Disclaimer: Jeez, if you think I own ‘em, you’re even crazier than I thought. They belong to folks like Aaron Sorkin, et al, who don’t know I’m playing with their toys. Shhhh, don’t tell.
Rating: call it PG.
Author’s notes: This story explores a relationship that we don’t know much about, but I imagine it plays a very important role in the undercurrents of a relationship that we DO know about We’ve never seen one of these characters, and to underscore that I’ve decided to write this is a slightly different style. Just call me Bram Stoker. Hope you like it.
“Come to Nashua Thursday night.”
“Because that's what sons do for old friends of their fathers.”
Friend of the Father
Human lives are fleeing. At first glance, this seems to be a terrible tragedy. But perhaps not. Perhaps it is the very fragility of life that makes it so precious.
Though a life can disappear, the effect of that life echoes on. In the history of the planet, there has not a single life that has been completely worthless. Every person who has ever lived has left some sort of impression on a friend, a lover, an enemy, a child. The impact of a single being can sweep across generations and indirectly touch people who never knew each other. Usually, this effect is intangible, only noticeable to those who knew the departed.
But sometimes we get lucky.
Sometimes words remain. They need only be collected. Once this is done, the words can stand alone as proof that someone once filled the hollow places in a living heart.
Office of Housing
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.
July 1, 1962
Dear Mr. Noah Lyman:
Thank you for choosing university housing! I know you have many living alternatives during college, but I think you will be pleased with your choice. The activities you participate in here and the friends that you make will undoubtedly enrich your life for years to come.
Your assigned roommate for the fall semester is:
1647 E. Maple
You may want to contact your roommate before the school year begins in order to coordinate the supplies will make life in university housing more comfortable.
Please review the housing agreement enclosed. Sign and return the appropriate sections.
See you in the fall!
John Smith, Director, University Housing.
It’s Sunday evening at about 8. When you get back from visiting your friend at Notre Dame, come over to Jack’s. We’re playing cards. Bring your wallet. After last time, you owe me!
I really don’t know how to say this. I guess the blunt way is best. Here goes.
I’m not going to be able to go to law school with you in the fall like we planned. I’ve enlisted in Navy flight training. I know this is probably crazy. And I know you don’t care for the war. Neither do I. But . . . I feel in my bones that if I didn’t enlist, I’d get drafted into the Army. This way is better. At least I won’t be on the ground.
I’m going to serve my country, Noah. Is that so wrong?
My dear idiot friend
No, dammit. I don’t pretend to understand, but . . .
At least write me.
Dear Mr. Josiah Barlet,
You don’t know me, but I hope you’ve heard of me. My name is Noah Lyman, and I’m a friend of Leo McGarry’s. I know you’re his friend too, so I’m hoping you can help.
I’m writing you to ask if you’ve heard anything from Leo recently. I haven’t received a letter from him in over a month, and I’m getting worried.
A friend of a friend,
Of course I’ve heard of you!
No, I haven’t heard anything from Leo either. I’ve been calling his sisters and mother almost every day to see if they have any news. They’re nearly frantic too. Frankly, I’m getting very worried. It’s not like him to quit writing all of us. I’m just clinging to the knowledge that he’s as tough as a bulldog and wouldn’t go down without a fight.
I’ll write you if I hear anything, and would appreciate it if you would do the same favor for me.
From: Lt. Leo McGarry, US Navy
To: Noah Lyman
Sorry I haven’t written in a while. I was . . . otherwise engaged. But I’m fine, pretty much. I’ll be able to come home soon, at least.
So, Mr. Hot-Shot Lawyer, do you still give free advice?
I’m going to start off this story, as all stories start: there’s this girl, see . . .
No, really! Jennifer. Pretty name, isn’t it? Even prettier girl. So how does an ugly, half-crippled, former flight jockey Mick ask a pretty girl on a date now days?
I’m waiting for your wise response with breathless anticipation.
It’s a girl! We’re going to call her Joanie! She’s 7 pounds, 2 ounces. Come visit!
A boy this time, Leo! A boy! We were thinking Ebenezer . . . no, just kidding. Joshua is a good name, don’t you think? 8 pounds. You’ve got to try this fatherhood thing. There is no other feeling like it in the world, old friend.
