I am never going to answer another phone call after 11 p.m. at night.
They are never expected, and they almost always have bad — if not horrific — news.
Sunday night was no exception.
About 11:30 p.m., my phone started to ring, waking me up from a deep sleep. I looked at the number and saw it was from the 3-1-3, which is the area code of southeast Michigan or greater Detroit. I took a chance and answered the phone, and the call was devastating.
“Is this Terry Fitzwater?” said the male voice on the other of the line.
“Yes. Who is this?” I responded.
“Dave Posa, Chris Mangiapane’s friend from high school,” he said. “Do you remember me?”
“Of course I remember you,” I said as alarm bells were going off in my head. “How are you Pose? Have you heard from our California pal Chris lately?”
“That’s what I am calling you about Terry. I am afraid I have some bad news. Chris died yesterday.”
Once again, the dreaded late phone call had come down on me like a sledge hammer.
Chris Mangiapane was my college roommate for three years. We grew into young men together, were best of friends in college, and were in each other’s wedding party. He was an all-state wrestler in high school, and he was chiseled like a young Italian Stallion. He had an infectious laugh, an inquisitive mind, and was one of the truly remarkable and most selfless people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. It had been about a year since we last spoke, but I knew he was moving from Orange County in California to San Francisco to take on another computer coding project. He was the most fit person I ever knew, so it didn’t sink in right away that he was actually gone.
“What happened Pose?” is all could muster. Then came the sinister and insidious words that will haunt me the rest of my lifetime.
“He died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease — ALS,” was the frightful answer.
I have always hated that disease, even more so than cancer (which I have had). One of my best friends from high school lost his mother that way, and I watched her die a slow, agonizing death that there is no cure for.
The words were even more devastating than you realize. For my good friend Chris to die of ALS is one of the greatest insults of his life.
I was with him in college when his mother died of ALS. I’ll never forget the night his dad called from St. Clair Shores and I answered the phone. He was crying, and all he could say was, “We lost her.” I had to go get my best friend and tell him his mom had died. It was one of the worst moments of my life.
Then there was Sunday night. For him to die of the same horrifying disease that took his mother is cruel and mean. I need God to explain that one to me so I take some understanding on how He could do that twice to one family.
And as the tears started to flow over the shocking realization of what had happened, Dave Posa had one more zinger for me.
“I was with Chris right up until the end,” Dave Posa said. “All of us guys from elementary school and high school took turns watching and helping him.”
I interrupted him. “Geez, I wish I had known Pose. I would have gone out to see him too. He never told me.”
“Well there is something you should know—that Chris wanted you to know,” he said. “His last words were about you. He asked me to call you and tell you he loved you like a brother and to thank you for your wonderful friendship. He said you always made him laugh. That was the last thing he said before he went into a coma.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how that thought is crashing around me right now. He was one heck of a guy and a great human being.
I love you too Chris, you little MotzaBall. And in the words of the old Irish blessing I taught you way back in the 70s, from one Irishman to one Italian:
May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.