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The Long Road to Independence

"I admired his spunk," she said.

The outings defined their time together. There were more trips to the Mall, where Roger cried out in awe when he saw the elephant in the rotunda at the National Museum of Natural History.

They went for ice cream, visited a pumpkin patch, took in a Junior League Christmas show. They browsed toy stores and Home Depot, shopped for greeting cards at CVS. They strolled through the lobby of the Willard InterContinental hotel, fed birds, smelled flowers, saw waterfalls -- "the stuff of life," as Linda put it.

Roger Butt celebrates Christmas Eve with Linda Tarlow, her husband, Alvin Rosenbaum, and his son, Sam, in Roger's new apartment. The marble game on the table was one of Roger's presents. (Photos Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

Roger's wheelchair would not fit in Linda's car, so they had to take the bus to the Anacostia Metro station. For special trips, such as to Great Falls, she arranged transportation through Metro's transit service for the disabled, then pushed Roger's wheelchair to a good viewing spot.

They attracted a lot of attention. There was Linda, blond and nearly 6 feet tall, and tiny Roger, eager to make friends.

"Roger loves meeting people," Linda said, "especially police officers and guards, anyone in uniform."

Soon, she began to look forward to their Saturday get-togethers as much as he did. Her time with Roger, she said, became "my therapy."

"I realized I was wasting my life working all the time. . . . I think I was the sort of person who did not know how to have fun," she said. "Roger offered me an excuse to forget work, the house, the yard, and just focus on having fun doing things with him."

Less than a year after their first meeting, Linda left the law firm for a job with a government agency, giving her more free time.

She began taking Roger to her home on special occasions, threw him his first birthday party, hung his Christmas stocking in her living room, held an Easter egg hunt in her back yard.

"We decided to be each other's family," she said.

Linda's devotion to Roger did not wane when she met her future husband. Before their wedding in July 2003, she made it clear that Roger was part of the deal.

As they spent more time together, Linda grew skilled at communicating with Roger. She peppered him with queries to see how he felt or what he wanted. He would nod, blink, shake his head or frown to answer. She called it "playing 50 questions."

Sandy Bernstein, a University Legal Services lawyer who represents former Forest Haven residents in a long-standing lawsuit against the District, said Linda was the first to discover "the capabilities of this man."

Yet even Linda did not appreciate all that Roger knew. Once, at a monster-truck show at USAirways Arena, they retreated to a quiet hallway lined with photographs of celebrities. She tossed out five names for each photo to see if he knew them.

"Roger recognized every one: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the sports figures," Linda said.

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