It's Time To Make Plans


Onie Grosshans 


© Copyright 2014 by Onie Grosshans


Photo of EMTs loading an ambulance.

The last day of Phil’s life Vivian watched from the edge of the darken driveway as Phil settled his overweight, six-foot frame behind the wheel of his SUV. She heard the engine rev up, saw the headlights flash on, but the SUV didn’t move. It was a cold March night and neither Vivian’s sweater nor her fuzzy slippers were meant for being outside very long.

Just as Vivian decided to check on Phil, the window of the SUV rolled down and the glow from the porch light lit up the strange look on Phil’s face. “It’s time for us to make plans of our own,” he said with a determined smile. Then, blowing Vivian a kiss, the window rolled up and Phil drove into the night. Vivian hugged herself to control the shivering until Phil’s tail lights disappeared around the corner.


Vivian believed Phil’s death was linked to a jarring face-forward fall he had taken while hiking several weeks earlier. After the mishap Phil complained of headaches and even though Vivian thought it a good idea to see a doctor—Phil never did. In her grief Vivian’s emotions ranged from distraught (“Everyone I’ve ever loved has died”) to remorse, (“If only I had insisted Phil see a doctor,”) to guilt (“I should never have pressured Phil to marry me.”)

I empathized with Vivian’s despair, but I was surprised by my own reactions to the death of a long-time colleague. In our three decades-long professional association, I can’t remember Phil and me ever sharing a personal moment. We were collegial friends. Our socializing occurred at faculty parties. We never met each other for coffee on weekends or a drink after work. We had different professional interests, different friends and different lifestyles. Yet, in the most profound moment one could imagine—I was the one who found Phil lying lifeless on his office floor. I didn’t experience Vivian’s intense sense of loss, instead I felt an over-all numbness and a feeling of unease when on campus—a place that had previously been as comfy as a pair of old jeans.

The events of that Monday evening are seared in my mind like a brand on a young calf. It was supposed to be an easy night with my graduate class. After introducing Terry, a former student who now directed disease surveillance programs for the County Health Department, I intended to sit back and enjoy her presentation which always included the interesting behind-the-scene details of recent outbreaks. Terry had just started talking, when she realized she didn’t bring along enough small calculators so all the students could participate in the statistical analyses of her examples. I offered to get one from my office and when I unlocked the door to the main area, I noticed light coming from Phil’s doorway—maybe another calculator.

Hey Phil,” I called out as I headed in his direction, “Can I borrow …,” but I stopped in my tracks when I reached his doorway. At first I thought how ridiculous Phil looked—sprawled on the floor in front of his desk as though taking a nap. The incongruity of the scene sidetracked me for a moment before I realized something was terribly wrong. Phil’s eyeglasses were slightly off-centered on his nose, both hands were near the open-collared shirt, his graying hair barely mussed; even his unbuttoned blazer looked as though he carefully put himself down on the floor so as not to cause an unwanted wrinkle. My first thought was to cry out for help—but who would hear me? Faculty and staff had gone home long ago. I knelt beside Phil, talking to him as though he could hear me.

What happened here guy?  Did you faint and knock yourself out?”

Kneeling beside his motionless body, I gently nudged his shoulder. “Phil, Phil can you hear me?” I shook his shoulder more forcefully—no response. I pressed two fingers against his carotid artery, hesitantly at first because it was the first time I had ever touched Phil, and even in this peculiar moment, it seemed strange to do so. His skin felt warm, but I couldn’t detect a pulse. I pressed my own carotid artery to get a sense of where to push and tried again—nothing. Grabbing Phil’s desk phone I dialed 911.

As a teaching assistant many years ago, I taught innumerable first aid classes, but never had a reason to use my CPR skills until now. It wasn’t a complicated procedure, but it did require good technique. I turned Phil on his back, and with one hand on top of the other, elbows locked, I tried to exert enough pressure on his thick chest cavity to jump-start his heart. In the mindless repetition of that effort, I glanced at the darkness outside of Phil’s single window; a harsh contrast to the glare of the overhead fluorescent lights. It felt eerie—just Phil and me in the night—with me thumping on his chest.

I remembered my students—many of whom had taken classes from Phil—waiting for their calculators. I needed to tell Terry what was happening, but I couldn’t leave Phil. She would just have to go it alone for now.

