Germany, Military, racism

Repost: International collaborations…

I’m sharing this post, originally written on Blogspot on August 5, 2016, because I think it’s a really cool story that is relevant to my experience in Germany. Keep in mind that it appears here as/is, as I am certain General West has moved on from Fort Eustis. I will also share a follow up post written at the same time.

This morning, I was reading the Daily Press, which is the newspaper from my hometown community.  I noticed an article about Lieutenant General Nadja Y. West, who recently gave a speech at Fort Eustis in honor of the 596th Transportation Brigade’s Women’s Equality Day observance.  LTG West is the first black lieutenant general and the highest ranking female to ever graduate from West Point and she once commanded the hospital (now clinic) at Fort Eustis, an Army post that is near and dear to my heart because I grew up nearby.  LTG West is a medical doctor who is currently the surgeon general of the Army.  Her husband is retired COL Donald West.  I see them as quite a power couple!

A video about General Nadja West’s career. I highly recommend watching this video from 2017, which came out after I wrote this post. What a cool lady!

Anyway, as I was listening to LTG West speak on a video that was posted with the article I was reading, I realized that she appeared to be the product of a German and American partnership.  She is clearly biracial and, in fact, has the sort of willowy look of so many German women I’ve seen.  Also, her first name “Nadja” is a very German name.

I went looking to find out what her background is and learned that yes, indeed, her biological parents were a German woman and African American man who was posted to Germany with the Army.  Sadly, LTG West was left orphaned when she was a baby.  At nine months old, she was adopted by Oscar and Mabel Grammer.  Oscar Grammer was a Chief Warrant Officer who worked with the Army in Germany and Mabel Grammer was a civil rights activist and journalist.  The couple adopted twelve interracial children in Germany and arranged for the adoption of 500 more by families in the United States.  LTG West was the youngest of the twelve children adopted by the Grammers.

Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met are biracial.  LTG West is clearly very attractive, but she’s also incredibly accomplished.  I’m sure the people who created her had no idea how far their daughter would eventually go in life. 

Having grown up in the southern United States, I’ve seen my share of racism.  Germany is not immune to racism, although it seems to be directed more toward Middle Eastern people than folks of African descent.  One is much more likely to hear a German disparage someone from Turkey or Syria than a black person.   

Many German women seem to really be attracted to black men.  In fact, I remember when we moved to North Carolina, one of the movers was a very friendly black guy.  When I mentioned that we’d once lived in Germany, he laughed and said with a big smile, “German women love black men!”  I have since met a number of people who were born to German and African American parents.  In fact, a lot of the people I’ve met have been affiliated with the United States military, especially the Army.  The Army sends a lot more of its people to Germany than the other service branches do.

One of the things I have enjoyed about my years as an “Army wife” is the diversity of people affiliated with the military.  Because servicemembers go all over the world, they often end up in relationships with people from other countries.  Naturally, some places are more represented than others.  For instance, there are a lot of Japanese and Korean women who have married American servicemen (and it is, more often than not, women who marry men, though there are certainly exceptions).  I do know one Dutch guy whose wife is an Air Force officer.  I’ve run into plenty of British folks, a couple of Italians and Greeks, and one or two Portuguese married to Americans, courtesy of the military.  And I have several German friends who married Americans.

Someone has probably already done this, but I think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of international love matches that occur between American servicemembers and host country nationals. Naturally, not all of these “matches” work out.  I have one friend who barely knows her father, a Puerto Rican/African American Army veteran.  She grew up in Germany not really knowing her father, though she did eventually reconcile with him to some extent. 

A lot of people who have no experience with military folks think that they are a bunch of knuckle dragging lunkheads.  What I’ve found is that the military is full of people from diverse backgrounds and many are open-minded and intelligent.  It’s true that a lot of veterans are people who come from small towns without much opportunity.  Many people join the military to escape poverty or bankroll an education.  But then they end up in faraway places where they meet and mingle with the locals.  They collaborate to create another subset of diverse people. 

The same thing happened in my Peace Corps group.  About half a dozen people who went to Armenia with me ended their service married to host country nationals.  Many people think of the Peace Corps as a very liberal group, and it’s true that a lot of Volunteers are pretty politically liberal.  However, in some ways, the Peace Corps shares some similarities with the military.  It’s very obviously a government agency.  In fact, PCVs even take the same oath military servicemembers do.  I have been surprised to find Bill working with at least one of my former Peace Corps colleagues, who went on to work for USAID.

I have an Italian friend who constantly disparages the military.  He thinks it’s full of idiots who just want to destroy the world.  As someone who grew up an Air Force brat and later married an Army officer, I have found that many people with experience in the military are well-traveled and open-minded.  The ones who stay in the military tend to be pretty savvy about world affairs, and they often have opinions shaped by real life experiences outside of the United States.  I know a lot of people think the US military should leave foreign postings, but I think these opportunities to live and work abroad are good for American society.  Too many people in the United States never go anywhere and see anything.  At least people in the military get the opportunity to look beyond the borders.

Hanging out on a military base can be an interesting cultural experience.  Hell, just shopping at a commissary stateside is interesting, especially when you walk down the international food aisle.   You’ll find a number of exotic products stocked for the spouses of servicemember Americans who came from somewhere else. 

I think it’s really excellent that LTG Nadja West has done so well in her career.  I enjoyed learning about her, and would probably find her fascinating to talk to.  She’s quite a role model for all women.

ETA:  I just read the obituary for West’s mother,  Mabel Grammer, which I linked to earlier in this post.   I highly recommend reading it if you’re intrigued.  She was clearly an amazing woman.   

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Bill, music, songs, videos, YouTube

Bill’s 57th year has gotten off to a tearful start.

Today is Bill’s birthday. I already gave him some of his presents on Monday and Tuesday, because they came from Amazon and I have no birthday themed wrapping paper. Monday, I presented him with a book about the art of Carl Jung. Bill loves art, and he’s fascinated by Jung, so I figured it would be perfect.

But then I noticed that Jung’s seven volume set called The Black Books were also for sale. I had already given Bill a copy of Jung’s Red Book on request about eleven years ago. The Red Book was basically a refined and condensed version of The Black Books. It’s just one large volume. He left that book in storage because it’s so big, and we had precious little room for extra stuff when we moved to Germany. Bill’s first company only gave him enough money to ship 5000 pounds. Good thing we don’t have kids.

