A man in a tan coat and graying hair comes up to the desk. “Yeah, I’m here to see Sonny. . . Sonny Carisi.”
“Sure.” The nurse fiddles with the screen, trying to locate the patient, her neat bun bobbing up and down in the process.
He can see how much she is struggling. She is either very new or hasn’t fallen under his cousin’s spell yet. Everyone seemed to know him here.
“He’s probably listed under Dominick Carisi Jr.”
The young nurse perks up. “Oh yes! There he is. Let me sign you in.”
The man enters the information she needs as she says, “Oh yes, the man in 213! I’ve heard all about him. Haven’t gotten a chance to meet him yet, though.”
“You’re new then?”
“Yes, it’s my first day,” she says enthusiastically.
He studies her a bit. Red hair, clear pale skin, apples in her cheeks. No freckles.
“You remind me of one of my daughters,” he tells her.
“Well, thanks! I think . . .”
“Yes, that’s a compliment. Take care now.” The man heads down the hallway, gripping his hat nervously, rotating it in his hands. He never liked to give bad news to Uncle Sonny. It seemed to come too often these days.
“Uncle Sonny?" he smiles tentatively as he peeks his head into his cousin’s room. Even though they are cousins he had always called him Uncle Sonny because of their vast age difference. More than 30 years.
“Frank!” Sonny bellows back, gets up from his chair, and embraces his cousin. “Good to see you. Fran with you?”
“No,” Frank answers. Tears always spring to his eyes when his cousin asks that question. And he always does, almost right off the bat. Frank braces himself for it each time. But still . . .
“She passed Uncle Sonny.”
His cousin looks stricken. Like he always does. It would always take a few minutes, but then he would remember. His cousin isn’t in this facility for his body – it’s his mind that is going. At 80-years old he’s still as healthy as a horse.
“Oh, that’s right,” Sonny says sitting back down and waving for Frank to do the same. “It was the cancer that got her.”
“Yeah,” Frank says quietly. He had never been the same after his twin sister Frannie – he had never stopped calling her Frannie – died of breast cancer five years ago. She had been way too young.
“She passed the same year my Amanda did,” Sonny says, rocking a little. “Yup. The same year.”
“It was a bad year.”
The two men sit quietly for a while, Frank wondering why it is that his cousin never forgot anything about his wife Amanda as the rest of the world seemingly crumbled away into oblivion. But he knew one day the memory of her would go too. . .
“So why’d you come here, Frank? Not just to tell me that Fran has passed I hope. You’ve gotta have better news than that.” His cousin beams his trademark smile – the one that always delighted the nursing staff in this joint. Despite his lapses in memory, he is a good patient, almost always happy, and nice to everyone – when he isn’t having one of his episodes.
Speaking of . . .
A nurse Frank recognizes pops her head into the room and says to him. “Mr. Carisi? Can I talk to you for a moment?”
“Hey, I’m Mr. Carisi!” Sonny complains with a teasing smile and a lifted hand. “C’mon now!”
“Oh, but you’re the ‘elder” Mr. Carisi,” she teases and winks.
“But he’s an old man, too.” Sonny points to Frank’s head. “Look at his grey hair. Just look!”
“Mine’s not as grey as yours there, Uncle Sonny. Or should I say white,” Frank retorts.
His cousin runs his hands through his hair. “Well, I’ll be damned. There’s snowflakes in my hair.”
They all laugh at the old joke he had once shared with Amanda. She had had as much sass as he did.
“Be right back,” Frank says as he heads out into the hallway.
“Okay,” his cousin says. “Don’t lose Fran now.”
Frank winces. His cousin really does have a hard time remembering that his sister is gone. Probably because they used to come as a pair.
“They’re getting worse? How is that possible?” Frank asks the nurse in exasperation out in the hallway. “We talked about this. Removing as many triggers as you can from his environment. What’s going wrong?”
“We can’t identify them all. There just seems to be too many.”
“His wife seemed to be able to figure it all out.”
“Yeah, well she used to be in the same line of work as him. Understood the trauma.”
“Well . . .” Frank calms down some, nods, and agrees. “She did seem to have a sixth sense about what would set him off. And how to bring him back.”
“From what I understand she had PTSD too . . .”
“Yeah.” Frank lowers his head, remembering. “They made quite a pair.”
“So Uncle Sonny, I gotta talk to you.”
“You look down there, kiddo.”
“Weren’t you just calling me an old man?”
“Well, you and Fran will always by Frannie and Frankie to me, you know.”
“Yeah.” Frank pauses, picks up his hat to fiddle with it again. “But I gotta tell you something though.”
Unbidden, tears start to pour from Frank’s eyes and he leans forward in his chair, bringing his hands to his face. Immediately Sonny is by his side, comforting him. He crouches down in front of his chair just like he would do when Frank was a little kid so he could be at eye level with him.
“Oh Frankie, what is it?”
“It’s Jess . . .”
“Uncle Sonny, she’s got the cancer too.”
Sonny gulps. How will Amanda take this news? “Does Amanda know?”
Frankie looks up at his cousin, his face twisting. Oh no, now he’s losing the memory of Amanda, too.
“Uncle Sonny,” he says firmly. “They’re gone. They’re all gone.”
“Who?” His cousin is totally confused. It might as well be 2017.
Frustrated Frankie says, “Frannie. Amanda. And soon, my wife too!”
That seems to jolt Sonny back into the present.
“I’m so sorry,” Sonny says and wraps Frank in a hug, now crying himself. The loss of Amanda is fresh and new to him once again. “We’ve lost them. We’ve lost them all . . .”