Sunday, September 14, 2003

Remembering Mike Pangallo

By Molly Dugan
Guest columnist

He was, by no means, my best friend. We didn't talk on the phone or hang out on the weekends. Our relationship barely extended beyond a playful punch in the arm, or a joking sneer in the hallway. Nevertheless, he was one of those guys whom I was accustomed to seeing every day, one of those guys whose faces lit up the classroom, and whose very presence had become an integral part of my day. He was my buddy.

Whenever I was having just "one of those days," I would drag my feet into Spanish class, and sure enough, there he would be, sitting in the desk behind me, reassuring me that I was, indeed, as big a loser as I thought I was. Then he would smile that big friendly smile and tell me he was just kidding ... I was only kind of a loser.

In seventh grade, I had a huge crush on him, and it made my year to see that I was No. 1 on his compatibility list. We were soul mates. Then in eighth grade, I wrote him off for good when he called me flat-chested, and I was forced to drag him to the floor and repeatedly punch him in the face. So much for soul mates. But either way, it always brightened my day when I would pass him between classes, and it made me laugh to see him, a good six inches shorter than me, try to push me over into lockers as we walked the hallowed halls of Milford High School.

I was in West Virginia when I heard the news. After a heated game of bumper pool in the game room at Rockbridge Younglife Camp (the self-described source of the best week of our lives ... guaranteed) I went bounding down the lodge steps and out onto the porch where I met up with 30 other Milford kids who were there. My smile was immediately erased, though, when Holly asked that we all be quiet because she had something important to say. She held her composure for a few seconds before she burst into tears and managed to choke out the devastating news.

"Mike Pangallo died in his sleep last night."

For what seemed like an hour, nobody moved. The entire world stopped on its axis and waited for someone to breathe. Thirty seconds of silent disbelief and stubborn denial became a lifetime, and our heads desperately searched for an answer, refusing to accept the truth. Almost as though he could feel our pain and confusion, God opened up the sky, and, as if in response to our suffering, it rained for the first (and only) time that week. A common thread of equanimity that had been holding us all together suddenly snapped, characterized only by sobbing and cries of confusion. We stood there motionless. The world started spinning again, and doing so with incredible speed. We all held each other tightly, not willing to let go, as the rain-soaked Frisbee field and the waterlogged volleyball court washed together into a swirling picture painted in shades of gray. In absolute despair we stood there, together, yet so completely alone.

How could God let something like this happen? In the middle of the summer, with nothing to worry about, the burdens of life temporarily suspended, the existence of a life was abruptly terminated and we couldn't bear the thought of returning to Milford to be welcomed home by tragedy and tears.

That night, I, along with the 11 other girls in my cabin, lay alone in my bunk bed. There were no ghost stories, no card games, and the room was void of its usual laughter, perfume and flutter of makeup brushes. For most of us, it was the longest night of our lives, the only sounds to break the dreadful silence being sobs muffled by pillows, and the delicate patter of rain on the cabin roof. Finally, we were lulled into uneasy sleep, with silent, subconscious tears streaming down our cheeks as we slept.

The bright shining sun, a traitor to our feelings, greeted us the next morning. We all sat up, forgetting for a moment the reason our eyes were swollen and red, and looked at each other with countenances that asked, "What now?" Well, now, we talk. So that is what we did. We talked. And we talked and talked and talked. We sat down right there on the floor of our cabin. The breakfast bell came and went, and we sat there and talked. We laughed and we cried and we remembered Mike and we loved the memories.

Now, over a year later, I still think about him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I smile. But as I look at colleges, I lament in thinking that we will be graduating one student short this year. However, Mike's death is even more of a tragedy if we fail to learn from it. I realize now that even though I am without a friend, he has given me the opportunity to become a better person. Mike has taught me not to take life for granted. If you love someone, tell him everyday that you do. Don't hold grudges because you may be unable to ever patch things up if God so decides. Furthermore, Mike loved life.


Molly Dugan, a graduate of Milford High School, is now a freshman at Ohio State University

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