When Bill saw the Jung books, he got all teary. He came upstairs to my office and thanked me. I turned around and he was wiping tears from his eyes, holding the funny t-shirt I also got for him. This was obviously a good gift… especially since he’s also been undergoing Jungian analysis with an American who lives in Berlin and is being trained in Switzerland.

I’ve been bugging Bill to see a therapist for years, not just because he has a lot of trauma to unpack, but because I know from personal experience that undergoing psychotherapy can be a wonderful healing process. It helped me immensely and changed me in so many positive ways. I came to view it as something I did for myself– a form of personal care– like some people get manicures, massages, or have their hair professionally coifed. I thought Bill would see it the same way. Fortunately, he does. Every week, he tells me about new things he’s discovered about himself through dream analysis and art therapy. He and the therapist have a good rapport. It really helps that Bill knows about Jung, since the therapist specializes in the Jungian approach. I’m sure a lot of the therapist’s clients are just looking for someone to talk to. He’s told Bill that he appreciates having a client who understands the Jungian approach. I think they both get a lot out of the work they’re doing.

I wish people wouldn’t think of therapy as a negative thing for “crazy” people or people who are troubled. It’s useful for anyone. Bill is a very functional person who keeps things together very well. But I know that talking to someone other than me is helpful for him. He’s gaining a lot of personal insight that I think will make him a better person… certainly a happier person. He deserves that, as most of us do. I think he appreciates the support, too. On another note, I love that Bill is so smart, and so interested in topics like Carl Jung. He teaches me so much… and every time he talks about art and Jung and other deep subjects, I thank God I married him, instead of some guy who just wants to drink cheap beer and watch football. Not that there’s anything wrong with cheap beer and football– more that a guy like Bill is more my speed.

And this hat is probably more my speed. Bill likes his women a little on the trashy side.

As a joke, I was also going to give Bill the above pictured baseball cap with Mister Rogers giving the finger. I did order it, but I think when that hat comes in, I’ll just keep it for myself. I doubt Bill would want to wear it, even though he’d think it was funny. He’s getting one more book, which is arriving tomorrow. It’s not about Jung or bartending. We’ll probably also make a cherry cheese pie or Bill’s favorite chocolate blackout cake, which I’ve made for him many times over the years. The cake is fantastic, but it takes us forever to eat it, and it’s probably better for the cooler months.

The tears continued after the gift exchange. This time, they came from someone other than Bill.

Yesterday, I was invited to an online memorial service for my old Peace Corps friend, Matt, who died in New York City in May. Some readers might remember that I wrote about Matt when he was killed. Since I live in Germany and, until yesterday, wasn’t in the club, I missed Matt’s first memorial service. Now they’re doing another one for his many friends worldwide. I was asked to sing a song at the event. That doesn’t surprise me, since I was well known for singing in the Peace Corps. I sent a couple of videos to the person who is arranging the event, asking him which song he thought would be most appropriate for the memorial.

The songs I chose were “In My Life” (in the style of Judy Collins) and “Imagine” (as done by Eva Cassidy). I started with “In My Life”, since it’s not known as an atheist anthem and is very accessible to a lot of people. I remember Matt had once told me he was raised Lutheran, but I didn’t know if the religion stuck, although I doubt it did. I also don’t know if any of his relatives are religious. But then I sent “Imagine”, since I do that one well, and it’s popular and very Peace Corps friendly. The guy arranging the event said “Imagine” made him cry, and expressed preference for that one. He says he’ll check with Matt’s cousin to see if he thinks it’s appropriate. If the cousin likes it, that’s the one I’ll probably do… and hope I don’t cry, either.

This video only has 30 hits, but it’s one of my favorite songs to sing.
This did turn out kind of pretty.

Once we started talking about it, it occurred to me that Eva Cassidy also died too young… and became famous after her death. I feel like that kind of happened to Matt, too. He was in the news after his death, because he was so beloved by his community and because the accident he suffered was so incredibly senseless and tragic. Eva also died in 1996, when we were in Armenia. Also, my sister knew Eva because they worked in a restaurant together in the early 90s. My sister waited tables and Eva played there. Or, at least that’s what my sister claims. I think it’s possible she’s telling the truth. She’s lived in the DC area for years, and often made extra money waiting tables, even though she had a regular “day job”.

And now that I think more about it, John Lennon also died much too young. He also died in New York City, as Matt also did. So while “Imagine” might seem a little too “Godless” for some people, I think it might be perfect for Matt. I don’t think he was really that into religion, although I really don’t know how he felt about God. My guess is that someone who exclaims “Christ on the cross!” in annoyance is not too worried about blasphemy. 😉 I’m not being critical about it, either, because I’m not all that religious myself. “Imagine” is a song written by a man who was a bright, shining star. He gave the world so much in his 40 years. And it was “reborn” by another bright shining star, who also gave so much before she died too young. It seems perfect for Matt, who was a shining star and inspiration to so many people– especially the many young people he taught.

Then this morning, I got an email from a complete stranger who found a video I made several years ago of the song, “On Heaven’s Bright Shore.” I couldn’t find accompaniment for that song, but I really wanted to try it. So I decided to sing it acapella. I coupled the acapella singing with pictures of clouds, mostly taken from airplanes. A lot of people have played it– or, a lot for my channel, at least. I would like to redo it with guitar, once I get better at playing. I make progress every day, but I’m still not quite ready for prime time.

I hope to redo this one someday, when my guitar playing is more advanced.

The person who emailed me wrote that his son had just died and he wanted to play an acapella version of “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” at his memorial. He said my version seemed to be the best. So he was kindly asking for permission to play my version, and wondering if I required payment. Of course I wrote back that he’s welcome to use the video, free of charge. I thanked him for asking me and expressed condolences for the loss of his son. It’s quite an honor that someone would want to play my version of that song at a memorial service, and it was so kind of the guy to ask me if I minded.

I was pretty surprised to get that email. I have some videos that have as few as four views! I don’t really promote my videos much. They’re mostly just songs I want to try. I get better recording results on YouTube than I do SingSnap, so that’s why I make the videos. But I don’t really have a rhyme or reason as to when I do the songs. I mainly just make videos when I need to for a blog post or when I’m inspired to try something. I have also done a couple by request. Not all of the videos are musical. Some are raw footage from travels– memories I want to preserve– or they’re videos featuring my dogs. I admire people who make successful YouTube channels, but I’m not very comfortable on camera, and I don’t want to deal with hostile comments. So I mostly just stick to blogging.

