Alumni Arts Review: Volume II Excerpts
The writing and art here originally appeared in Doorway, Volume II of the F&M Alumni Arts Review, which showcases outstanding literary and visual work by F&M alumni. To see works by other alumni and learn more about the publication, visit fandm.edu/alumni-arts-review.
Our daily history, its waking light on one especial leaf
Frances Wolf ’96
The Night Visitor
By Tom Lashnits ’71
I saw my old friend Phil last night.
I was sitting in my office, looking out to the main room through a glass wall. Someone had pasted a notice on the glass, and I stood up to see what it might be. As I circled my desk, Phil appeared in the doorway, tall and thin with bushy black hair and his big familiar smile.
He came into my office as though nothing had happened. He was walking a little funny, but gave his usual throaty laugh.
“Phil!” I said in astonishment. “You’re here!”
“Yeah, I was visiting some people down the hall,” he said. “So I thought I’d come by and say hello.”
He had some papers tucked under one arm. As he set them down on my desk, I noticed he was using crutches. They were metal, the kind that go halfway up your forearms.
His gaze followed mine down to his arms and legs. Then he gave me a sly grin. “Yeah, I recovered,” he said. “I’m okay…all except my legs. They don’t work too well, so I have to use crutches.”
I still couldn’t believe Phil was in my office. But his laugh was real. The papers he’d dropped on my desk were covered in what looked like Chinese characters. I pointed at them, trying to regain my composure. “So what are these papers?”
“I’ve got to hand these out to some people.” Realizing I was puzzled by the strange lettering, he said, “I’ve been doing a lot of traveling.”
“That’s good,” I nodded. “Where to?”
“I’ve got to get going.” Ignoring my question, he picked up the papers. As he turned to leave, he dropped one of his crutches, but kept right on going out the door. I bent over and picked up the crutch. It was cold in my hand.
Phil peeked back in the room. “Oops, forgot my crutch,” he chuckled.
I handed it to him. He slipped it onto his arm, then turned and hobbled out. “Good to see you, man,” he called back as he disappeared down the hall.
About ten years ago, Phil offered to treat me to lunch. He’d taken early retirement from our company, but he lived nearby and often dropped over to see old friends. My office was near the front of the building, so when he pulled up in his Corvette and honked, I threw on my jacket, went out the door and slid into the front seat.
I noticed, as he drove, that he handled the steering wheel in a funny way. His fingers were bent over. I wondered if something was wrong, but he was talking and joking, the same old Phil. How could anything be wrong?
Across the lunch table, again things seemed awkward—was something the matter with his hands? I decided he should be the one to bring it up if he wanted to. I searched his eyes, trying to offer a non-verbal signal that it was okay to tell me if something was wrong. But his conversation, his attitude, his demeanor all indicated everything was normal.
After lunch, Phil dropped me back at work, laughing and joking as usual. We’d had a good time. “So long,” I said as I closed his car door.
“Bye bye,” he called.
The next day I heard the news. The whole office was buzzing. After our lunch, Phil had gone home, written a note to his wife and daughter, gulped down a bottle of pills, laid down on a bed, and died. He’d commited suicide.
Why? What happened? Everyone wanted to know.
Phil had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He’d been hiding it from everyone except his family. It’s a progressive, fatal disease. No cure.
No way out. We could only guess what might have gone through his mind: he didn’t want to be the object of sympathy, didn’t want to become a burden, didn’t want to subject himself to the indignities of inevitable decline.
So he’d ended it on his own terms.
Phil, I don’t know if you did the right thing. Who am I to judge? All I know is that it’s been ten years, and I still miss you.
But thanks. Thanks for coming to my door last night in my dreams.
Paul H. Ripple ’43
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