Texas girl in the middle of Kiwiana

Amy Boatman

The Stress Has Begun

In just five days, Rhonda will fly out of Texas for the last time as a resident. We are going to Seattle for my Breast Cancer 3 Day walk as we had planned long before we decided to move. I’ll fly back on September 12th but Rhonda will stay up there. She’s starting to get very stressed. So much to do, so little time. Today she sold her car. It was kinda sad. That car was her last physical link to her dad. We made a visit to the cemetery to visit his grave. This weekend, we’ll be packing up everything of hers, especially the boxes I’ll be shipping to her. It’s gonna be a hectic few days but then it’s vacation, vacation, vacation!!!

And the Adventure Begins

In just a little under two weeks, my partner and I went from being content living in Texas to becoming Seattle transplants. I wanted a place to chronicle our journey. Hence, the birth of this blog. Join me as we pick up and move our lives, our three cats and one dog, and move to Seattle. It should be one heck of a ride.

Tribute to my Grandparents

Some years are better than others...

2006 was a hard year for me.

My grandpa died suddenly in June and then my granny died in November.

My grandparents were extremely important to me. I was there only grandchild. They had two sons and only one of them had any children. They loved me wholeheartedly and unconditionally. My grandpa loved me in his own way but he always had such a hard time showing it. He was a bit of an ass up until the last five years. Recently he had mellowed and became easier to be around. I will forever be grateful that we got that time to get closer.

My granny, on the other had, never had any trouble expressing her love. She was my comfort, my rock, and my cheerleader. She was consistenly my favorite person. There was never any of the angst and conflict there was with my mother. There was just love. I don't have any negative memories of her. The last five months after my grandpa died, she became pretty dependent. I got to do for her just like she had done for me my whole life. I got to be the caretaker. The last day of her life, I got to take her to the beauty parlor where she saw all her beauty parlor friends. She got her hair done and felt really good. Then we went to Denny's for breakfast. When I left her, she was sitting on the couch watching TV just like always. That's how I I remember her. I got to have 38 years with her which is longer than most people get with their grandmothers. I will never have any one who loved me like she did. I will miss her my whole life.

I will miss them both.

My Granny

I have been told my whole life about my granny running to put me in my crib when she saw my parents' headlights and then telling them she hadn't been holding me all night. My first memory is of lying on the floor of my bedroom crying hysterically because she and grandpa had just left. For as long as I can remember she has been my favorite person. Being the only girl in the family, she always tried to dress me up in frilly dresses. Hat, gloves, tights, frilly dress, frilly socks, patent leather shoes, the whole bit. I hated wearing that stuff. So, as much as she wanted me to dress like that, she did what I wanted instead. She bought me a pair of red cowboy boots, red jeans, a blue shirt and a red vest. I even had a red hat and cap pistols. I loved that outfit. I have always loved that she never tried to fit me into a mold but just let me be how I wanted to be.

I remember sitting on her lap with my ear against her chest listening to her talk to Meme. I don't know what they were saying but just the sound of her voice made me feel so safe and loved. She loved me more than I even know probably. And she spoiled me rotten too. She could never so no to me. And I did exploit it a little when I was much, much younger.

I was so blessed to get to be there for her these last five months since grandpa died like she was there for me my whole life. As much as they fought when he was alive, she felt his absence immensely. She was never the same after he died. I got to spend Thursday morning with her. She hadn't been able to go to the beauty parlor for a while since she couldn't drive and I worked Monday through Friday. But Thursday I was going to work late so I could come in late. I told her to make an appointment as early as possible on Thursday. I figured 8:30 or 9. It was for 7:30 that morning. Only for her would I have gotten up at 5am. So I got to her house at around 7am. She told me she had seen grandpa walking from the garage into the living room and then into the kitchen just like he always used to do. I think maybe he came for her. Anyway, we got to the beauty parlor and all her old friends were there. She hadn't been able to do her usual Thursday morning appt for over a year so she hadn't seen them for quite a while. They coo cooed over her and told her how sorry they were that Roy had passed. She was the center of attention which she always loved. We went to breakfast at Denny's and she was so happy to have her hair looking pretty. She was always worried about being a burden and said so for the umpteenth time that morning. I told her that everyone who knew me knew she was my favorite person and I was so glad I got to do stuff for her.