Bill and I were talking over breakfast and I was laughing about how I have such a raunchy sense of humor, tendency for depression, appreciation for profanity, and great love for obnoxiousness, yet somehow I wound up with this very sweet singing voice. The other day, I was practicing guitar and I asked Bill if he noticed I was getting better at barre chords. He said he didn’t know which chords I was playing, which I would not have expected. But then he said, “You were singing along, too.” And I said, “No, baby, that was Linda Ronstadt. But thank you very much for the compliment.” I’m not quite ready to sing and play at the same time. That’s like walking and chewing gum.

Anyway… I’m hoping the song goes off well. I have a feeling the memorial will be moving and fun. Matt was a special person, and I’m sure there are a lot of stories to be told, as well as songs to be sung. He had a lot of friends around the world and I think a lot of them will come together for this.

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musings, psychology

The trauma of sending and receiving “feedback”…

This morning, I’m thinking about the word “feedback” and how much I dread hearing it. One would think it wouldn’t be a bad thing to get feedback. Feedback doesn’t necessarily have to be positive or negative. It’s just information about how someone is doing.

I had to give someone negative feedback last night. I didn’t enjoy doing it. I don’t like to confront people, even when it’s sometimes necessary. I would prefer people to have common sense and basic respect for others. Unfortunately, some people don’t see the big picture and need to be called out. I woke up at 4:30am and that conflict from last night was the first thing I thought of.

Then I remember myself, back in 1996, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. The director of training for the 1996 Volunteers was a guy I’ll call Don (not his real name). For some reason, Don didn’t like me. I don’t know exactly why he didn’t like me. Somehow, I managed to step on his toes. And one day, he said, “I need to give you some ‘feedback’.” Then, he proceeded to tell me off in a way that was very humiliating and upsetting. At that time in my life, I was not really equipped to take his comments with a grain of salt. I felt personally attacked and pretty worthless when he was finished with me.

I have never forgotten that word, “feedback”, ever since that day in 1996. That was a period in my Peace Corps service when it felt like everything was falling apart. I was trying to do the right things, but lacked the assertiveness and confidence to make valued contributions. I was not a “go getter”, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was pretty hampered by depression and anxiety. So although I really did want to do something good and useful, my attempts were a bit bumbling. I seriously thought about quitting my service because I felt useless.

Looking back on that time, I feel anger for 24 year old me. I wish I’d had the maturity and the backbone to stand up to Don and give him some feedback of my own. I had mostly forgotten about Don until a few weeks ago, when my former colleague, Matt, suddenly passed away after having been hit by a car in Brooklyn. It so happens that there’s a Facebook group for former Armenia PCVs. I sent a request to join, but when no one accepted me hours later, I decided to withdraw my request. I figured I wasn’t welcome there. And then I noticed that Don was one of the admins. I also remembered that Matt had once, quite explicitly, told me that Don didn’t like me.

Those old feelings rushed back when I saw his name and I realized I didn’t really want to connect with him, or some of the other people from that time in my life. Obviously, I didn’t fit in back then, and maybe I don’t fit in now. I don’t seem to fit in most places… even in groups I actually run!

Case in point… In 2017, when we still lived in Stuttgart, I started a food and wine Facebook group. I did so because, at that time, there weren’t any groups for that specific interest in the Stuttgart military community, even though they had groups for just about everything else. Back then, it was easy to go to different restaurants and gourmet stores. Bill and I did so most weekends and I would write about our experiences in my travel blog, which got to be somewhat popular.

When I first started that group, it was pretty active and useful. But then in late 2018, we had to move to Wiesbaden. I didn’t want to close the group because I had friends in it, and at that point, I thought we’d be visiting Stuttgart somewhat often. I predicted at least twice yearly visits to see the dentist. But then the pandemic struck, and we weren’t able to travel so much or dine out… and the group became a bit stagnant, even though we were doing a lot of drinking.

There’s a woman in my group who claims to be a wine expert. She started a group in Stuttgart, but remains a member of my group. She often directs people in my group to join her group, and organizes wine sales, which she freely advertises in my group. I mostly have been pretty laid back about moderating my group because I don’t like it when people micromanage others, especially on social media. Besides, I don’t have a problem with people involved with food and wine sharing information about things like wine sales. But a situation came up last night and I found myself offering some feedback. It made me feel uncomfortable, even though I felt compelled to speak up.

A woman in the group I run asked about restaurant recommendations in Stuttgart. The two places she asked about are places I’ve been. I offered my opinions. Next thing I know, the leader of the other group was pimping her “foodie” group in my group– telling the person who had asked about restaurants that she should join her competing group for more “relevant” help. It wasn’t the first time she’d made a comment that was kind of critical about my group. One time, someone asked about wine shops and she asked what city they were in, adding that the fact that my group addressed two cities made things “confusing”. That struck me as disrespectful and rude, because there was no reason why the “wine expert” couldn’t just act like a member of the group and simply answer the question without publicly directing the person to join the group that SHE runs, or simply appreciating the unique features of my group.

I didn’t really want to call her out and offer any “feedback”. I don’t enjoy conflicts, and really just want my group to be a place where people can relax and share information without any drama. But I guess she just touched a nerve… that “disrespect nerve” that so many people seem to hit, where they act in an inconsiderate or tacky way toward me and I’m expected to just shut up and color. So I very directly asked her not to “pimp” her group in my group. She came back with an “explanation” as to why her answer wasn’t disrespectful to me and then invited me to join her group, which she has done before. She didn’t even really acknowledge how she came across to me, but instead kind of “gaslit” me, explaining that what I can see– plain as day– isn’t what I’m actually seeing.

I don’t want to be in her group. I have a lot of reasons for not wanting to join. The main one is that I lived in Stuttgart for four years and I saw how the groups were down there. There is a different dynamic in that community… lots of young people from different military branches. There are TONS of Facebook groups in Stuttgart and, in my experience, they get very “high school” in a hurry. Some people get on power trips and some people really enjoy stirring up shit. I was overly involved in the Stuttgart groups back when I lived down there. They caused me a lot of stress and drama, which would inevitably get me into trouble. I’d always want to process the stress by writing about it, which invariably upset some people in the community. Up here in Wiesbaden, I don’t have a need to do that because: 1. there aren’t so many groups up here 2. I know very few people in this area and 3. I’m only a member of one other group in Wiesbaden besides the one I run. So I don’t run into the high school bullshit that often erupts in military centric Facebook groups, and it’s been nice.