It seemed forever, but within minutes I heard footsteps coming up the wooden stairwell. I jumped up to unlock the outer door not realizing Campus Security had master keys to everything. A man in a uniform, gun on his hip, walked in, and seeing Phil on the floor, asked, “Who is he?”

It’s Philip Hayes,” I said, “Dr. Phillip Hayes. He’s my colleague, and I think he has had a heart attack.”

By now two EMTs walked through the door carrying black bags, followed by another pair, both women, one toting an over-sized aluminum briefcase. Two more EMTs arrived with a stretcher. The professor in me wondered if any of them had been students in the department’s emergency program, or had taken classes from Phil.

There was no room for me in Phil’s office, even if the EMTs had allowed it, so I stood to the side of the door and listened. I could hear calm voices quickly going through a series of procedures then the bumping sounds of furniture being moved aside, books falling to the floor, and then the startling sharp pops of the defibrillator. I backed away from the doorway, not wanting to catch a glimpse of Phil and maybe have this be my last memory of him.

The Campus Security office standing behind me, asked if I was okay.

Yes,” I said, “I’m fine. Thanks,” but the truth was I felt as though I was in a poltergeist movie with spirits coming into the room and taking charge.

Is Dr. Hayes married?”

“Yes,” I said, “But I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know his wife’s name.”

I knew Phil’s first wife, but the surprise second wife was a peculiar woman. The only time Phil brought her to a faculty social the mismatch was obvious, and Phil never brought her to another faculty gathering.

Not a problem,” the Security Officer said, “I can get that information from the campus operator.”

The defibrillator stopped popping. The EMTs talked in lower tones and then one of the women emerged carrying the aluminum case and headed towards the exit. More shuffling inside Phil’s office, more books and papers hitting the floor, and then two EMTs carried a stretcher into the office and within minutes Phil, covered completely with a blanket, was maneuvered out of the small office and down the stairs. The campus security officer led the way. Fortunately it would be a five-minute ambulance ride to the emergency room at University Hospital.

Knowing it was against policy for an EMT to diagnose life or death, I asked the remaining young woman, who looked like many of my own students, if Phil had resumed breathing. She may have been young, but she knew what I was really asking. As we stood in silence, I guessed the answer from her grim expression, but waited for her to decide how best to answer me. She stared at me a moment longer, said nothing but slowly shook her head no.

As quickly as these EMTs had converged in Phil’s office, they were gone within minutes of each other.

I was aware of the ticking of the clock on the far wall—a sound impossible to hear during the day with students and faculty moving about. Taking deep breaths to collect my thoughts, I remembered Terry. I didn’t want to tell Terry—or my students—the details of what had just happened, nor could I sit through the remainder of the class. Standing in the doorway, I motioned Terry to meet me in the hall.

I have to deal with an emergency,” I said, “Would you please finish your lesson and then dismiss the class. I’ll call you tomorrow to explain.”

Returning to the department’s central area, I walked into Phil’s office and surveyed the chaos. He wasn’t a neat freak by any means, but even Phil would have been dismayed by the scene. Stacks of assignments lay haphazardly across his desk and scattered about on the floor, several books had toppled over, their crumpled pages bent sideways. A photo of Phil’s son was wedged between the back of his desk and the wall; a small table rammed into a bookshelf causing more textbooks to fall to the floor—a few with their spines flattened by the paramedics’ boots as they maneuvered for position in the small space. A wood-grained stapler lay on its side against a table leg (Phil didn’t want a simple black stapler when he requested a replacement—it had to have style), and ripped covers of sterile pads were strewn everywhere. Phil’s chair was pushed against a larger table, and underneath it were his wire-framed glasses. I moved about the room, replacing and re-stacking. It didn’t seem right to leave Phil’s office in such a mess. I noticed the agenda for next week’s faculty meeting had landed face up on the floor—none of us looked forward to these mandatory meetings, and even though I was no longer department chair, I had the same lowly opinion of them as Phil. As I replaced the books, many dealing with some aspect of health services, I noticed the title, The Organization and Administration of Emergency Care Services. I wondered how Phil might assess his experiences with the service he received this evening. Purposefully leaving Phil’s eye glasses until the last, I moved his chair so the rollers wouldn’t damage the lenses and carefully picked them up. I folded the arms of the frames inward, and centered them in the middle of Phil’s desk. Standing in the doorway, I gave Phil’s office a final glance, shut off the lights, and pulled the door closed.

