I'm excited to introduce you all to Mandy. We have both contributed to Off Switch Magazine, and after I read her piece "Untold Stories" in Volume One, I knew she would be a fantastic addition to this series.
Her name was Lesa. She was in my dorm, but we weren’t really friends. It was probably because she had been at the university longer than me. I was just a visiting student anyway, and only planned to be in Hawaii one semester. Still, I knew her and she knew me.
We were also in the same English class—although English was my first and only language, while it was her second, or third or fourth—I’m not really sure. Looking back, it was brave of her to even take the course. It was the most difficult class I took that semester—American Literature from 1940-present. Slaughterhouse Five, Catch 22, Ceremony, Beloved—all difficult, complex books taught by an eccentric professor who was as smart as he was old which is saying a lot because he was old. Really old.
Lesa came the first few classes, and after only a few weeks she stopped coming. I rolled my eyes when I saw her on campus, riding her long board, eating a popsicle, walking to the beach with friends. I was struggling to stay afloat in the class as it was, and I never missed.
A few months into the class, our professor told me that her mom died a few weeks into the semester. “Cancer,” he told me. “I’ve been working with her, but I don’t know what else to do. She told me you live in her dorm. Could you help?”
I tried after that, I really did. I asked her when I saw her around if she needed help with the readings. But she didn’t want my help and I didn’t blame her. I stopped asking.
There was a month left in the semester and someone knocked on my dorm room door. “Did you hear about the earthquake in the islands?“
“Yeah,” I said.
“Lesa’s dad died in it, and we are trying to help her raise money to go home for the burial. She already missed her mom’s earlier this year because they couldn’t afford to fly her home.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I fished around in my wallet for some cash, and that night I prayed so hard that there would be something—anything—that I could do.
Two days later I walked over to her dorm room and knocked hard. No answer. I tried again. She finally opened it, her hair a mess, her face streaked with tears. “Yeah?” she said.
“Lesa—can I help? Can I… do your laundry? Help you pack? Do you need more money?”
She shook her head at my suggestions, and slammed the door. I started walking away, and as I was about to turn the corner, I heard her call out to me, “You can help me pass that class.”
We stayed up all night. Finals were the next day and she left the day after that. I recapped all eight novels in detail, every short story, every essay that I read faithfully that semester. I edited her research paper, found her sources, and gave her the flashcards I created for her to study. When I walked into the room for our final, she was already there, her essay sitting on her desk. Our professor looked at her, then at me curiously before handing out our exams.
Two days later, I was at the airport with a suitcase full of sand and wet bathing suits, ready to fly home to a blizzard in Utah. I sat at the terminal and thought about that semester and the people I’d met and the things I’d done but my thoughts kept drifting back to Lesa and her long flight home and the funeral that was waiting for her.
After we boarded the plane, I got a text message. It was one word. “Passed.” I smiled and settled into my seat and watched my tiny island shrink into the endless ocean that seemed to swallow this space where I internalized this thought that started with Lesa and never really stopped.
There is always something we can do.
Mandy Voisin lives in Arizona with her husband Kevin who is a medical student. She works as the PR director for a nutrition company and as a freelance writer. To see more of Mandy's work, visit her blog: http://mandymadson.blogspot.com/.