Another reason I don’t want to join is because being in her group would make my group kind of redundant. But maybe that’s her plan. I’m not really interested in competing with anyone… but I do think it’s very inconsiderate to promote other groups within a group, especially when there’s no need or request for it. There’s no reason why people in my group can’t respond to that question about Stuttgart without having to be publicly directed to go to another source. The least she could have done was send the person a PM rather than blatantly advertising her group. It’s like going to a McDonald’s and telling everyone in line to visit the Burger King next door.

The original poster came back and explained that she’s going to be leaving soon, and wasn’t interested in joining another group. But just now, the “wine expert” left a comment about another group in my group. I just left her a stern comment letting her know that I wasn’t going to ask her again. Next time, I think I’ll just remove her and spare myself the stress.

My hands are actually shaking right now… because I feel like maybe this shouldn’t be a big deal. I don’t want to be “territorial”, especially on social media. But it obviously is a big deal to me, because my knickers are legitimately in a twist. I don’t want to be a micromanager, but I also don’t appreciate being trampled. I made it pretty plain that promoting the other group isn’t cool with me, but she completely ignored what I said.

Maybe it’s time I retired that group and moved on to other things. I can still visit places and write about them, and the legitimately interested can read about them. Or maybe I just need to remove her and let anyone who wants to follow her vote with their feet. I don’t know. But I feel kind of nervous and sick to my stomach, the same way I felt when I got “feedback” from Don, even though I am the one offering feedback this time. Being assertive is hard for me.

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funny stories, nostalgia

Repost: Whatever became of Margaret, my worst ever roommate?

I wrote this post on June 14, 2017. It appears here mostly as/is. Names, certain locations, details, and dates have been changed to protect the guilty.

Sometimes, when I get bored, I go into “obsessed fan” mode. For some reason, last night I decided to look up my very first roommate at Longwood College. After some determined sleuthing, I found her. Apologies in advance, because this is going to be a long post.

I mentioned this ex roommate a few years ago, when I discovered that my final college roommate, Latissia, had died of a heart ailment.  It was probably because of my experience with my first ex roommate that Latissia and I lived together.  Latissia had decided to move on campus because she could no longer afford to pay rent off campus.  She ran into a bunch of rejections by potential roommates on campus.  She claimed it was because she was black.  For all I know, that very well may have been the case.  Racism is still alive and well in Virginia. 

Truth be told, I didn’t want a roommate for my final semester in school.  I like living alone (or with Bill).  But thanks to ex roommate #1, a hideous woman I’ll call Margaret, I relented and agreed to live with Latissia.  That turned out to be a good decision.  Latissia was a nice person and a considerate roommate.  I’m truly sorry she died so young.  She may have had heart disease, but she also had a big, warm heart.

I distinctly remember my very first day at Longwood College.  It was August 1990.  I had talked to Margaret on the phone.  She was coming from Richmond, although she had graduated from a private boarding school.  Her parents were wealthy.  She and her brother had both been adopted by their attractive and well connected parents.  Margaret’s father had graduated from the University of Virginia and had grown up in Charlottesville.  Margaret told me all of this during our first communication, in between asking me what appliances I intended to bring with me and letting me know that she was bringing a 25 inch TV, a fridge, and a microwave.  I also learned that Margaret is exactly 10 days older than me.  That’s probably why we got paired by the housing office.

We were assigned a room in Curry Hall.  At that time, most freshmen were being housed three to a room because Longwood was short on dormitory space. Each of the rooms in the high rise buildings had bunk beds, and a single bed in them.  For some reason, Margaret and I did not have a third roommate.  Curry was, in 1990, one of the newest dorms at Longwood.  It had been constructed in 1970 or so and was air conditioned.  Next to it was an identical high rise building called Frazer.  Because Virginia summers are insanely hot, in 1990, it was considered a good thing to get to live in Curry.  More dorms and apartments have since been built at Longwood.  It’s probably downright cushy now. (ETA: Both Curry and Frazer have since been gutted, renovated, and renamed, since their former namesakes had ties to racism.)

So there I was in August 1990.  I opened the door to my dorm room.  There was Margaret.  She was about 5’10” and morbidly obese.  Besides being very large, Margaret wore braces.  She had frizzy dark hair that had been bleached and badly needed a touch up.  It was pushed back from her face with a padded hairband.  I remember my mouth dropped open at the sight of her.  I know it’s unkind to write this, but given the way she ultimately treated me, I think it’s fair.  She was downright ugly, both inside and out.

Margaret had already claimed the single bed in the corner of the room.  I took the bottom of the bunk bed.  I had brought a horse blanket (it was never actually used on my horse, since I already had one for him) that I won in 1988 and draped it over the vacant top bed, so I had a makeshift curtain.  Margaret had also put her huge TV on my dresser.

At first, Margaret was nice to me.  She liked James Taylor, as do I.  She had what was then Taylor’s latest album, Never Die Young.  I distinctly remember her playing it, followed by “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley.  To this day, when I hear songs from Never Die Young, I think of Margaret.  Strangely enough, I like that album despite the negative connection with my least favorite roommate of all time.   

I remember we sat around and chatted a bit.  It seemed like we would get along.  She told me that her mother had just spent a couple thousand dollars on her wardrobe.  I remember thinking the clothes weren’t all that special– certainly not a couple thousand dollars worth.  Perhaps the money went toward the sheer volume of fabric required to make them.  I don’t know.  Margaret also told me that she’d been hospitalized for some reason and that had cost her parents a lot of money.  But, she added, they had plenty of money, so it was no problem.  Money, it seemed, was Margaret’s main contribution to any relationship.  Money, and food, that is.  Later, when I said I didn’t feel like going to the dining hall, Margaret said we should go because that was our dinner.  Then, I’m pretty sure she ordered a meat lovers pizza from Pizza Hut, which in those days was still pretty good.

On that first day, Margaret told me she had traveled a lot as a child and wanted to spend her life traveling.  She was majoring in political science.  Her dad worked a lot in South Carolina and had a home there, as well as in Charlottesville.  Margaret had also been accepted into the University of South Carolina.  She had decided on Longwood because, according to her, “Anyone can get into USC.”  Then, she said she’d like to go to the University of Virginia, but was willing to “try to fall in love with Longwood.”  Funny that I eventually went on to earn two master’s degrees at USC– a school that “anyone can get into”. 

In 1990, all new freshmen at Longwood had to take a class called Longwood Seminar.  Freshmen still have to take it today; it was a college orientation course that had been introduced in 1987.  In 1990, Longwood was still a very residential school and most students, even the seniors, lived in dorms on campus.  Most people got to know their roommates and hallmates pretty well.  By the time I finished college at Longwood, I knew most of my classmates. 