Returning to my own office, I sat in the dark for several minutes before clicking on the desk light. I tried to think who needed to know what happened this evening. The easiest decision was to call Frank, the current department chair. He had connections at the hospital so he would be able to officially confirm Phil status—and tell the faculty and staff about it in the morning. It was after 9:00 pm, but thankfully Frank picked up after the second ring. I described what happened and as expected, Frank said, “I’ll check it out.”

My thoughts turned to Vivian Taylor. We had our own bumpy history. When hired a dozen years earlier we worked together easily, but there were a few inane issues that arose before I had more serious concerns about her. Vivien dyed her hair—not an unusual behavior—but denying she did it seemed pretentious. As department chair I had access to personal data, such as birth dates—and when I discovered she’d lopped a decade off her real age that seemed blatantly deceptive. Nonetheless it was her personal life—so be it. What did bother me was being embarrassed when Vivian “came on to” a married colleague I had just introduced her to at a professional social. “Do you know if he is happily married?” she asked as her eyes followed the man across the room. Most troubling, though, was Vivian’s subtle manipulation of students. She was a competent teacher who didn’t need to resort to such underhanded methods, but it was as if Vivian enjoyed undermining some of her colleagues.

Dr. Neil Adamson didn’t possess the ease and naturalness that Vivian had with her students, but that didn’t stop him from questioning why Vivian continually received the student-selected “Best Teacher” honor at the spring luncheons. At first I thought it sour grapes on Neil’s part until the day I overheard Vivian asking an undergraduate student, “What’s it like to sit through Dr. Adamson’s class?”

He’s not like you Dr. Taylor, he’s very boring,” the young man said.

Vivian laughed, and said, “That’s what I hear from a lot of his students.”

I talked to Vivian about her unprofessional behavior, but she was adamant I had taken the comment out of context. I knew I hadn’t.

I didn’t know what more to do beyond bringing it to Vivian’s attention and asking her to stop. Her denials would make it tough to pursue through any university channels, and the fact that Vivian spoke behind my back would give the cause a revenge tone. Vivian didn’t complain about teaching loads, pitched in to help with extracurricular activities, and generally was a productive faculty member. In time we became friendly away from work. I had heard a rumor she was dating Phil, but Vivian didn’t say anything about it until one afternoon, over a glass of wine, she revealed their relationship—and that other faculty didn’t know about it and she wanted to keep it that way. I knew Phil’s first marriage ended in an acrimonious, expensive divorce and that Vivian’s husband died in a tragic car accident about a decade before she joined our department, leaving her with two small children.

These bits of information flew through my mind as I sat in my office contemplating what to do next. For a brief moment I was tempted to go home and let Vivian find out about Phil in the morning along with the rest of the faculty. I gathered up my things, put my coat on and standing in my doorway ready to turn off the light, knew I had to call Vivian. If she didn’t answer then the issue was settled.

Sorry to call so late,” I said when she picked up on the fourth ring, “but I thought you should know Phil passed out in his office earlier this evening. The EMTs have taken him to University Hospital.”

What do you think is wrong with him?”

I hesitated, “I’m not sure. The EMTs wouldn’t tell me anything.”

Do you think I should come to the hospital?”

It’s probably a good idea. I’m still on campus so let’s meet in the parking lot out front and I’ll go with you.”

Walking to my car in the cold March night, my breath visible with each exhalation, I looked up at a clear, star-studded sky. Across the valley, the city lights shimmered in the distance like diamonds reflected in candlelight. I thought how incongruous that on this beautiful evening something dreadful happened. Phil probably died sometime after sunset.

When Vivian pulled into the parking lot I had her follow me to the hospital. We parked next to each other and walked quickly into the Emergency Room. I approached the main desk while Vivian stood several feet behind me.

Is it possible to see Philip Hayes?” I asked, “he would have been admitted about half an hour ago.”

Susie, according to her name tag, looked at a list in front of her and then asked, “Are you family?”

No,” I said with a sense of urgency in my voice, “But I’m the colleague who found him.”

Susie’s face remained expressionless, but in a soft whisper, she said, “Please take a seat and I’ll get back to you in a few minutes.”

We found chairs on the near side of the waiting room, and once seated, Vivian asked for the details of the past hour. I told her about finding Phil in front of his desk, calling 911, the arrival of the EMTs, and then I skipped to Phil being carried out on a stretcher to the ambulance. I did say Campus Security called Phil’s wife because I didn’t know her name or phone number.

