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Jager - 1. Story

Hearing the runners scrape across the kitchen’s tile floor woke me from my nap. I could hear Adam drag the stupid rocking horse from the garage towards the family room. My dear partner of forty-odd years was beginning to lose it. He was acting so strange some days; talking to people who weren’t there, forgetting things, and even seeing things. I was worried about him.

I got out of my chair pressing downwards on my cane. As my hips groaned and my back creaked with pain, I felt each and every one of my many years of life. Shuffling until my joints warmed up, I headed for the kitchen. I could hear Adam talking to someone now. I hoped he was on the phone.

As I rounded the corner, I was glad to see him chatting on the house phone and twisting the cord like he always did. He looked up at me and gave me his boyish, charming smirk. It was this devilish look that captured me all those years ago. I could still hear the Doobie Brothers singing about China Grove as we necked in the back of Adam’s Oldsmobile Delta 88. That was the same night we’d met at the dance at the Unitarian Church. There weren’t many good places for men like us to meet.

Adam was so brave that night. He’d always been the one of us with courage. Our eyes had met across the room in the church basement. After I pretended I wasn’t looking at him, he got up and walked over to me. I remember looking up and seeing his long blond-

“How was your nap?” Adam asked as he hung up the phone. “We’ve got a big night planned.”

“What big night?” I asked, wondering what hijinks my dear man’s mind was playing on him.

“It’s Valentine’s Day.” Adam kissed me on the lips and I felt my heart flutter. Even after all these years, he got a rise out of me. I may be taking heart medication, but he could still make it race.

“I know,” I answered. I lied. I forgot it was today. It didn’t matter though because I’d gotten Adam a box of his favorite candies; milk chocolate with raspberry cream inside. We’d been to the mall and I bought them when he was in the bathroom. He was under the impression we were only mall-walking for our health. I knew I had to get him his present when I had the chance. Once he disappeared around the corner, I dashed into the See’s Candy and bought them.

“Why did you drag the old rocking horse in from the garage?” I finally had to ask the question. He’s avoiding it, I can tell.

“We’re having company later,” he answered cryptically. Adam’s been doing that a lot lately. It bugs the hell out of me.

“Who’s coming by?”

“The usual Valentine’s Day group,” he says, smiling and wiping his eyes.

My other concern is Adam has been very weepy lately. He was never a sentimental fool until recently. His furtive eye-wiping makes me think there is something wrong with him. Every time I bring it up, he only gets more emotional. It hurts to see the pain etched across his heavily lined but still handsome face. His eyes are red a lot lately.

“I can help, you know. What do you need me to do?”

“Nothing, my dear. You need to rest up. There will be a houseful this evening.”

There won’t be a houseful. There never is. We’re just two lonely old men, still loving on each other, but alone.

“Are you sure?” I ask. I’m concerned about him. I worry it’s his mind that’s going and then what are we going to do? I can hardly get around. My heart can’t take much activity. My arms and legs have weakened. Luckily we have people come in to help us. Thank heavens.

“I’m sure. Go finish your nap. You’ve only been asleep for a few minutes.” Adam has a hand on each of my shoulders. His lovely blue eyes are peering into mine. I smile back, reassuring him. It’s what we do for each other. We have the other’s back. Adam and Glenn, the dynamic duo, in love and in charge for forty-some years.

“Are you sure?” I ask. I suddenly feel really tired. I should keep an eye on him. His mind is going I think.

***

A noise awakens me and when I open my eyes I see a little face staring at me. I start, and pull the afghan closer. Who is this little imp peering at me so happily? I pull the wrap over my head. There are voices in the other room. The slight weight which was beside me disappears. I hear the sound of little feet padding quickly across the room.

I hear Adam’s laugh. It’s musical, but like a trombone not a trumpet. The sound of it makes me grin and I pull down the cover. It’s darker now with the sun having set. I struggled to pull myself up with my arms. They aren’t working right. I stop and sigh.

I realize the only voice I can really hear talking is my Adam’s. There are no other voices. He’s doing it again, talking with people who aren’t there. It has happened a lot recently. I’m worried about him. I’m worried about us, really.

What had I seen a moment ago?

