If I were going to write a love story, I wouldn’t set it in the White Mountains. I wouldn’t want one person to have Alzheimer’s. And I wouldn’t let the Doberman die.
I met Rob Epp and Jordan Lassoff, partners of 16 years, this week. It’s their love story. Meeting them left me stunned with sadness and steeped in gratitude that love exists on so many planes.
Jordan is 60. In the past four years he has lost 140 pounds because he has also lost his sense of smell and taste–a sometimes side effect of Alzheimer’s. I was taken by his intense dark eyes. Some questions, he would answer quietly I can’t remember. But he did tell me about his grandfather who emigrated from Russia and was a master baker. Inspired by his grandfather, Jordan went on to open two different restaurants. He also took part in theater productions, singing and dancing. He was a founding member of the Bejing Playhouse. He became a personal trainer. And not in this particular order, after two marriages, he met Rob.
Rob is 44, still showing the fitness that got him through triathlons before life changed. His smile flashes wide and friendly. It’s a killer smile. He says Jordan used to be the talker, and he was the quiet one. Those roles have reversed. They have lived around the world, including a stint in China. It was five years ago and Jordan was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, a rarer faster-progressing version. Jordan’s father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all had it so the diagnosis was not a shock, but it was devastating.
Rob left a job at Microsoft in Seattle and transplanted them both to a newly built house on Squam Lake — known more widely as the locale of the movie On Golden Pond. Rob’s family vacationed there for generations; Jordan’s daughters were on the east coast. It would make their turned-upside-down life more manageable. In On Golden Pond, Henry Fonda played a character living out his last days, railing against the inevitable. Katharine Hepburn was at his side, devastated but unwavering. For now, Jordan and Rob have found a way to live with Alzheimer’s and its complications. Jordan says with a despondent fierceness, I’m dependent on him. Rob says, We’re living a day at a time.
Early in their relationship, Rob began leaving post-it notes hidden throughout the house when he was going away. Written in their own code for I love you (143 representing the number of letters in each word), the notes were a promise of return and devotion. Jordan has saved them all. At the lakeside house, Rob carved 143 in concrete markers at the entry to the driveway. He still leaves the notes and Jordan still saves them. It’s a very short love story, short enough to fit on a post-it.
(The Doberman, their much-loved Luca, died while he was living with them in China.)
Photo: carved heart by Shannon Power