I remember the day we met like it was yesterday and can hardly believe how the time—almost half a century now—has flown by. We were just a couple of crazy college kids back then, head over heels in love.

Don’t you remember, Rose? It was our first day of Theater 101: Introduction to Drama as a Collaborative Art when I slid into the empty seat next to you in the back row of the auditorium. Then when the professor shuffled to the podium at the front of the stage and tapped the microphone to begin his lecture, you glanced at me sidewise, all sneaky-like. You scooched over in the opposite direction in your chair like you wanted to make room for me, the notebook perched on your lap moving with your legs.

As soon as you pulled that curtain of long black hair back and tucked it behind one ear so I could see your face, your eyes drew me in like a magnet. I’d never seen that particular shade of green, the color of jade, pale with flecks of gold trapping the light inside. After that, my heart beat like butterfly wings: I couldn’t swallow and I had to wipe my sweaty palms off on my pant legs. I remember turning my head away and pretending to look at an invisible speck of dirt on my shoe after that.

The professor just went on and on and I can’t remember what all he went on about now or even what his name was. Frankly, I’d expected more lively speech from a retired actor. After a while, his lecture just turned into background noise. I might as well of been wearing earmuffs, the way his words sounded so far away that my eyelids drooped and my head began to roll. I stirred in my seat, popped my eyes open, and grabbed a blank piece of paper out of my knapsack to pass you a note. On the top of the page I wrote in blue ink, “What’s your name?” Then I tore the triangle of paper off and shoved it over to you.

Don’t you remember that, Rose?

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw you bow your head and the ends of your lips curl into a smile. Then I heard the scritch scratch of your pencil on the paper.

You handed the torn edge of paper over to me and I was surprised when it said “Kenneth” in big cursive letters with extra loops for the “K” and the “h.” You also put a curved line underneath it with two cross-hatches in the middle, all fancy-like.

At the time, I didn’t believe that was your real name. I thought that was the name you were giving out to all the boys who flirted with you that you wouldn’t give a second look to. “Pretty,” I wrote back anyway. I meant your name, but you too. Your name was—still is—pretty on you. Any which way you wanted to think of what I put down was fine by me.

Then, when we finally went on our first date, you told me how you came by your name and how it was the name given to you at birth. You explained how your parents picked it out way before you was born. “I always thought they wanted a boy, but they said no; they already had my brother and they just loved the name Kenneth for a girl,” was what you said.

You always wanted to be called by your full name, though you were always Rose to me. A red rose. My red rose. We built a lifetime together, one that I’m trying to help you to put the pieces together of now. But it’s like trying to make a tissue-paper mosaic, one color overlaying the other, a blurry lens, filmy, flimsy, and your eyes, though still as beautiful as ever with their green-gold flecks, have lost their glow. Your hair is still as thick and long and shiny as ever, though it hasn’t been dark for ages. I like it the way it is now, white and light flowing down your back like a horse’s mane.

The doc said you have dementia but it’s still low on the spectrum. A spectrum’s like a prism reflecting a rainbow, Rose. ROY G. BIV—Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet—like we learned in school. But now scientists are sayin’ to leave the color indigo out because you can’t see it with the naked eye. First they get rid of Pluto, the ninth planet. Now this. What will they think of next?

Here, easy now. Let me wheel you over to the bed and get you settled in for your nap. Sheila’s coming over to read you a bedtime story. Then later, when you wake up, I’ll take you to your arts and crafts class. I know you can’t help it, but Sheila’s feelings get so hurt when you don’t recognize her. She’s such a good girl and you raised her right. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for you. Remember when she played softball in high school and we followed her around to every game? Remember that, Rose? She’s still that same firecracker today that she was back then. Just like her mama. Her junior year she got that trophy for Rookie of the Year. Wasn’t that somethin’ else? Just imagine: our daughter, a softball star!

Easy now. Lay your head on the pillow and slip your legs under the sheets. I’ll pull the blanket up and tuck you in nice and tight. What is it, Rose? Oh, you can do that all by yourself? Okay. Sorry about that. My mistake.

Oh look, here’s the storybook on the nightstand already. It’s that one you love: The Princess and the Pea. I’ll shut the door behind me on my way out. Have a good sleep now, okay, Rose?