I must have been having a dream to see the face of a little one right in front of me. It happens. We once planned on having a family. Adam and I were going to have a little boy or a little girl to raise and take care of. It was all planned. I sighed and it sounded so sad and weary. It felt so recent as I remembered.

Our friend Amy found herself in the ‘family way’ and she didn’t have a boyfriend or husband. It was the late seventies and while there were plenty of women who raised kids alone, it was still looked down on.

Frankly, it wasn’t like two men raising a baby was considered acceptable or normal. I lucked out because as Adam said, ‘I just don’t care what they think. Fuck ‘em’. Like I said, he was the brave one.

We had a house in Brooklyn and a room for her. Amy could stay with us until the little boy or girl was born. Adam and I were putting together a little nest egg to give her. It was a gift because she was giving us something we’d never get otherwise; a family. I remember her going up to bed the night before. I met her on the stairs and kissed her on the forehead, thanking her for her sacrifice.

The next day, she came to us. It was evening. The air was chilly for May. I remember smelling dirt in the air from our neighbors newly planted garden. I’d started painting the baby’s room, a pale foamy sea green with white trim. Amy knocked on the front door which was odd given she was living with us.

As we sat at the dining room table and she told us about the abortion, I felt numb and somewhat hollow. Adam was crying, silently weeping, because we both knew the dream had died. We would never be parents. The room I’d only started to paint would become a den or a spare room no one would ever use. It would remain empty and alone.

Amy went upstairs to pack her things. I remember reaching out to Adam as he continued to cry and took his hand. It was cool to the touch. I pulled him closer. He scooted his chair closer to me. My lover, my partner laid his face on my chest. His tears watered my skin. I could feel the hot puffs of his breath as he sucked in air desperately clinging to hope but feeling nothing other than despair.

Adam’s presence at the doorway brought me back to the present. I smiled at him, bleak at the memory of loss.

“Are you going to join us?” he asked, crossing his arms. Behind him, there were no other sounds. There was only the quiet.

“Oh, Adam,” I sighed. Running my hand alongside my chair, I found my cane. “Who’s here?”

The dread filled my chest as I waited. He was delusional. No one was here. We were two old queens on their last leg in the journey of life. We had each other.

“Come and see. You’ll be surprised.”

I waved him away and heard his footsteps cross the kitchen tile floor. It was the lonely sound of my man walking across a divide and away from me.

I put the cane in front of me and heaving, I stood. My joints were stiff. My back ached. It was slow going, but eventually my torso was somewhat erect. For a moment, I thought I heard the jangling sound of a child’s laughter. I couldn’t have though. There were no children here. It was only Adam and I and, well, Jager.

Jager was the rocking horse my grandparents bought for me. It had been bare wood, built by a neighbor, I’d been told. My grandpa had carefully painted it white with a red saddle and reins. There were blue accents and it was a beautiful thing. When I was presented with the gift on my birthday, my German immigrant grandmother had pointed at it and said, ‘Jager,’ nodding at me. From then on, my rocking horse was called Jager, which I later discovered meant ‘hunter.’ I loved it so much. I would get on it and ride for hours at a time, pretending I was out in the wild tracking buffalo or coyote.

Wearing a child’s cowboy hat with a fringed vest and a holster with a toy gun, I became Roy Rogers. I was the Lone Ranger. I could become anyone I wanted to. Therefore, when we made our deal with Amy, the first thing I retrieved from my parents’ house was Jager. I knew our little boy or little girl would love Jager as much as I did.

Jager was sitting in the middle of the baby’s room when I started painting it. Every time I remembered our loss, it was the image of the rocking horse alone in the center of a half-finished room. He’d never have our son or daughter ride him. Jager’s only purpose was to give a child dreams, to let him or her become whatever they wanted to be. That was a rocking horse’s reason for existing.

Now, Jager had no reason to live.

That night after Amy left, I stood in the doorway and looked at the drying paint and the rocking horse and my eyes filled with tears. As the tears trickled down, it became rage. I marched into the middle of the room and grabbed it. I dragged the horse through the doorway and down the stairs. Adam was screaming at me as I pulled it around the corner. I could see his face was a contorted mask of pain. It gave me pause.

I wanted to take the stupid wooden toy and smash it. I wanted to turn Jager into kindling wood and burn it in the backyard. The rocking horse had no purpose anymore. It would never make a little girl or boy laugh and imagine.