I left her that morning sitting on the couch. I never thought it would be the last time I would see her. When she was a young woman, she was gorgeous. She was what you think of when you think of a 40s fashion plate. I keep having this vision of her hopping up off the floor, 20 years old again and running off to be with those she's lost over the years. My life is never going to be the same without her. There will always be this big gaping whole where she used to be. But the measure of my pain is also the measure of my love for her. She was the best grandmother any kid could ever ask for. She always used to tell me how special I was and how I brightened up her day. Well, she was special too and any day I got to talk to my granny was a brighter day for me too. I loved her so much and will miss her everyday.

My Grandpa

Roy Boatman was my grandpa and I loved him very much. I was his only grandchild as well as the only girl in the family. My Granny told me that when he would baby sit me she was always so impressed that he would change my diaper and everything. Turns out he was going to the lady next door and getting her to do it. My first memory of him and my Granny is when I was maybe 3 years old. They had just left me in Dallas with my parents and gone back home to Austin. I was lying on the floor crying hysterically. I mean lying on the floor kicking my feet in a huge fit crying. When my parents divorced, they stayed as close to me and my mom as before. My mom was really happy that they were such a huge part of my life. They would come down to Marble Falls and pick me up most weekends so I could stay with them. Grandpa would sit and play games with me for hours on end. We would play Monopoly and Crazy Eights and a bunch of other games I don't remember now. He seemed perfectly content being with me. He taught me how to whistle and I learned to do it well. He and I would whistle old songs together, he would whistle the first part and I would finish it. All my life people have commented on how well I whistle and I always say with a smile my Grandpa taught me. He was the smartest man I knew even though he didn't have a lot of formal schooling. He read so much and taught himself how to do so many things. He loved to learn.

He was so proud of his military service. He was always showing me his newest newsletter from the ship he had been on, the Wren, or something from a book about it. He told me so many stories over the years about his shipmates and the many pranks they pulled. He told me I don't know how many times about being in Tokyo Bay when the surrender was accepted. He would show me old pictures of that time and was still able to name everyone in the picture. His time in the war was bittersweet for him. It was a horrible experience on one hand but an incredible adventure on the other. It was one of the most important times in his life.

By the time I became a teenager, our relationship went a little sour. We were both so stubborn and we often locked horns. Even though we argued and fought, we never stopped loving each other. In one particular instance, he apologized to me for something and Granny said she thought I was the only one he had ever apologized to. As I got older, our relationship got easier.

I'm not sure where this started but we started calling each other by little names. He would call me a turkey and I would call him a titty baby. When he'd lean over and say turkey and I'd say titty baby, he'd laugh that deep laugh of his. I also liked to call him an old coot and he just loved that. He liked to call me his favorite grandbaby and his least favorite too. He didn't always know how to say he loved you so he expressed it by picking on you sometimes. He liked being funny.

The last time I talked to him was last Thursday. He sounded just as jovial and upbeat as he always did when he talked to me. Sometime on Sunday, he just went to sleep and didn't wake up. He was lying on his side looking like he always did when he slept. I can't think of a better way to go. When we were going through his wallet looking for ID, the only picture in there was of me when I graduated high school. He also saved cards I had sent him over the years and in the bottom of one drawer was my kindergarten class picture. I had no idea he was that sentimental.

He has been a constant in my life since I was born. I can't imagine going to their house and him not being there. I will miss him so much. I'll miss his laugh and even him picking on me. I'll miss him showing me his most recent woodworking creation or telling me another story about his war years. Most of all I'll just miss knowing he's there if I need him. I was blessed to have had him in my life for so long.

Meeting Anne Lamott

All my life, I have wanted to be a writer. I started reading when I was three years old and have loved the written word ever since. Consequently, most of my idols have been writers. I loved Stephen King and V.C. Andrews when I was in grade school. I loved Mark Twain and Roald Dahl when I got a little older. I have been through lots of favored writers over the years. When someone suggested I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott a few years ago, I went right out and got it. It's a great book about writing and life and lots of other stuff. She has a funny and engaging style that I find refreshing. So, I went out and got several more of her books. She writes about alcoholism and recovery, dysfunctional families, rude neighbors, how her dog died, how she's managed to raise a teenager without killing him and lots of other subjects.

