He loved old movies. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Deanna Durbin–he watched them all. Musicals, though, were his favorites. When the orchestra swelled and a smiling cast broke into song, he swayed and clapped along, a large grin wreathing his round face. These high energy songs kept him sunny and calm.
Ballads were another story. The plaintive notes and throbbing sincerity always made him cry. Yet even when tears fell down his cheeks and silent sobs shook his shoulders, he’d stop me from fast forwarding past the scene, preferring the raw emotions that were woven into every note to the bliss of ignorance.
Judy Garland was a particular favorite of his, though surprisingly he favored the lively group song “The Trolley” from  “Meet me in St. Louis” where Garland’s rich vibrato trills her feelings for the new boy in town. Throughout the song he’d sit in rapt attention, intently watching every nuance of her expression.
“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.
Ding, ding, ding went the bell.
Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings.
From the moment I saw him I fell.”
At the chorus he’d squeal and wave his arms as if he were directing the entire cast.
For years I sang these four lines to him every night as I bounced him on my hip. As he grew, I’d perch on the edge of his bed and he’d bounce along to the rhythm. All those years I sang to him and he never once sang back. In fact, he never said anything. The doctors said there was nothing wrong physiologically, and I’d hoped one day he’d wake up and break into song, much like a character in one of his musicals, but he never did.
I often wondered if he loved me. Oh, I guess I knew he did. He was my movie buddy and he never watched Casablanca without me. He knew it was my favorite and that I cried at the end. Every time. And every time he had a box of Kleenex waiting for me when the inevitable happened. I knew he loved me, yet I longed to hear him say it.
After my husband died, it became more and more difficult to care for my boy by myself. One day he fell and I couldn’t lift him. I had to call the ambulance and they took him away to the hospital to be checked. It was there I met Christine. She was his nurse and told me about a home for special adults like my boy. I was reluctant to send him away but after he was discharged, we visited the home together. It was impossible to ignore how animated he became surrounded by the other residents. He had found his home.
A month later, I moved him into his new room at the home and stayed with him all day. We made his bed and  set up his movie collection. We ate lunch with the other residents, played some games during rec time and soon it was time for me to leave. I walked him back to his room, and he became very agitated, pacing up and down his room. He went to his movie collection and pulled out “Meet me in St. Louis.”
“It’s too late to watch a movie,”I said gently, trying to put the movie back. He shook his head and pounded his fists against his temples.
“Show me. What do you want?”
He took the box and turned it over. Finding a picture of a trolley, he pointed and squealed, his excitement evident. He wanted me to sing.
Taking his hand in mine, I led him to his bed and we sat. I cleared my throat and swallowed hard, knowing this would most likely be one of the last times I every sang to him. He looked at me with such innocent expectation, I knew I couldn’t left him down. I launched into the first verse and sang with gusto. He bounced and clapped along, his movements becoming more frenzied the closer I came to the chorus.
“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley.
Ding, ding, ding went the bell.
Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings.
From the moment I saw you I fell.”
He leaned back on his bed, his eyes drooping and a small smile on his face. Pushing back a lock of his hair, I kissed his forehead. “Love you, my boy.”
He snatched my hand and kissed it. “Zing,” he said.
And I knew.


©Sara Ackerman, 2016

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