Longwood Seminar sections were divided by residence halls or, if you were a commuter, you’d go to a section with commuters.  Everyone in my Seminar class was from our floor in Curry.  Margaret and I were in the same section.  There was another woman in our Seminar group I’ll call Marie.  Appearance wise, Marie was everything Margaret was not.  Tall and slim, she had big brown eyes, adorable dimples, porcelain skin, a giggly Marilyn Monroe-ish voice, and beautiful strawberry blonde hair.  I remember she was striking, very friendly, and popular with the men.  She lived across the hall from us with two roommates.

Somehow, in the very first couple of days of our college careers, Margaret and Marie befriended each other.  Marie was suddenly inviting her new bestie, Margaret, to attend fraternity parties with her.  I stayed alone in the dorm room and went to bed early.  One night during our very first week of school, Margaret and Marie went to a frat floor (there was one next door in Frazer) and stayed out until about 3:00am.  They barged into the dorm room, turned on the overhead light, and very rudely and unapologetically woke me up.

Although it would have been wise for Marie to go back to her room for some sleep, it became clear that these two bitches intended to stay up and party some more, even though we had classes in the morning.  Later that day, Margaret boldly proposed that I move out of our room and into Marie’s, so Marie could room with Margaret.  I remember being absolutely floored at her nerve, expecting me to move out just days after I’d moved into a room that was rightfully as much mine as it was hers. 

Naturally, Marie’s two roommates also didn’t want me moving in with them because, like all of us, they were in a room that had originally been intended for two.  If Marie was moving out, they wanted the room to themselves.  I can’t blame them for that. 

I remember chatting with the peer advisor on our floor, a nice girl I’ll call Samantha.  Samantha’s job was to help freshmen settle into college life.  She tried to smooth things over between Margaret and me, but it became very clear that our rooming situation was not going to work.  Margaret wanted to live with Marie and had made it very plain that she expected me to leave.  If I didn’t leave, the two of them were going to make it their mission to make me miserable.  I remember Marie made some crack about my dated tastes in music, then very frankly told me how much her twat itched (this part of the story is not made up).  I couldn’t help thinking that her itching was probably due to her extracurricular activities on the frat floors.

Days into my college career, I went to the housing office, which was overwhelmed with trying to deal with all of the new students.  I explained the situation and they told me I should try to stick it out with Margaret.  I don’t remember exactly what I said because it seems to me that it was a policy that freshmen weren’t allowed to switch rooms so early in the year.  I probably cried.  I cried easily in those days and I was definitely frustrated and overwhelmed by the situation. 

The housing people gave me a list of names of upperclassmen in dorms who didn’t have roommates.  They told me I needed to go see if one of them would let me move in with them.  There I was, my first week of college, knocking on doors.  Naturally, none of them wanted me living with them.  I distinctly remember one woman I talked to, a pretty black woman who lived in Frazer, telling me honestly, but somewhat kindly, that she didn’t want a roommate.  But, unlike the others, who wouldn’t even deign to talk to me, she did say that if I couldn’t find anyone to live with, I could come back and we’d discuss it.  Of course, having been told to my face that I wasn’t welcome, I didn’t relish the idea of crawling back and begging to be allowed the dorm space that my parents had paid for.

I went back to the housing office and explained that none of the people on the list wanted to share a room with me.  They said quite firmly that those people were going to have roommates eventually, which gave me small comfort, but still didn’t solve my problem. 

Then, after a little searching through their files, the housing officer said I could move to the second floor in Tabb Hall.  Tabb was considered one of the “worst” dorms.  It was not air conditioned and had communal bathrooms.  Because of the bathrooms, everyone on that floor was female, while there were guys living on the first floor.  I wasn’t too thrilled to move to Tabb, but the housing people did tell me the room I was getting was vacant.  The woman who had been living there had applied to move to another room and supposedly had left.

So, that weekend, the residence education coordinator (REC), an affable guy I’ll call Joe, helped me move my stuff out of Frazer and into Tabb, which was across campus.  When Joe got a look at Margaret, he asked me “Was that your roommate?”

“Yes.” I said glumly.

Then he said, “Wow.  A little bit of her goes a looong way.” 

That comment cracked me up!  So many years later, I still haven’t forgotten it.  Joe later nominated me for some leadership training in Virginia Beach that I unwisely passed on taking.  I’m not sure why he nominated me, but for some reason, he liked me.  I probably should have taken the training.  Maybe my ultimate fate as the Overeducated Housewife might have been changed. 

Anyway, I opened the door to my new room, which was smaller and less modern than the one in Curry.  I was puzzled, because the person who was supposed to have moved out clearly had not.  She had gone home for the weekend, though. 

I looked on the wall, where she’d taped her schedule.  To my shock, her name was also “Margaret” (not her real name), although she spelled it differently and went by Maggy.  She also had the same last name as the first Margaret, although they had different middle names.  I remember thinking that was a freaky coincidence.

Sunday evening, Maggy came back to find me sitting there in the room she had previously occupied alone.  Although I know she wasn’t thrilled with the situation, Maggy made the best of it.  Like Marie, Maggy was physically everything Margaret was not.  She was thin and very attractive, a second semester freshman who had designs on joining a sorority.  Maggy also smoked.  But unlike Margaret and Marie, Maggy was not mean to me and even hung out with me at times.  Once, she and one of her pledge sisters even took me to her house in Chesterfield.  We were not best friends, but we were mostly civil to each other until we parted ways.   

Maggy joined one of the most popular sororities on campus and her time was taken up with her Greek activities and hanging out with her boyfriend.  Because of her popularity and activities, I pretty much enjoyed a room to myself that fall.  Then, during the Christmas break, Maggy moved into Stubbs, which was the sorority dorm.  She left her crappy black and white TV, which she later tried to reclaim the following year, but never actually picked up.  No one else moved in during the spring, so I had my own room.

As for Margaret, I soon noticed that she stopped attending our Longwood Seminar class, as did Marie.  I later heard that they were constantly partying and had basically given Longwood the finger. A few weeks later, my parents and one of my sisters came to visit me for parents’ weekend.  We happened to pass Margaret.  I had told my sister all about her, so when she saw her, my sister immediately recognized her by my description.  She elbowed me and whispered, “Oh my God… is that her?” 

I nodded affirmatively. 

“She’s disgusting!” my sister said.  “And even if she wasn’t huge, she’d still be ugly.  I mean, if you lost some weight, you’d be really cute.  Losing weight would not make her look better.” 