Adam grabbed me and hugged me. He pulled me so tightly and again I felt the heat of his tears. His face found mine and his lips sucked greedily on mine.

He looked so sad and lost. Adam was always boyish, but that night he looked like a kid who’d lost his favorite toy. In a way, perhaps, we both had.

I’d calmed down and Adam made me promise not to destroy Jager. I couldn’t deny him anything. Even thinking about the rocking horse and what we lost that night made my heart thud and ache. Jager was the symbol of what we’d never have.

“Are you coming?” Adam asked, his face flushed. For the first time in some time, his eyes glowed with hope. I hadn’t seen him look so happy in some time. “They’re waiting for you.”

I shuffled after the man, his back hunched a little. His arthritis was bothering him and it hurt me too. It could feel his pain.

When we reached the far side of the kitchen, I stepped down each stair carefully. The family room was below and I rarely went there these days. I began hearing voices, other voices, and there was something familiar about them. One sounded a little like my brother. Another sounded like someone else I knew, but I couldn’t place it.

As I got to the last step, I saw a handsome young man looking at me happily and in his arms was a boy, a child of maybe five. I smiled back though I didn’t know who they were. Something about them perplexed me. Hadn’t we met?

“Hi Dad,” the handsome young man said confidently. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”

He seemed to know me, but why was he calling me, Dad? I knew better than to question it though. I got by playacting and recognizing people who seemed to know me. At least, it usually worked. So I went with it.

“Isn’t it good to see them?” an old man beside me asked. He looked very familiar and there was something about him. I didn’t know him though. Not really.

“Dad, how’re you feeling?” the young man asked. There was a woman behind him. She approached and grabbed onto his arm and spoke to me expectantly.

“You’re looking good, well rested and so handsome this evening.”

I didn’t know who these people were. There were a couple of older people and I realized one was my brother, Will. I smiled at him. I hadn’t seen my brother in a long time.

“Will? Is that you?” I asked, shading my eyes for no apparent reason in this basement room.

The man smiled hesitantly and stood up. He stepped forward and held out his hand. “I’m your nephew, Scott. Dad’s been dead for several years now.”

I didn’t know what he meant. My brother was dead. I looked over at the familiar man, and then I recognized him. It was my Adam. He was looking at me nervously, biting his lower lip like he always did.

“Grandpa!” the little boy in the handsome young man’s arms squealed. He was the little guy who woke me up earlier, at least I thought so. “Grandpa, can I ride on Jager?”

The boy squirmed and writhed until his father set him down onto the floor. He raced over to the rocking horse. He crawled onto Jager and began rocking back and forth, screaming, “Woo Hoo!” at the top of his lungs.

I felt my heart rise up and fill my throat. “Someone’s using Jager.” It came out like a whisper.

“Yes, first our son and now our grandson adores him. They both love Jager,” Adam said. He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me. I turned and kissed his cheek. It was hot beneath my lips.

I looked over at the handsome man and turned to the man next to me. “Is he, is he our son?” I asked softly, almost shyly.

“Yes, it’s Brandon. The little boy on Jager is our grandson, Liam. They came to wish you a very happy Valentine’s day. I love you.”

“But Amy…?” I said, confused again.

“We used a surrogate. He’s your birth son.”

I felt a flash of emotion. It was both hot and cold. My head was a little dizzy.

“Pops, I think Dad needs to sit,” I heard the young man say.

“Let me help,” the woman beside him offered.

I looked over and saw the little imp of a boy rocking wildly and happily on Jager, my own, dear rocking horse. I wondered who he was. I looked at the man next to me who helped me to a chair. He looked familiar.

“Do I know you?” I asked. He wiped his eyes as he pulled away.

“Pops,” the young man said. “You can’t do this anymore.”

“I can’t leave him.” The old man looked so sad. I wondered why.

“Let’s figure this out. I’m coming by tomorrow morning.” The handsome young man seemed lost. He gave me a forlorn smile. I couldn’t understand why.

Why were all these strangers looking at me?

***

A day in March

I hear drawers open and close. There is a warm patch on my left cheek. As I open my eyes, I notice the bed is angled differently. The orient of the room isn't the same. I sit up and see him.