It’s Sheila,” Vivian said in voice tinged with sarcasm, “Or as she prefers it, Mrs. Hayes.”

Sheila and Vivian knew each other from their early years in the counseling profession. That was a long time ago and their paths had never crossed until Phil became the common denominator between the two women. Realizing the Emergency Room was not the time or place for a possible confrontation, I suggested to Vivian that we move to seats farther away from the main entrance.

Probably a good idea,” Vivian said, “Sheila knows Phil has been spending time with me.”

Within minutes a tall, older-looking female, with heavy eye mascara and bleached white-blonde hair rushed through the entrance, trailed by two younger women. I wasn’t sure since my one meeting was over a year ago so I gave Vivian a questioning look. She nodded yes, and whispered, “The two girls are from one of Sheila’s earlier marriages.” I could hear Sheila say to Susie, “I’m Dr. Hayes’ wife.” Almost immediately a nurse appeared and opened the door to the treatment area. The three women, with their backs to us, rushed inside. I hurried after them and caught the eye of the nurse before the door closed.

Please, can you tell me …?”

Again the question “Are you family?”

No, I’m the colleague who found Dr. Hayes and I need to know if he made it.”

He turned to follow the family, then stopped, took a step towards me and mouthed the words, “He’s dead.”

Oh god, I thought, the miracle I had hoped for didn’t happen. I turned and walked back to where Vivian stood, her eyes squeezed shut, hands clasped under her chin, fervently praying, “Please God, please God, please God.” I put an arm around her shoulder.

Phil died.”

Vivian gasped and collapsed to her knees, her head slowly leaning forward until it touched the carpet as she sobbed uncontrollably. As I knelt beside Vivian it occurred to me I was on my knees for the second time this evening. I also realized Vivian may have had a similar reaction in tomorrow’s faculty meeting, so it was a good thing I called her instead of going home. After a few minutes Vivian’s sobbing eased. I helped her to a chair and handed her all the Kleenex I could find in my pockets.

Do you want to go home,” I asked as she wiped her eyes, “or would you rather go to the Pitcairn for a glass of wine?”

I’d just go home to an empty house and stare at the walls. Let’s go to the hotel,” she said.

The bar at the Pitcairn Hotel, on the south edge of campus, was a convenient and popular gathering place for faculty and staff to celebrate the end of a work week. We opted for a table away from the few customers in the place. Vivian sat with her back to the room to hide her tears, and I listened as she tried to come to grips with the night’s tragedy. Her reminiscences about Phil wandered randomly from her immediate attraction to Phil, to their first dates, to the fateful two years when Vivian stubbornly refused to speak to Phil because he wouldn’t agree to marry her. It was painful to see the despair in Vivian’s eyes as she kept asking, “What do I do now?” “What do I do now?”

I had no answer.

As I watched Vivian struggle with Phil’s sudden death, I, too, was staggered by the realization that Phil wouldn’t be in his office tomorrow—or ever again. I thought of my own history with Phil. As different as we were, we shared the same reluctance—or inability—to talk about ourselves with others; yet we worked together for three decades without difficulty, with the exception of one early episode caused by his contentious divorce.


Phil and I moved to Utah in the early 1970s. When Phil arrived on the scene, he worked as a mid-level administrator in a local hospital and spent his free time skiing in winters, hiking in summers, and enjoying life as a single man. In time Phil became friends with several faculty men in the College of Health Science, which in turn led to his becoming a frequent guest speaker in their classes. An unexpected resignation in late spring, a year before I arrived set the stage for Phil to become a full-time faculty member.

Tall and trim with the dark features of a brooding male in a Bronte novel, Phil cut an imposing figure with his meticulous grooming and stylish wardrobe. His thick black hair had to have been clipped on a regular schedule—how else to explain that it never seemed to grow. Fashion dictated Phil’s choice of black-framed eye glasses, but he was probably aware that they also obscured his dark eyes—making it difficult to read his reactions. Phil’s wardrobe was coordinated from head to toe; highly polished leather shoes with matching dress socks, sharply pleated trousers, and starched white shirts set off by subdued ties and tasteful blazers. Add a stylish fedora with a small feather tucked in the band and, on rainy days, a belted trench coat and a wooden-handled umbrella, Phil looked every inch like a misplaced Ivy League professor as he strode across our Western campus.