I’ve got a daughter! Mallory O’Brian McGarry, 5 pounds 5 ounces. A little small, but she’s doing fine. She’s got red hair and looks nothing like me, thank heavens! Mallory gave Jenny a tough time. It looks like she might be our only one. And I’m going to kill the first boy that looks at her.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t think I was much help on the telephone this afternoon. I was too stunned. Maybe I’ll do better in a letter, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Noah, I’m so sorry. Joanie was so beautiful and talented. That her smiles and her hugs are gone forever seems unbearable to me . . . I can't imagine what you’re going through right now. I don’t have the words to make it better. I can only tell you, from experience, that the sting of death goes away after a time. The ache will always remain, but sweetness will return to your life.
Do you remember the time she was at our house and played that piano piece? I thought it was amazing that she sight-read the music. You thought it was amazing that she could play the piano since she’d never done it before. Or what about when she asked where Josh came from? You went into the whole “your mother and I love each other very much” story. She waited patiently until you were done, and then told you that she just wanted an address so she could write a thank-you letter to whoever brought her little brother. Those are the memories to cling to!
Remember you do have a son! One child remains! If nothing else, remember him. Joanie loved her little brother so much! A part of her lives on in him. If you need some time alone, send Josh to me for a while. Jenny and I will take care of him. Hopefully he’s little enough that he won’t remember any of this.
I love you, my friend. Someday things will be better.
See you soon
I have a favor to ask you. My son (you know, the Fulbright Scholar . . . maybe I haven’t mentioned that to you?) is moving to Washington to get involved in politics. I would have liked him to come to Debevoise & Plimpton with me, but he seems bent on throwing himself on the altar of government. It’s your corrupting influence, I know.
Anyhow, he’s coming to Washington. Keep an eye on him for me, will you? Be there if he needs you, quietly help him along, open doors for him before he even knows what doors he needs to walk through . . .
Josh knows you’re around, and I told him that he can always turn to you if he gets in trouble. If he must be away from us, I feel better knowing that you’re near.
As always, thank you.
Dear Mr. Secretary of Labor,
Congratulations, Leo! I’ve been going around telling all the neighbors that I have a friend in the president’s cabinet. They are thoroughly sick of me, though I’m not quite as bad as when Josh was admitted to Harvard and then to Yale (I told you about that, right?) I feel important. I’m proud of you. Can I stay in the Lincoln bedroom? Kidding, of course.
A citizen of the country you’re serving yet again,
And your friend,
You’re a moron. Jenny just called again, frantic about you. I told her to come and stay with us for a while. You stupid, bullheaded idiot! Don’t you know what you’re doing to your wife and daughter? You’re an alcoholic, Leo, and you know perfectly well what that means. Jenny thinks you’re on drugs too. You work for the president, for crying out loud! What happens when the press finds out? If you don’t clean yourself up, you’re going to lose everything, including me. Do you want that? Get help. Get it now.
Noah asked me to write this letter to you for him. He’s quite weak, but we’re all optimistic that he’ll beat the cancer. He’s back in the hospital for more surgery. Hopefully this time they will get it all.
Even through the pain and the nausea, he’s worried about Josh. He’s also worried about the squirrels that run our house. In his mind, the two problems have the same significance, ha ha. No, in truth he really is concerned for Josh. You know how Noah gets. Josh is working on Senator Hoynes’ campaign, and he’s obviously miserable. When he calls home he tries to brush it off, but it seems to me that this Senator is wasting Josh’s talents.
Maybe you can think of a way to help him. To be honest, if you could get Josh off of this hollow man’s campaign, it would probably be the for best. I know you’re busy, but if you could just talk to my boy I think it would help.
Oh, and if you know any pretty Washington girls, I would like grandchildren someday. Maybe you could give Josh a shove in the right direction?
Sarah (and Noah)
Obviously, you’re not going to get this letter. But you were always a man of faith. Maybe you know what I’m saying. I hope so, because I need you right now.
Josh is hurt. He was shot. He’s in the hospital, maybe dying. Probably dying. He’s going to die.
I’ve done what you asked. I’ve watched Josh for ten years, watched him become a brilliant political operative, watched him fall in love, though he doesn’t know it yet, watched him become a man. I’ve protected him where I could, let him take lumps when I thought it was good for him, but right now I can’t do anything more. I can’t close a hole in his chest or put air in his lungs, for godsake. It’s your turn to watch, Noah.
Oh, my friend, make him live. He’s all I have of you.
Today, as I watched your son yell at the President of the United States in the Oval Office, I could imagine your letter to me:
“Dear Leo” – I could see the words in my head – “I’m worried about my son. Since I’m not there, could you help him?”
Yes, I will.
I’ve been in the same hole he’s in. I’ll get him out. You have my word, old friend. I won’t leave him alone. And as long as I can remember the words that you would say to him, I know you won’t leave him either.
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