It's a stranger dressed in blue scrub pants and a blousy top, lemon yellow with brown figures on it. They appear to be cartoon bears. The young man is stocky, short, and built like a fire hydrant, and he is busy putting clothes into a dresser across from my bed.

"Where am I?"

The guy turns, smiles and responds, "Good morning, Glen. I hope you slept well."

I smile back, hesitantly. The room looks somewhat familiar, though it seems strange to me. Then I see a couple of picture frames next to my bed. There was one of me and of-

"Where's Adam?" I ask, suddenly remembering him. "Why isn't he here?"

"I'm right here, my darling man," I hear as the door opens. There is Adam, pushing a cart with a coffee pot and a plastic dome and grinning. His face looks happier and for some reason more relaxed. "I brought us some breakfast. Are you hungry?"

"I am. Where did you go?" I ask, disturbed. "I woke up alone."

"You had a bad night so I slept next door," he said, taking off the dome which showed a couple of croissants. Next to it is a plate of fruit. "Do you want coffee or juice?" he asked.

"Where are we?" I ask again. I see the young man has finished putting clothes away and is standing over by another door. "Who is he?"

Adam looks at me and smiles. He nods at the young man who then approaches the bed. "I'm Stevie, Glen. Don't you remember? I'm your day nurse."

A fleeting memory whips through me and then departs. I don't know what's going on, but turn and see my Adam's smile is warm and calming.

"It's okay. We're at St. Anthony's now. We moved here a little while ago. We’re in our new apartment. People like Stevie help us. We’re in a good place."

Adam's voice is reassuring and I feel my heartbeat begin to slow. "Is everything okay?" I ask. I'm worried about him, but he looks good, actually better, though I don't know where I got that idea.

"Everything is fine. Brandon found this place. Isn't it wonderful?" he asks me. I look around and it is a nice room. The young man, Stevie, I think, is looking at me thoughtfully. I give him a smile as I reach for a glass of juice. He looks kind and Adam seems to trust him.

"As long as I have you," I say, patting Adam's hand. I look back over and see a picture on the wall. It's a large framed photo of Adam and me and behind us is a waterfall. It's beautiful. I can remember our trip to Sioux Falls like it was yesterday. Suddenly, I'm very tired.

I fall back on my pillow. There are light butterfly kisses on my forehead. I open my eyes and see a man, old with his face heavily lined and wrinkled. He is over me and he looks familiar. I don't know exactly who he could be. He has friendly eyes. He's a stranger though.

Copyright © 2016 Cole Matthews; All Rights Reserved.
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On 02/08/2016 07:57 AM, W_L said:

I love this story, it is heartfelt and make me cry happy tears of nostalgia and hope.

 

This story deserves praise for its great detailed perspective of elder memory loss and its effect on family I also love the aspect of Jager, it was very "Citizen Kane" - esque. Great job! :D

Thanks for the wonderful review. I never thought of the rocking horse as being a Citizen Kane object, but it is. That's a really good point. I appreciate it. :)

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On 02/07/2016 03:54 PM, Suvitar said:

Such a beautiful and sad story :hug: Glen and Adam had a long, happy life together, and reading about it made me cry.

They did have a nice, long life together. There is something to be said that it isn't really overall sad. They are still together. Thanks for the comment.

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On 02/07/2016 09:32 AM, AC Benus said:

Amazing. Everything is pitch-perfect here with Glen's character; there's balance with his present strain (both physical and in terms of worrying about Adam), and the unfolding memories of his long marriage.

 

The moment of joy when he remembers painting the room and saying good night to the girl carrying their baby was devastating setup to her knocking on the front door and destroying their lives the next day. It's hard not to hate her; it seems impossible not to believe she did to hurt them.

 

The other moment that I will not be forgetting anytime soon is the beautifully simple "Hi Dad." Such a stunning flash of clarity for the reader, and yet a confusing one for Glen… It's more heartbreak, but painted confusingly in the reader's heart with utter joy to find out the men did have a family, and that Jager has been used by three generations.

 

Thank you for an incredible story!

Thank you very much for the marvelous analysis of the story, Mr. Benus! It's very heartening to me those details came together and you could see them. I've thought about this story for a long time. I got a Christmas ornament that was a rocking horse and it brought everything together. I could see Adam dragging the toy across the tile and could hear Glen grousing about it. Things came together from there. It was a labor of love.