While Phil was an expert in his field of health services, he wasn’t a great teacher. All too often Phil would mark the letter grade on the first page of assigned papers with no explanation as to how he reached his decision. Some students claimed he didn’t read their assignments because there were no crease marks at the staple to indicate a turned page. Phil’s tests were continually problematic. Students complained the material hadn’t been discussed in class or that it was intended for future tests or wasn’t covered in their textbook.

Phil did appeal to a small number of serious, independent-thinking students who weren’t intimidated by his formal classroom demeanor. They recognized Phil’s expertise, seemed to look past his shortcomings, and often engaged him in lively conversations. Eventually I realized it wasn’t that Phil didn’t care about all of his students; he just didn’t know what to do with those who had no interest in his subject matter. At annual performance review meetings, when we talked about his below-average student evaluations, Phil’s typical reaction was to shrug as though he had no control over what dissatisfied students thought of him. To his credit, he did try to improve his teaching skills, but real progress eluded Phil—until the advent of the computer. Appreciating its efficiency and convenience, Phil re-organized lectures, re-scrambled test questions, and re-placed handwritten overheads with power point presentations, sparing his students from his illegible handwriting.

During my first year on campus our offices stood directly across a narrow hallway from each other. If we were both seated at our desks at the same time, Phil would close his door just enough so that he could not be seen by me or others walking by. Small talk made Phil uncomfortable, but he opened up when conversations centered on sports, especially baseball, and in particular the Boston Red Sox. His upstate New York roots contributed to Phil’s formality and explained his being an avid fan of the Red Sox rather than his home state Yankees. Over the years Phil’s reputation for using sport analogies such as “drafting the number one pick” or selecting the “top draft choice” when considering new faculty or graduate students, became legend. It was our mutual interest in baseball that eased the way for the two of us to have casual hall talk.

One fall day Phil seated himself next to my desk and in a matter-of-fact tone said, “Just in case you are wondering why I haven’t asked you out, it’s because ethically it could have potential negative consequences on our working relationship.” Obviously Phil didn’t know I had no interest in dating men—although I was still evolving in that alternative world so there was no reason for him to have known what I was still figuring out—but I assured Phil it wasn’t a problem. He seemed relieved.

I was puzzled by why Phil had said anything at all. We were the only single faculty members in our small department of married men at that time so perhaps he felt obligated to explain his non-interest in me. Whatever the reason, I did question Phil’s ethics when I discovered he dated his graduate students, and in fact, married one of them; Maggie. The marriage was never announced. I learned of it in the fall when the secretary changed Maggie’s last name on her graduate file to Hayes.

Secrecy didn’t seem to be an issue when, during lunch at a faculty retreat, Phil proudly announced he would be a father. Everyone congratulated him, but Bill, one of our colleagues and the father of two young children, couldn’t stop laughing. Later on as Bill and I returned to our offices, I asked what’s so funny about Phil’s announcement.

He’s forty years old, fastidious, set in his ways,” Bill said in a serious voice, “Phil’s whole world is going to turn upside down, and he doesn’t know it.”

Bill was right.

Given that Phil had always kept a low profile in the department, the outward signs of change emerged slowly; his svelte appearance morphed into a bulging waistline, coiffed black hair turned gray and straggled over shirt collars, wrinkled cotton pants replaced crisp-pleated slacks, black striped athletic shoes replaced leather loafers, polo shirts replaced starched dress shirts, and blazers gave way to bulky sweaters. Blurring the situation even more was Phil’s pattern of avoiding students and many colleagues. He rarely appeared on campus mid-day when most students wandered the halls to talk with instructors; instead, Phil arrived in late afternoons, entered the building opposite the main entrance to avoid being seen and walked quickly to his office.

In the summer of my first year as department chair, but my fifteenth year on faculty, I was confronted with a difficult situation involving Phil. His summer school students were in an uproar; major written assignments had not been returned to them, the third test scores weren’t posted, and the students were anxious about their final grades. I tried calling Phil at home, but his phone was disconnected. Thinking he left early for his sabbatical to attend the University of Denver, I called the contact number on his application form. “No one by that name is here” was the response. I talked to other faculty, asking if they knew the whereabouts of Phil—no one did. It was awkward to admit to the angry students that I couldn’t find their professor.

In late September I had a fortuitous conversation with Henry, a colleague in another department. After the meeting Henry mentioned Phil called him from California earlier in the week. Calmly pulling out my appointment book I asked, “Would you mind if I verified Phil’s phone and address? I think my secretary transposed a few numbers.”