So, when I found out I was going to have the opportunity to meet her, I flipped out. I work at a retreat center and wellness spa. It is a beautiful facility situated on a hill in the central Texas hill country. The main thing I love about working here is that everything stops for the wildlife. We have a squirrel and two twin raccoons who come up to the welcome center every day. When someone spots them, we stop what we're doing and run to go see them. The other day, a roadrunner zipped by and we watched as he snapped up a lizard and had him some dinner. It's like living in National Geographic Texas style.

Anyway, I found out back in late June that CodePink, a women's peace activist group, was coming out here for a weekend retreat. I was excited because I'm a peace activist and have similar beliefs to the women belonging to the group. I had gone to Crawford in August 2005 to sit on the side of a small country road with Cindy Sheehan so we could find out what it was our young people were dying for. I was able to spend three exhilarating, exhausting, painfully hot days before I had to return to work. It was an inspiring experience. While there I had met many of the women coming to my workplace such as Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Ann Wright, and Diane Wilson. These were women I admired for having the guts to put themselves out in a hostile environment to stand up for their beliefs. Needless to say, I was looking forward to spending the weekend with these powerful women.

As I was looking through the list of attendees, one name caught my eye: Anne Lamott. Could it be THE Anne Lamott I so admired? Sure enough, it was. She was to be one of the Friday night speakers. I am a 38 year old woman and I turned into a 14 year old groupie when I found out she was coming. My 22 year old co-workers thought I was the biggest geek ever. They had never heard of her and couldn't imagine why I was so pumped to meet her. Admiration for writers is just not what it used to be. Now days, it's movie/TV stars, singers, and sports figures. Although now that I think about it, my childhood friends also found it hard to believe I had authors for idols. Hmmm, maybe it's just me then.

The entire month of July, I kept checking her reservation and the CodePink website making sure she was still coming. I talked about how excited I was to everyone who would listen. I was SO looking forward to hearing her talk. The retreat cost $400 and I wasn't sure I could afford it but I thought I would work it out. At the end of July, my partner suddenly needed $3000 worth of dental work and I saw my chances to see Anne Lamott fading away like invisible ink. We looked at our finances but there was just no way we could afford the $400 for me to attend. At first I was weepy and resentful. How could it be that something I wanted so badly just wasn't going to happen? Why couldn't I have what I wanted?

Let me stop here to tell you a bit about myself. I have never been a patient or accepting person. I like to get WHAT I want WHEN I want it. But, I've been in recovery for a few years now and I've learned that if something is meant to be, then somehow it will happen. Of course, this is not something I've learned overnight. And having learned it, that doesn't mean I remember it all the time. My partner and I have been together for 11 years and she sometimes still sees me as the person who would throw a fit at the drop of a hat if things didn't go my way. My friend Joan once told me that we all have biographies of our friends and loved ones. We see someone in a certain way and that is how we think of them all the time. For 7 years, my partner saw me as the out of control insane drug addict I once was. Even though I have been clean for almost 4 years, she occassionally has trouble changing her biography of me. Everyone in my family does. My mom will still brace herself sometimes waiting for the earth shattering fit I'm about to throw only to realize I haven't done that in years. We are all guilty of this at one time or another. My friend Kristi has dated men all the years I've known her. Then, suddenly (at least to me), she began dating women. I did a double take when she first told me because it was not part of my biography of her. So, I had to change the way I think of her.

After Rhonda and I discovered we didn't have the $400, she braced for the fit. Like I said, at first I was weepy and resentful. But I quickly saw that there was no way I could go to this event and take away $400 that we needed to fix her teeth. How could I do that to her? I couldn't. So, I went from weepy and resentful to accepting pretty quickly. She was surprised but I explained to her that if it was meant to be, it would happen. Besides, if nothing else I would at least get to meet Anne.

I had already asked off for the weekend of the event so I could attend. Now, not having the money, I was going to tell my manager that I wanted to work the whole weekend because then I would at least have the opportunity to be around these people. Before I had the chance, though, I ran into Jane who handles our groups. I asked if there was any discount on employees attending the session.