Thank you!

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On 02/06/2016 09:07 PM, Thorn Wilde said:

So close to crying right now! Oh my god, that was intensely painful to read, but also beautiful in all its sadness. I can't really find the words, but I applaud this story!

It feels so good to hear you moved people, whether to tears, or joy, or laughter. Thanks so much for giving me that particular compliment.

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On 02/06/2016 07:05 PM, Timothy M. said:

Of all the things in the world, what I fear most is losing my mind or having it happen to people I love. So far I've escaped this in my life, but reading this story had my gut clenching and my heart aching. Yet, the way it was revealed was so gentle and caring, it brought tears to my eyes too. Absolutely stunning, the love of a lifetime could be felt through the profound sadness.

Thanks for the comment. I'm really glad it came through they had a life together and even if Glen was losing it, they still had each other. I really appreciate your kind words.

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On 02/06/2016 02:15 PM, Defiance19 said:

Our family is going through this now with our grandmother. We live for her good days, which seem to stretch farther apart. You captured Glen's anxiety and uncertainty so very well, and was just as effective with Adam, who was patient and caring. You felt they had a great love.

Yeah, I was moved to tears. Absolutely beautifully told.. Thank you.

Thanks so much. My grandfather had Alzheimer's and now my aunt suffers. Especially early on, they know and it pains them. They try to hide it. I'm really thrilled it showed that aspect of it.

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On 02/06/2016 11:53 AM, ElleRachelle said:

What an incredibly lovely and moving tale. When Glenn's physical and mental health have failed him, his love and trust with Adam remains. Love does endure and your story is a shining example of that. Well done!

Thank you!!! I'm so happy that endurance came through. I was a little concerned it would be missed.It seems like Adam and Glen came out as a team.

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On 02/06/2016 06:08 AM, aditus said:

A beautiful, sad story. You made me cry. I am so glad they are still together. Even when Glenn doesn't know who Adam is, he trusts him and doesn't feel alone and abandoned. And on his good days there will be butterflies still...

Adi, what can I say. You provided two of the most crucial parts to this story. The rocking horse started me off and the final scene as you suggested. It's much better with this ending. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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On 02/06/2016 05:34 AM, stanollie said:

Something , someone guided my finger to click on this one. My partner of 53 years was a victim of that horrible disease. His last years were spent mainly in his bed and he stopped speaking. BUT he always, to the end, smiled when I entered the room, and he listened closely when I talked and read to him. There was always response to our good-night kiss. Thank you for sharing this with us.

The love is still there. The memory may not be accessible, but the connection remains. I'm glad that came through because your experience was something I wanted to share. I saw the same thing and I'm glad it worked. Thank you so much!

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On 02/06/2016 04:51 AM, Headstall said:

Beautiful, and so sad. You made me cry. I remember the frightened look of my grandmother when all she saw were strangers around her. Thanks and cheers... Gary...

It is scary for them. But, they do feel the love I think. At least, that's what I believe. Thanks for the wonderful review.

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On 02/05/2016 06:54 PM, Puppilull said:

Such a sad thing to lose yourself and those around you by having them slowly slip your mind. Comforting to know he had the life he dreamed of and the people in his life love him.

Thanks for the great review. Yes, it is a very sad disease. I think Glen having Jager and Adam to give him some reminders of his life helped ease his suffering.

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On 02/05/2016 05:57 PM, Robert Rex said:

Damn, damn, damn! You made me cry like a kid with this one...

Just ...brilliant. Moving to the point of overwhelming. And a story so well told, it crushed my heart before I knew it'd grabbed me.

Absolutely incredible.....

What a wonderful review!!! Thanks for the compliment. I think as a writer, or artist of any kind, knowing you moved a person with your work is the highest praise. I appreciate it.

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On 02/05/2016 04:17 PM, comicfan said:

I'm grateful that he isn't alone. It is sad to see him losing parts of himself, but at least he is surrounded by loved ones and his husband. Beautiful story.

Thank you!!! The ending wasn't originally like this, but then I was reminded it's Valentine's day. It's good they had a place to go together.