The following morning I called Phil in San Francisco. Not wasting time on pleasantries, I asked about the missing assignments and baffling final grades. Phil had no interest in trying to resolve the problem, and curtly ended the conversation with, “Please don’t bother me again while I’m on sabbatical.”

Phil’s refusal to clean up his summer school mess—as well as his rude behavior made me angry. Later that day I composed a letter pinpointing my concerns, and concluding by saying that if he did not address the issues, I would take steps to have his sabbatical revoked. Quite frankly I had no idea whether I could revoke a sabbatical or not, but I didn’t have to find out. Phil’s single line, handwritten response on two yellow pad pages arrived a week later, but it was of little help. Phil said he changed his sabbatical plans in mid-summer and didn’t tell anyone but a few friends. As for the lost assignments and the final tests, they were misplaced in the last minute move to the West Coast. His solution—I should change the grades to please the upset students. What Phil didn’t say was that Maggie filed for a divorce.

After the fact I learned the costly legal proceedings dragged on for two years with the acrimonious battle creating bitter feelings on both sides. The most painful battle was over Phil’s access to his son. Maggie not only wanted to restrict his time with their child, but she wanted her maiden name to become their son’s surname. Eventually the legal battle ended. Phil had visitation rights but I never learned the outcome of the surname dispute.

Vivian was hired during Phil’s sabbatical year, so she knew Phil by name, but not by appearance. They met when Vivian saw Phil’s office door open, peered in and saw Phil at his desk. Standing in the doorway she introduced herself, and as Vivian remembers it, Phil returned her greeting, but seemed distracted so she made small talk for a few minutes before moving on.


For a small faculty we seldom agreed on most matters; how to evaluate faculty workload, how many office hours per week should faculty commit to, how many graduate committees to chair, and so on. Dennis, the former department chair, assured me of his cooperation when I became chair—that helpfulness lasted until the first time I voted against him in a faculty meeting. At that point he became my nemesis.

Carolyn, recently tenured, confessed she didn’t like her job but liked the security so she continually sought ways to get released time from her teaching. Marilyn used her university computer and printer to prepare Sunday school lessons for her church. Elliott insisted his lunches with female graduate students were harmless, but agreed to give them up when several of the women complained about feeling forced to accept his invitations. “Princess LaLa” saw nothing wrong with dismissing her classes on a frequent basis, always with the explanation, “I asked my graduate student to take over—didn’t she show up?” With the divorce debacle behind us, Phil and I were in agreement with most of the issues discussed in faculty meetings. When I needed a vote in an upcoming meeting, I would try to explain my reasons to Phil, but with an abrupt wave of his hand, he’d say, “If you need my vote you’ve got it. I don’t need to hear the details.”

That didn’t mean that I, as well as other colleagues, didn’t find Phil’s behavior maddening during faculty meetings. Typically, he’d pushed his chair back from the conference table, bow his head just enough to lean his chin on his intertwined fingers, and close his eyes. It was easy to assume Phil was bored with it all. Whenever a vote was called for, and I hadn’t asked for his support, Phil frequently opted to abstain—frustrating both sides of the debate. One session we had a hotly debated discussion about accepting a questionable graduate applicant, whom Dennis spoke in favor of. It was a close vote, but Phil, who had not entered into any of the discussion, voted no. Dennis pointedly asked Phil to explain his vote. I expected Phil to refuse to answer, but instead Phil unfolded his fingers, leaned forward, placed his elbows on the conference table, and looking directly at Dennis said, “It’s simple, the candidate is not qualified.”

Another incident occurred late one winter afternoon about eight years into my tenure as department chair. I looked up from my paperwork to see Phil standing in the doorway. There was no greeting, instead Phil said, “I want you to know I have just come from a meeting with Dennis. He wanted to submit my name to the Dean to replace you as department chair. I told Dennis and I’m telling you, I want no part of it.”

Without waiting for my response, Phil turned and walked into his office and shut the door. Nothing Dennis did was surprising, but Phil’s refusal to be a partner in this most recent plot of inane office politics made me smile.

Despite our easy professional relationship over the years, Phil and I never discussed our private lives. I did ask about his son because sometimes Phil would bring him to campus on Saturday mornings, when I would be working in my office. However, I never asked how things were going in his life, nor did I ever tell Phil about my comings and goings. I assumed Phil probably knew about my lifestyle, and I also assumed it didn’t matter to him.