I make no apologies for my sisters’ unkind and very frank observations about Margaret and me.  I mean, yes, I know it was a mean thing to say, but what she said was truthful.  Margaret was not only physically unattractive, she was also an unpleasant, inconsiderate, and very entitled person.  She did not have inner beauty to compensate for her hideous appearance.  Moreover, my sister wears a size two and is unabashed about fat shaming.  She’s done it to me my whole life.

Margaret eventually left school– I’m not sure if she was gone after the fall semester.  I later heard from our peer advisor, Samantha, that she had moved to Charlottesville and attended community college.  Then, after a semester or two, Samantha claimed Margaret’s father got her a spot at UVa.  I remember thinking that was pretty shitty, since she had pretty much flunked out of our less prestigious school and UVa’s standards were supposedly very high.  I do know that Margaret’s dad contributed a lot of money to UVa.  It’s possible they altered the standards for her.  On the other hand, maybe she just led Samantha to believe she was going there.  I don’t know.

I also heard from my former suitemate that they’d all hated living with Margaret because she was very inconsiderate and evidently smelled bad.  The former suitemate, a very snooty sorority girl who sang with me in the college’s Camerata Singers, also told me that she hadn’t liked me, either.  Fortunately, she only had to deal with living with me for a few days.  After she made that comment, I couldn’t help laughing to myself that she’d been stuck living with Margaret and Marie.  I also never spoke to her again.

Last night, I got curious about whatever became of Margaret and Marie.  I went looking for both of them and managed to find them.  I learned that Margaret now lives in South Carolina, having previously lived in Dublin, Ireland.  It appears that she often works from home.  It looks like she currently isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids.  It’s possible that she has at least one ex husband, though I can’t confirm it (and don’t really care, except to pity the poor guy).  I have seen her listed by at least two other last names.

Margaret’s dad is apparently still wealthy and involved with UVa.  I see that his son, Margaret’s adopted brother, works with their dad in Columbia, South Carolina.  He is married and has kids.  Amazingly enough, although it’s very clear that Margaret’s family is very pro-Republican, Margaret’s dad was once a Peace Corps country director.  I was blown away by that realization, especially since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer myself and I am absolutely certain that Margaret would have never made it as a Volunteer.  Not only would the lifestyle have been too hard for her, she would not have been medically cleared due to her extreme weight issues.  But then, I also know that many country directors live in plush circumstances and sometimes those jobs are political.  My own Peace Corps Country Director lived and acted like a queen, even though she had twice been a Volunteer herself. 

I also learned that Margaret’s brother, despite having attended a posh boarding school in Virginia, got his degree from Midlands Tech (basically a community college in Columbia).  Although I have nothing against Midlands Tech, I am kind of puzzled as to why he went there when his family obviously had the means and was image conscious enough to send him somewhere more notable.  Maybe it was his preference, though. 

Looking closely at Margaret’s recent pictures, it appears that she may have had weight loss surgery.  She is noticeably thinner than she used to be, but has the appearance of someone who lost a lot of weight very rapidly.  Although we are ten days apart in age, she looks a lot older than I do.  It also looks like she might be wearing a wig.  Her hair looks unnatural.  If she had weight loss surgery, that would make sense.  I know hair loss is one side effect of not getting enough protein, which often happens in people who have surgery to lose weight.  It’s not that I would necessarily criticize her for having surgery, by the way.  She would have definitely been an appropriate candidate.  On the other hand, it’s possible that she lost weight for another reason.  My guess is that she went under the knife, though.

I looked at old pictures Margaret had made public.  In her younger days, her mother was a very beautiful woman.  I remember her telling me that her mom was of Balkan descent, although she was born and raised in the southern United States.  In the late 60s and early 70s, she definitely looked like a Greek goddess.  She was thin, exotic, and very elegant… again, not at all like Margaret.  I kind of wonder if maybe that was why Margaret and her brother went to boarding schools.  In fact, maybe that was why Margaret turned out to be so shitty.  Maybe her parents were disappointed in her.  I can relate to that to some degree.  Maybe Margaret was treated badly by her family and peers and that’s why she was so unabashedly nasty to me. 

My experience with Margaret and Marie definitely affected me.  When my final Longwood roommate, Latissia, came knocking on my door senior year, I decided not to give her a hard time about being my roommate.  She moved in and we ended up being pretty compatible.  It was actually a pleasure to know Latissia.  She was a good person with a kind heart.  Margaret was not. 

I see that as she had predicted, Margaret travels a lot, but it looks like she mostly does so alone to very expensive places in Europe.  Margaret and Marie (whom I also found last night) are clearly no longer besties.  Marie is still pretty, but it looks like she’s had a few marriages.  She now lives in Ohio.  Curiously, I see that she both worked for a church (in sales of all things) and managing a bar.  I could see Marie managing bars, actually… and in a Jessica Hahn-ish sort of way, I could also see her working in a church.

As for me, I still have friends that I got to know while living in crummy Tabb Hall.  One of my friends is a guy who lived on the first floor.  Over thirty years later, we’re still good buddies.  When we were sophomores, first and second floor Tabb saved a hall in adjoining French Hall (which is no longer a dorm).  We all lived together sophomore year, which was also tumultuous due to my roommate(s) that year.  I doubt I would have made such good friends if I had stayed in Curry.  There’s something about having to share a bathroom that builds friendships.  In fact, I’d say that living in what was supposedly the “worst” dorm on campus probably turned out to be a coup.  I even grew to like Tabb for its convenient location and character. 

It occurs to me that I might be sitting in prison today, because I might have been driven to kill Margaret.  She was an astonishingly rude and inconsiderate person who is likely abusive to her friends and family members.  I am pretty saturated with abuse, so I doubt I would have been able to stand it for long.  On the other hand, Virginia is (thanks to Ralph Northam– was) a big death penalty state.  Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten life.

Anyway… I suppose the point of this long-ass story is that things usually work out for the best.  It all turned out fine and this was probably the way it was supposed to be in the long run.  I’m glad I don’t know Margaret anymore, although it’s weird that our lives are kind of paralleled.  I hope our lives stay parallel and we never run into each other again.  The REC was right.  A little bit of her goes a looooong way. I’ve had enough to last me the rest of my life.

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memories, obits

“Christ on the cross! Who are we waiting for?”

