On sickness and possible worlds

He’s sick. In five years I’ve never known him to be sick, despite his horrible abuse of his body. A sore throat, then a cold, now a cough and the aches and shivers. His eyes sink into pockets of darkness, look out on the unfurling world with dazed exhaustion. Still, he talks about philosophy.

“Did you know Dr. L met David Lewis,” he says. “Let’s read about him.” We Google him, and a Wikipedia article lays out Lewis’ life, poorly written, filled with typos and awkward syntax.

“You should rewrite this,” I suggest, but he shakes his head, smiling for the first time in a couple of weeks.

“Eight days,” he says. “Then I’m done. I’ll never have to write again if I don’t want to.”

He passed his thesis defense “with flying colors,” as his committee put it, and then he and I worked for a long day to shape it up for the cotton copies and get it printed to the graduate office’s finical expectations. One of his committee members signed in blue ink, and he had to go in the following week (which was this week) and get a new signature page, with all black-ink signatures, but at least the office accepted his thesis, and he could take a breath and know he was almost done.

One test in Sanskrit. One more research paper on epistomology. Then he’s done. But he’s been sick, dragging himself from meeting to the class he’s TAing in to his executive internship in the office of financial affairs, just counting down.

“In some other possible world,” I tell him, “you’re doing this and you’re not sick.”

He smiles. Modal realism. Counterfactuals. Terms like a priori and a posteriori. Statements of p’s and q’s that don’t mean please and thank you. I’ll never know them like he does, but I can bandy them about a bit now, conduct little thought experiments “You’re going outside the parameters of the thought experiment,” he’ll chide me. “You have to stay within those parameters.”

“It’s my thought experiment,” I’ll say. “I’ll do what I want with it.”

We walk the dogs and talk about the new Pirates of the Caribbean, which we took the kids to over the weekend, and he turns the conversation into philosophy, as he always does, and it’s fun. I’m glad he’s feeling a bit better now. Somewhere, I figure, in some other possible world, we know each other in a way that doesn’t fill me with guilt, that doesn’t haunt him at night. In that world, he’s not sick and I’m not dreading eight days of scoring AP papers, and the kids love each other and the dogs don’t throw up on the carpet.

That world, though, would lack the texture of this one, and I love texture. And I suspect that what I love about him is tied up in how forbidden he was for so long, and in something else that feels possible only in this world, right now.

I’m glad.

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