As with his first marriage, the details surrounding Phil’s second wedding to Sheila leaked out after the fact. Thanks to Elliott, I knew Phil and Vivian were dating several months before Vivian told me. However, it was during a weekend trip with friends to Vivian’s cabin that I learned the details of this relationship. After a day of snowshoeing, we returned to the cabin, had a great dinner and then settled around a roaring fire and shared several bottles of wine. Casual talk turned to personal escapades, and soon several of the women regaled us with their adventures. It was Vivian’s story, however, that captivated the group.

She had married her husband Peter during their senior year in college. It took that long, Vivian laughed, to get Peter away from her older sister. They had two children, so Vivian stayed home until their daughters were in school, then she took a teaching job in a nearby high school. One spring afternoon, about 15 years into the marriage, a policeman came to the door and informed Vivian that Peter had died in a car crash. The unexpected horror of it all threw Vivian into a tailspin that would have done her in, had it not been for her two daughters. Pulling herself together, Vivian enrolled in graduate school, worked part-time, and raised her children. She started dating before she had fully recovered from losing Peter, not for companionship, she explained, but for the sex. Vivian admitted there were times she walked into local bars with the purpose of finding a man. “I know they thought they were picking me up, but it was just the opposite.” Most of the time, however, Vivian knew the men she slept with. Several of them wanted to marry her, but Vivian always said no. None compared to Peter—until Phil, and Phil was reluctant to try marriage again.

As Vivian told the story, Phil freely admitted he loved her, but was fearful of another legal commitment due to the financial and emotional turmoil of his first experience with Maggie. Unwilling to accept the status quo, Vivian pressed Phil to marry, but he continued to resist. The stalemate soon escalated into a major disagreement. Frustrated beyond reason, Vivian stopped seeing Phil—even refused to talk to him—though their campus offices were side by side. Of course, Vivian had no idea the shunning would last two years, but as the months passed, it became a matter of pride not to give in.

Unfortunately, Vivian said, “Phil thought I ended our relationship and the emotional upheaval he wanted to avoid—happened anyway.” Struggling to make sense of what happened, Phil took the drastic move of asking Janice, one of our part-time instructors who taught a counseling class, to recommend a psychologist. Within six months of the first counseling session, Phil married his therapist—Sheila!

Vivian described the day Phil walked into Vivian’s office and, without saying a word, pointed to the wedding ring on his finger. That gesture immediately jolted Vivian out of her self-imposed silence. She said it took months, each venting mutual frustrations, before she and Phil calmed down, and started dealing with the dilemma.

Phil confessed Sheila did the pursuing, but he did little to discourage the fast pace that eventually culminated in an impulsive courthouse marriage. Less than a month after the wedding vows, and prior to showing the wedding ring to Vivian, Phil asked Sheila for a divorce. She refused to consider it. Phil’s response was to withdraw from their marriage, hoping Sheila would change her mind because he didn’t want another ugly divorce. They continued to live in the same house for financial reasons, but Phil moved into a separate bedroom and rarely joined Sheila in any activities including daily meals.

Inevitably Phil and Vivian resumed their relationship. Sheila had to know Phil was spending weekends with Vivian—after all it was their break-up that drove Phil to seek therapy. Phil again asked Sheila for a divorce; again she said no. It seemed apparent to Vivian another legal battle had to take place because this unhappy veneer of a marriage gave Sheila the right to say “I’m Dr. Hayes’ wife,” thus enhancing her status with family, colleagues and church members.

Of course, Vivian also acknowledged her role in Phil’s disastrous marriage saying, “I should never have tried to rush Phil into marriage.” Despite the unfortunate second marriage, Vivian was thankful for a second chance with Phil, and this time around she would let Phil decide when he was ready to move forward.

That fateful Sunday the day dawned with a blue sky and crisp temperatures. Deciding it was too beautiful to stay indoors, Phil and Vivian went snowshoeing in a nearby canyon. Phil didn’t say much while they hiked, but Vivian noticed he paused frequently to take in the splendor of the vistas. At the end of the day they returned to Vivian’s home for dinner. Phil helped with the clean-up and then said he had to go, he needed to do some work before his class on Monday. They hugged, kissed each other several times, and Vivian decided at the last moment to throw on a sweater and walk Phil to the driveway. . . .


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