My Hero

*[This story is based on many people we have met during our memory support work. It is fiction but grounded in the reality of Alzheimer’s.]

I wish there was someone I could talk to about this. Everyone here is very nice to us, they take good care of Bill, but they don’t really know him; I mean they don’t know the real man inside. What can I do? No one wants to hear the stories about Bill, about how he was a high school football star and a hero in the war. I just wish there was some way I could tell the people here, could show them what a strong, brave man Bill is.

I still remember the feeling of shock when he asked me to wear his letterman jacket our senior year, how that jacket felt in my hands, how it smelled of leather and wool. It was dark blue wool with white leather sleeves. Bill’s name and number were embroidered on the back, right under the roaring lion. I used to sleep with that jacket every night my senior year in high school. Even though he was the star quarterback, Bill was still shy. He told me later that he was self conscious because his ears stuck out and turned red when he got embarrassed. I didn’t care about football, I was a book worm. It was Bill’s smile that got me, he just kind of lights up when he grins. I used to love it, too, when he would pass me in the hall and give me that grin and then a wink, made my heart beat fast!

I didn’t know what to feel when Bill joined the Marines right after high school. We were just getting serious and he was going to leave me. I felt angry and sad and proud all at the same time. Everyone was joining up or getting drafted then. Of course in those days, we didn’t question anything; we just did what we were told. Bill was in Italy and then he was sent to Germany. I could not believe it when his mother called me to tell me that Billy had run into a little trouble over there. A little trouble? He almost died saving the company medic, Bob Brooks. Bob was hit bad and Bill picked him up out of a fox hole and ran through the middle of a battle and carried him to safety. Bob went on to become a doctor, and to save a lot of lives himself. Now, Dr. Bob is dead and no one remembers what my Bill did, how he saved that doctor’s life, how he won medals for his bravery. Bill told me later it was all that running, dodging and weaving that he did on the football field that saved them both. He didn’t think it was bravery; Bill just chalked it up to speed and luck.

And the Lord knows Bill was quick on his feet and in his mind. They used to call him jackrabbit. People said he was so fast, he could throw the football and then catch his own pass! Even though he was quick in everything, Bill had patience for other people. He helped a lot of kids, boys that would have gone bad if it wasn’t for Bill. They come sometimes to visit us here, but they look so sad when they see how Bill is now. Of course, it’s hard for our own kids to visit, too. They don’t know how to handle seeing their dad like this. I know it’s hard for them, but they have to understand that there father is still there, inside. I don’t know what to say to them, to help them understand this. I don’t know what to say to anybody.

I know that people sometimes think I am mean because I won’t help Bill button his shirt and I won’t let anyone feed him. It’s just that I know Bill, and I know that he feels better about himself when he can do these things on his own. I am trying to be as patient with Bill as he always was with other people. I know that he will never get any better, but I want him to put up a fight. I want us to put up a fight for as long as we can.

Now Bill is beginning to wake up from his nap. He needs to sit up straighter in his wheel chair, and he needs to wipe his chin. Oh, he sees me now. There is that old grin and Lord, feel my heart, he winked at me! My Bill, my hero.