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On 02/05/2016 02:32 PM, Valkyrie said:

This was a powerful story and so well done. You showed us the reactions of all around him brilliantly and poignantly. I suspected it was the narrator who had dementia when he was so concerned about his partner. He's lucky he has someone so caring to look out for him as his health declines. I read this a while ago and I'm still tearing up just thinking about it. Great job, SA :hug:

Thanks Val!!! I'm glad it worked so well. I tried to dole out the hints and yet wanted Glen to be a bit self-delusional about it. Seems it played out well. I appreciate the kind words.

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On 02/05/2016 02:18 PM, Lisa said:

Jeez, I went from the Cupid story before this, laughing and grinning, to reading this and bawling my eyes out. What an emotional story, SA. And so, so scary. It could happen to anyone.

 

Like Tim, I was thinking that Adam was the one with dementia (Alzheimers? Not sure what the difference is), until their family showed up. Then I realized it was Glenn who had it.

 

SA, you wrote a beautiful story. I'm still in tears. Terrific job.

Thanks so much for the lovely words. I'm glad it moved you. I wanted to portray how challenging it is for both the person and their loved ones. It worked!!! Thanks!

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On 02/05/2016 01:56 PM, Mikiesboy said:

Oh so touching. Lovely story, which confused me at first, but then it dawned on me, what I was reading. Sad and poignant.

Beautiful.. thank you

tim

Thank you so much. I'm glad it all came together eventually. I appreciate your kind words.

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On 02/05/2016 11:01 AM, Graeme said:

Oh, wow... :o

 

That was incredibly moving. A brilliant depiction of someone with dementia, from their point of view. I suspect it early, but the evolution to certainty, and then realisation of how it was affecting those around him...just...wow... :worship: The whole story was made even more poignant because my mother had dementia before she passed away, and I could relate to what was going on, including the discussions on moving Glenn to a nursing home for better care. We went through the same issue for my mother when her husband (she remarried late in life after my father died) couldn't look after her anymore.

I realized many of us are touched by this disease and wanted to portray how it affects everyone in a way. I'm sorry to hear your mother struggled with it. I've seen the toll it takes. Thank you so much for a thoughtful and flattering review. I really appreciate it!!!

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A great story has to exercise ALL of your emotional muscles. You certainly did that and your portrayal of the world of an Alzheimer's patient and family was unparalleled. It was certainly heart wrenchingly beautiful.
But Jager lives on. Well done.

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On 02/14/2016 07:54 AM, ricky said:

A great story has to exercise ALL of your emotional muscles. You certainly did that and your portrayal of the world of an Alzheimer's patient and family was unparalleled. It was certainly heart wrenchingly beautiful.

But Jager lives on. Well done.

That is truly high praise, thank you so much. I'm glad the story worked for you. You mentioning Jager lives on made me think how Liam will have sweet memories like his grandfather did. Jager does live on. Thanks,

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So beautifully sad. Very emotionally poignant on its own but even more so if you've had family members affected by it.

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On 02/15/2016 07:44 AM, Efmaer said:

So beautifully sad. Very emotionally poignant on its own but even more so if you've had family members affected by it.

Thanks for the wonderful review. It is a subject which matters especially if you've dealt with loved ones slowly losing themselves to the disease. I'm glad you liked it.

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I am so proud to have been a part of your first writing here because this story tells me that you've become the wonderful writer that I felt that you were all along. Keep writing Cole and put your emotions to task as you did in this story. It's emotionally and heartfelt beautiful. Your concept on life as we all age is priceless. When you can write like this, your heart is in every word. Kudos to you my friend.

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On 02/17/2016 01:23 PM, joann414 said:

I am so proud to have been a part of your first writing here because this story tells me that you've become the wonderful writer that I felt that you were all along. Keep writing Cole and put your emotions to task as you did in this story. It's emotionally and heartfelt beautiful. Your concept on life as we all age is priceless. When you can write like this, your heart is in every word. Kudos to you my friend.

Thank you Joann! You helped me, gave me encouragement, and it is a testament to you I kept at it. I keep working at it and trying to improve. You gave me the courage to keep going. There is a part of you in each story. I hope you know that. :)

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I just read this very touching story,and its very sad so many people go through this every day. You could feel the love radiating from this story.

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