The note read…
My Name is Larry. I live at Rosemont Home.
If you find me, please call this number for help.
Sweet Larry didn’t know where he was, but he knew what to do if he ever needed help.
I thought about how easily a guy like him could be taken advantage of and what that would do to his sense of security and trust in people. He was like a child taught not to talk to strangers but challenged by his desire to be polite and obedient.
I memorized the number on the note, not wanting to take his wallet and stress him more than he already was.
“Larry,” I said, “I’ll go inside and call for you. How about I put your cannoli in the fridge while we wait for your ride?”
He looked at the ground, at me, then back at the ground. His puffy fingers, likely swollen from the heat, caressed the small box. The thought of handing them over was obviously causing him distress—the last thing I intended to do. And the weight of having to make such an important decision was burdening him. Frankly, I assumed they were already a pool of melted cream, nuts, and maraschino cherries by now, but I was going to try and save them, nonetheless.
“Cannoli is best kept cold,” I said. “I promise I’ll bring them right back to you.”
Larry paused, extending his hand, then pulling it back as if he was having a tug of war with himself which, in a way, I guess he was.
“Okay,” he said, handing me the box. “Okay, okay, okay,” he repeated while rocking from foot to foot. The repetition was a clear indication he was trying to convince himself it really would be okay.
“I promise I’ll take good care of them, and I’ll make a call and see if we can’t figure out how to get you home. Drink your water and stay right here,” I said. “I’ll be back.”
I would have invited him in. There was nothing menacing or threatening about the man whatsoever, but my house was no cooler than under the shade of the large tree, and Larry was already in a bit of an emotional tizzy being so far from home.
I tucked the box in the fridge, repeating the phone number in my head so I wouldn’t forget it. Then I dialed.
If you can judge a person by their voice, the woman who answered the phone at the Rosemont Home was Mother Teresa or, at the very least, a close relative. Even her hello made me want to jump into her lap and tell her all my troubles. After going through how I encountered Larry and what I believed may have happened, she shared that getting lost wasn’t new for him, but he’d never ended up quite so far away. And Glorioso’s, she told me, was a place he’d been many times. I wanted to explain to her that it can happen to anyone, like going into a mall but forgetting which end you’re at. I didn’t just relate to Larry. I could fully empathize. Navigating is like life. One wrong turn and you can end up in a place you never expected.
I offered to drive Larry back to Rosemont, if that would be easier for them, but the lovely woman insisted that it would be best to send a ride. It was likely a liability issue, and I understood. What the woman didn’t tell me is that they had limited help on weekends, and it might be a while before anyone could come to get him.
On my way out, I grabbed another bottle of water for Larry, half expecting him to be gone. But he was there, obediently waiting under the tree. I was relieved to see that his face had gone from a dark shade of burgundy to a light rose, which was a good indication that he was beginning to come around.
As the afternoon unfolded and I pulled crawling weeds from beneath my elephant hostas, untangled choke vine from my dogwood bush, and scooped out decayed pine needles from my blue spruce bushes, Larry stood under the tree and watched. He told me about his life at the Rosemont home, how he had his own bedroom. He went on to talk about the great food they served and the nice people that took care of him. His enthusiasm was like that of a first grader, unbridled and unrestrained. And his physical energy was evident as he rocked back and forth from foot to foot, stopping only when he talked. Occasionally, I’d hear him murmur to himself…they’ll be here soon. They’ll be here soon. I suspected it was his way of soothing himself as everything that had happened that day was far outside of his comfort zone.
A couple hours later, my enormous garden was fully weeded, and a long line of stuffed lawn bags sat at the curb. When the car sent to pick up Larry finally arrived, I ran inside to retrieve the cannoli. I could hear Larry telling the driver how he’d gotten lost, repeating it over and over like a child telling a story that they, themselves, could hardly believe.
As they pulled away, I waved, but Larry didn’t wave back. His head was down, looking at his lap—likely at the little white box. And when the car disappeared up the block, the full impact of my unexpected day with him hit me, causing emotion to well up inside of me.
A couple weeks passed, the thought of Larry tickling me every so often. I wondered if his cannoli made it, if he would still have the courage to leave the home on his own again, and whether he was really being treated as well as he’d said. But wonder is only wonder if you don’t investigate.
As I walked up the steps to the pink, brick building with the discreet sign out front and the big open porch, I was careful not to squeeze the little white box stuffed with cannoli that I’d picked up from the Italian market. While I was prepared just to drop it off, I hoped to see my friend again. I rang the bell in the modest, mauve and sage green vestibule and was quickly greeted by woman with a face as kind as her voice. I was sure it was her, the woman I’d talked to on the phone. A minute later, Larry was there standing in front of me. His face was no longer red no wrought with worry. And when he saw me, he seemed genuinely excited.
“This nice lady brought you something,” the woman said as I handed Larry the cannoli. “Do you remember her? She asked him.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he said with great enthusiasm, his classic rocking picking up speed. “You’re the lady with the green thumb,” he stuttered. “Green thumb.”
And you’re the guy with the little white box who I got to spend a Sunday afternoon with, I thought to myself. Someone who taught me to slow down every so often and appreciate the beautiful simplicity that exists in life if you open your eyes wide enough to see it.
Author Note: The name of the group home was changed for “liability” purposes.