took her.
Where was that child? Lorraine looked at the chair to make sure her sweater was ready if she needed to go out looking. If she did, it would be the only time. She’d never let that little miss walk home alone again, she didn’t care how many fits she threw. She didn’t care what James said or didn’t say, or what kind of looks he gave her.
Where was James, anyway?
Lorraine looked back out the window. Her shoulders, hunched and tight, relaxed. There on the walk was her sweet girl. She dropped the curtain and hurried over to her chair.
A minute later Lorraine heard the door open behind her, heard that sweet voice. “Hi, I’m home. I’m gonna go to my desk and do my homework.”
Without turning around, Lorraine nodded. “Be sure you do it all, Becky Lee, before your father gets home.”
“I will.” The door closed softly.
Lorraine closed her eyes and said her daily prayer of thanksgiving for her child’s safety.
At the desk down the hall, the young woman slid into the vacant chair and typed a password into the computer. She took a drink of Pepsi out of a styrofoam cup and turned to her friend in the chair next to her.
“Okay, so you know what to do tomorrow, right?”
“I only watch you do it every day.”
“Tell me anyway. It’s important.”
The friend laughed. “I go out at ten to three, circle around front, walk in the front door, go to 107, pop my head in, and say hi, I’m home, I’m gonna go do my homework.”
“Right. Don’t forget, and don’t be late.”
“Promise. But isn’t she going to know it’s me and not you?”
The young woman smiled. “It’s not me or you. To Lorraine, it’s her daughter Becky Lee, when she was in grade school. And if you’re late, it’ll worry her sick, so don’t be.
“You’ve been taking care of Lorraine for how long now, and she doesn’t remember you from one day to the next. But she knows every day when it’s three o’clock to be watching for Becky Lee. How is that possible?”
“That’s Alzheimers. It doesn’t matter if she can’t remember me. What matters is that Becky Lee gets home from school safely every day. So don’t forget, okay? And don’t be late.”
Facts: An estimated 5.3 million Americans are suffering from Alzheimer’s this year, two-thirds of them being women. It is the sixth leading cause of death in America. One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or some other dementia. Every 67 seconds, another person in the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Won’t you consider joining the fight against this disease? Visit http://www.alz.org/ to learn more and find out how you can help.
This story was inspired by and is dedicated to my amazing niece, Sarah Spreitler Silva, a young woman with a heart full of compassion for those needing memory care. I love you, Sarah.