I’ve been waiting for today for weeks. Sometime tonight or perhaps tomorrow morning, Bill will come home from his latest business trip. I’ve really missed him. I always miss him when he goes away, but this time has been more difficult than usual. I was feeling like I just might make it without any major catastrophes last night, when I got a private message from the very first Armenian language teacher I had when I was in the Peace Corps. She was looking for information about one of the Volunteers who had served with me. I put her on the right track; she had forgotten the Volunteer’s name and site location.

This particular teacher, name of Armine, was brand new to the Peace Corps when my group arrived in the wee hours of June 2, 1995. I always really liked her. She was tiny, had a high pitched voice, and a wonderful sense of humor. We used to laugh a lot in our classes. I was among her very first four Peace Corps students, and she taught me for four weeks, until we all rotated to new teachers.

We were the third group of Volunteers to serve in the Republic of Armenia, and in those days, things were still pretty rough over there. I remember being completely exhausted upon arrival in Armenia. We had gathered in Washington, DC for staging, which lasted a night and all day May 31st. Then, we boarded a United Airlines flight to Paris. We spent all day in Paris– in my case, the day was spent in horrible Charles de Gaulle airport, because I didn’t know how to get to the city and hadn’t made any friends on the flight. That was my first flight in many years, although I did live in England when I was very young. It was also my first overseas experience without my parents.

My parents were definitely over the kid thing by the time I arrived, so they would take vacations and leave me at home with my older sisters or a house sitter. I remember they went all over the place… to Barbados, the Bahamas, Europe, Morocco (to visit my sister when she was in the Peace Corps), and to several places in the States. Given the way I was when I was a teenager, it actually might have been better that they didn’t take me with them. But not traveling so much when I was growing up had left me very inexperienced when I joined the Peace Corps. I was 22 years old… about to turn 23 in 1995. You’d think the first overseas trip I’d take as an adult, I’d go to a place like France or Germany. That’s what a sane person would do. But no… I joined the Peace Corps, and it forever changed me in countless ways.

As Armine and I were chatting last night, she asked me if I’d heard the tragic news about one of my former colleagues, Matt Jensen. I hadn’t, because I wasn’t one of the popular people when I was a Volunteer, and am not in any of the Facebook groups. She told me that Matt died the other night in a terrible hit and run accident. He had been trying to cross a busy intersection against the traffic light, in the wee hours of the morning. A black Rolls Royce struck him, and he was later found by police, gravely injured. He was rushed to a hospital, but his injuries were so severe that he could not be saved.

A3 in 1995… we were still in training.

I thought about the calendar and realized that he had just celebrated his 58th birthday. I remember how, when we were in the Peace Corps, I once made him a birthday cake. In storage, I have two photo albums full of Peace Corps photos, including a picture of Matt hugging the cake I made for him for his 34th birthday in 1997, just a few months before we finished our service and left Armenia. Although he had originally been assigned to a different area when we were Volunteers, he came to live in Yerevan for a good portion of our second year. Matt was a master’s level teacher in the TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) program and, for some reason, he had come to the capital, where I was assigned, and temporarily lived with my friend, Ginny.

I got to be friends with Ginny because all of the Peace Corps teachers were required to have side projects. Ginny, who was a business Volunteer, was working with the USDA to develop products made with dried Armenian produce. I was a good cook, so I was recruited to help Ginny develop recipes that could help farmers market the produce internationally. That project was a lot of fun, and led to us hanging out a lot during her first year of service and my second. Ginny and Matt were unlikely roommates. Matt was about 14 years younger than she was and very liberal. Ginny was from Missouri and kind of country. I remember they had a few fights. But because they were roommates, I got a chance to know Matt better than I otherwise might have, and we became friends… at least during that time.

Matt was unique in that he was in his mid 30s during our time in Armenia. Most of the people in our group were either just out of college, or were older folks living out a lifelong ambition. Matt was also unique in that it was his second time as a Volunteer. He had served in Senegal in the 1980s, right after he finished his years at Hartwick College. He was always very outspoken during our training, and a leader in everything. He was also a talented artist, having designed the t-shirt we had made for our training group. I remember when we had our swearing in, I was in a skit we put on for our host families. Matt had recruited me to play a woman named թագուհի (t’aguhi– it means queen). I sang my lines, opera style, in Armenian as Matt and several other freshly sworn in Volunteers put on a comedy sketch about two women who meet at a hair salon and find out they love the same man.

I remember during our close of service training, he famously announced that if any of us saw him headed to a Peace Corps recruiting office, we should tell the recruiter that he was “not well”. We all had a good laugh at that, because by the time our service was ending, a lot of us were getting a bit antsy about the next big thing in life. For me, it was to be a month long train trip through Europe. I had planned it thinking I might not ever have the chance to come back… little did I know what the future would hold, huh?

After we left the Peace Corps, Matt and I eventually lost touch. I never forgot about him, though. That would have been impossible. Matt was the kind of person who completely defied being forgotten. I even thought of him yesterday morning, before I knew what had happened. I heard his voice in my head, which isn’t unusual for me. I often rehash memories of people long after they’ve left my life. But, for many reasons, Matt was especially memorable.

Personality wise, Matt was kind of like a much younger and male Bea Arthur crossed with George Carlin– maybe if Bea and George had ever had a son together, he’d be kind of like Matt was. Then there was his towering height. He was of Danish and Swedish stock, and he stood at 6 feet 4 inches. He had blond hair and blue eyes and a heavily Yankee-accented, gravelly voice that quickly betrayed his Connecticut roots. At one point, he’d let his hair grow long, and he looked like a regal Viking. I used to enjoy mimicking him, because his voice had so much character. He was often profane, which I admired a lot, and he was very witty, which I admired even more. To this day, I still sometimes say things that I heard him say first. I still say them because they make me laugh, even after many years. And when I say them, I say them the way he used to, because it’s even funnier that way.

Matt was a great teacher, very artistic, and a natural leader. His students all loved him. However, he could also be cranky and impatient. It was the kind of impatience one might expect from a no-nonsense New Yorker. For instance, one time we were walking somewhere together, and there was a woman ahead of us who was moving kind of slowly. Matt blurted out, “Oh, come on! Walk like you mean it!” Naturally, I busted out laughing, because it was just so unexpected and hilarious… and rude!