( I am writing this at work and the twin raccoons just went by the door so I had to go watch them. Now back to our story.)

Sometimes we are offered discounted tuition on various workshops. I got to attend a Lynda Barry workshop in March called Writing the Unthinkable for free. If you ever get the chance to take this workshop, I highly recommend it. Lynda is brilliant at helping you draw the stories out of yourself. Anyway, I asked Jane about the discount. She said the CodePink people were allowing employees to attend for free. Free!!!!!! I asked again just to be sure I heard her right. Sometimes what I hear and what people say are two totally different things. Yep, she really did say free. I did my little happy dance that makes Rhonda embarassed to be seen with me. I thanked my Higher Power for once again showing me that things will work out exactly as they are supposed to.

Everything was lining up. I had the time off I wanted for the weekend and I could now go to the workshop for free. At this point, the retreat was two weeks away and I could barely contain my excitement. I am not one who is able to hide my emotions. If I am upset, you will know. If I am angry, you will certainly know (but thanks to my recovery program, I won't throw things at you now). If I am happy, you'll know that too. Every single person I work with knew how happy I was and they were excited for me. I have never worked in such a supportive atmosphere. I was a paramedic for 15 years before coming here and I never felt this supported. I find that odd considering paramedics are supposed to work as a team with the firefighters and police officers but it never felt that way. I always felt as if I had to prove myself and always had to be on guard for any sign of weakness I might let through. No one I worked with in a 300+ people work environment ever really seemed to care about me or my life. They only seemed to care if I was coming to work and filling a slot. The attitude was there were a dozen people lined up to take my job if I didn't want it. I was a number. Where I work now, I feel valued. People are happy to see me when I come in and I them. It feels like a family or at least what I assume a functional family would feel like. I'm not really sure. While my family was fun at times, the ctional part never really came into play.

Every day for the next two weeks, I checked the reservations and the CodePink website to make sure Anne was still coming. I drove everyone at work crazy with my excitement and impatience. The day of arrival just couldn't get here fast enough. But it eventually did.

I got to work that Thursday exuding excitement from my pores. I'm sure my energy level filled the room and backed everyone else against the walls. I was checking everyone in until just before the opening meeting that night. She still had not arrived by the time my shift was over. The property I work on is 35 acres with the various lodges scattered around the land. There is also a 4-bedroom house that is used to house VIPs. It is at the bottom of a very steep driveway and usually we give those staying there a ride down in one of the golf carts. I left strict instructions that if Anne needed a ride, they were to call me on my cell and I would come get her. In other words, I had dibs on her.

I walked over to the main hall where the opening was going to take place. As soon as I walked in, I saw Anne sitting close to the stage. Dang, I thought, she sneaked in without me seeing her. At the end of the meeting, she got a ride down to the Gatehouse with another one of its occupants. I was foiled again.

The next morning, I was working at my desk when one of our newer front desk employees came to ask me for help. She said she had one guest who needed help printing something from her email and one guest who needed something else. I walked around the corner and there she was, Anne Lamott, dreadlocks and all. I have no idea now what it was that other guest needed because I immediately took over helping Anne with her email. Other guest? What other guest?

As it turned out, Anne is not at all computer savvy. She also has a Mac so our PCs were a bit alien to her. I was finally able to get her stuff printed out to her satisfaction and then she asked for a ride down to the Gatehouse. Woooohooooo, I thought. I get to visit with her all the way down the hill. The only thing I remember now from that conversation is that we both dislike snakes. We talked for about 10 minutes and that's all I remember. I can only hope I didn't say anything stupid. I tend to get a little incoherent around people I admire but I think I did okay with Anne. After dropping her off, I told her to be sure and call me when she was ready to come back up. And of course, I was on break when she called and nobody came to get me. Oh well.

At dinner that evening, I was part of some stimulating conversation about Voters 4 Peace. Although, I let slip while speaking to some of those women I admire (remember how I tend to be incoherent?) that I am a gigantic SciFi geek and am part of a group trying to get a sequel to Serenity made. They are working for world peace and I'm working for Joss Whedon's world domination. (He's the creator of Buffy, Angel and Firefly/Serenity, in case you are not a big SciFi geek and have no idea who I'm talking about.) They looked at me like I had a booger on my face. There is a 14 year old boy that lives inside me and he pops his head out at the most inopportune times.