Another time in May 1996, our group was on a bus, headed for mid-service training. It was summertime, and hotter than Hell outside. We were parked in Yerevan, waiting for some people to get on the bus so we could make our way to Lake Sevan. I didn’t enjoy trainings that much, particularly during that middle point of my service. I didn’t know it then, but at that time, I was suffering a pretty severe bout of clinical depression, and was feeling kind of persecuted and paranoid. Anyway, there we were on the bus, feeling uncomfortable in the heat. Everyone was quiet, waiting for the lone person who was due to join us. Suddenly, Matt blurted out with his characteristic New York bluntness, “CHRIST on the cross!! WHO are we waiting for? Let’s just leave ’em!”

Matt is in this picture, taken just a few months before we finished our service.

Once again, I just about died laughing, because it was just such an irreverent, blasphemous, and obnoxious thing to say! I turned around to look at him and we both cracked up. It was exactly how I was feeling, too… kind of cranky and irreverent and totally over it. That point in time was a low point in my Peace Corps career. I was having a hard time with my service and giving serious thought to quitting, although I knew if I quit, my parents would probably disown me… or, at least that’s what I was thinking at the time. Remember, I was legitimately mentally ill then.

I’m glad I didn’t quit the Peace Corps, although I do have some regrets about those days. I was very young and naive, and I did things back then that I would not do today… and behaved in ways then, that I wouldn’t today. In those days, I was also a proud Republican voter, which is especially embarrassing– although at least in the 90s, there was no one like Donald Trump representing the party so openly. Sometimes, those memories are cringeworthy for me. But then I remember some of the good times, and times I spent hanging out with Matt were among the best.

When Matt was in Yerevan, living with Ginny, I would come over and we’d often have dinner. One night, he cooked cabbage. I have never been one for eating a lot of cabbage because it makes me fart like a whirlwind. But I do remember having cabbage with Matt, and now I think of him whenever someone tries to serve it to me. He hadn’t used a lot of salt, explaining that his mother had high blood pressure and wasn’t allowed to cook with a lot of salt. He’d learned not to use it, either. It was a very windy night at my house that evening.

As he did with a lot of subjects, Matt used to talk about food with a lot of excitement. He’d get animated over anything, even lentils and dill. That was another thing about him that I can’t forget. He was an incredibly energetic, charismatic, and enthusiastic person, when the mood suited him. I remember he loved to dance and had even taken lessons. I can’t dance at all, but I do remember him twirling me around the dance floor at some of our Peace Corps parties. I remember, even as I clumsily stumbled around with Matt, who was so much taller, lighter on his feet, and a confident leader on the dance floor, I felt pretty and had so much fun.

Ararat as viewed from a window at my school in Yerevan.

Matt Jensen even influenced me to make a music purchase once. One of the last times I saw him alive was in January 1998, a few months after we came home from our service. I went to his sparsely appointed apartment in Washington, DC and spent the night. I remember on the way to his place, we were talking about Mariah Carey’s latest single, “Butterfly”, which he didn’t like at all. He was hilariously going off about the lyrics, which he found inane. I remember the tone of our conversation– it was very sarcastic and hysterically funny. I had to agree with him about Mariah’s song. When we got to his place, he immediately pointed out the bathroom, because he knew I’d need to pee. I don’t remember a whole lot more about that evening, except that he had ABBA’s box set. He played it while we talked. I have always liked ABBA, but was more of a casual fan. I later ended up buying the box set myself, and every time I hear it, I remember how much Matt liked ABBA.

I also remember having a funny conversation with him about Kathie Lee Gifford. For some reason, I was telling him about how she had done some kind of mother’s day variety show special. I want to say she had some guest stars with her– I seem to remember Cindy Williams was among them. And Matt said his mother, who was quite elderly, had seen Kathie Lee Gifford on television and was describing it to him. I will never forget hearing his highly characterized New York accent as he imitated what his mother said about Kathie Lee’s show… “It was SICKENING!” Again… I laughed my substantial ass off at that– just the very disgusted, yet hilarious tone he used that really drove home the point. I could easily picture a female version of Matt saying that.

Matt went back to Armenia during the summer of 1998 to be the TEFL trainer for that year’s group of Peace Corps TEFL trainees. We traded letters and gossip for awhile, but then eventually lost touch. I think the last time I saw him alive was at the Peace Corps office in Washington, DC. I was with another former Volunteer, a guy named Albert. Albert and I were both headed to graduate school in the fall of 1999. He was going to New York University, and I was going to be off to the University of South Carolina. We went into the career center, and Matt just happened to be there, too. We had kind of an awkward exchange; Matt told me to enjoy being represented by Strom Thurmond, and that was the last time I ever saw Matt.

Incidentally, I have a weird habit of either running into people I used to know, or strangers who know people I know. One time, I went to the Peace Corps office in Washington, DC and ran into a guy who had been a Volunteer in Bulgaria. My friend and fellow Volunteer, Elaine, and I stayed with him in Sofia for about a week. No, we didn’t know him before we stayed with him– she just called him up and he graciously let us crash. And a couple of years later, I ran into him, completely by chance, in Washington, DC… the same way Albert and I ran into Matt by chance.

Years later, I saw Matt on Facebook, but I never felt comfortable friending him. I don’t exactly remember why we quit writing to each other. The late 1990s were a rough time for me. I lost touch with a lot of people at that point and went through some hard times. I finally got better when I got treatment for my depression and anxiety, but I’m afraid that people probably remember me for being a bit crazy back then. I’m still a bit crazy, but not like I used to be. I’m also a lot more mature. I wish I could have been friendlier with Matt in his last days. I think he might have enjoyed knowing that I finally came over to the liberal side and voted all blue last November. Matt was a very devout Democrat, and I remember when we were in the Peace Corps, he used to wear a Barbara Boxer t-shirt and pick on the lone staunch Republican in our group, a guy named Frank.

Not long ago, I ran into Matt on Facebook. We were involved in a Peace Corps related exchange, probably involving a mutual friend, but I don’t remember what it was about. He wrote, “I always liked you.” That made me feel good. I’m so glad that is the last thing he ever said to me, because it almost gave me closure. If I’m honest, there were times when he wasn’t nice. He had a short temper and could be grumpy and even kind of mean, when the mood struck him. But overall, he was just a larger than life kind of person, both literally and figuratively. He was a wonderful and gifted teacher, a warm friend, and he really loved his work and was dedicated to doing it well. Based on the comments left by the people who knew him more recently, I can see that he touched a lot of lives and has left his unique and indelible mark on so many hearts… especially young and impressionable ones.

Godspeed, Matt. I’ll never forget you. Thank you for making me laugh so many times… especially when I needed it the most. You have inspired me, and so many others, in so many ways. In that way, you’ll always live on.

I felt like singing this for Matt.

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