I ran into Anne at dinner and asked if she had everything she needed. I ran into her again as we were all leaving the dining hall and told her to be sure to let me know if she needed anything else. She said she would and then went the opposite direction from me. I like to think she needed to go that way instead of what my friends told me, that she was trying to get away from me. I also like to think I am just a devoted fan. My friends say I sometimes start heading into stalker territory. They're just jealous.

For the Friday night program, Anne was going to be speaking along with Molly Ivins. If you aren't familiar with Molly, Google her. She has been an outspoken observer of Texas politics for a few decades now. I was sitting near the back of the room alongside my supervisor. I shared with her my meetings with Anne earlier in the day and she was excited for me. We were both really looking forward to hearing what Anne and Molly had to say that evening. And then it happened.

Anne had been sitting up near the stage. She got up and began heading for the back where I was sitting. As she neared the back of the room, she looked over at me. The rest of this is in slow motion in my memory now. As she looked at me, I wiggled my eyebrows, gave her a big goofy grin, and wiggled my fingers in a wave. She gave me an uncertain half smile and then quickly moved on past me. My supervisor leaned over and said, “Oh yeah, that was a little over the top.” I was mortified. I couldn't believe I had just done that. When she came back into the room, she came in the side door. I am certain it was to avoid me.

I am terminally uncool. All my life, I wanted to be cool and hip. I not only wanted to fit in, I wanted people to think I was really awesome. Instead, I was an overweight band nerd with bad skin. My family didn't have any money which might have bought me some coolness. No, I was relegated to the ranks filled by most kids. I mean, there can only be so many popular kids. We can't all have that honor or else who would they make fun of? I wasn't a jock, I couldn't sing or act, I wasn't particularly smart. I was good at playing my flute and marching during half time. I was good at writing angst filled stories about how uncool I was that no one would ever read.

As I've gotten older, coolness really doesn't matter to me anymore. My partner thinks I'm cool and that's what really counts. But there is still a part of me (that 14 year old boy no doubt) that wants to be part of the in crowd. That wants people to look at me and go, “She is just so awesome. I would really love to meet her.” That may or may not happen to me in my lifetime, I have no control over it. The things I do wish for, though, are to be able to not make a fool out of myself in front of people I admire and to think of those clever things I want to say at that particular moment instead of four hours later.

Anne gave her talk that night and was brilliant as always. She talked about having a nice revolution. One that is calm, polite and totally inclusive. Some days I like the idea of a polite revolution. Then again, pitchforks and torches seem appropriate some days too. Maybe I'll meet Anne again during that revolution and my inner 14 year old boy will be quiet for a change. More likely, though, he'll probably be all jazzed by the pitchfork idea and I'll just scare the crap out of her.

The Holocaust Museum

The outside of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is rather unassuming. It doesn't look any different than any other museum in this museum laden city. It's made of brick and mortar just like every other museum. By looking at the outside, no one would know that just by walking through the doors, it will change your life forever.

I had been in D.C. in 1993 when the museum was opened but there was a huge waiting list to get inside and I was nowhere near important enough. So, it wasn't until about 6 years later that I actually got to go inside. I, for some unknown reason, have always been drawn to World War II Europe in general and the Holocaust in particular. I am not Jewish. I don't know anyone who was personally touched by the mass genocide during the 1930's and 40's. But for years now, I have read the stories of the survivors, both the victims and the perpetrators. I have studied the history of how Hitler came to power and how the deporting and then killing of millions of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, political dissidents, and others began. I guess one thing that fascinates me is the complicity of an entire nation of people. Or maybe it is the horror and disbelief that this really happened. I don't know. Whatever the reason, getting to go into the museum had been something I had wanted to do for years.

Upon entering the building, we came into a small foyer that appeared to have no exit. We were greeted by an older woman, maybe 65, who handed us a pamphlet with a brief history of how the museum had come about and a piece of paper with a name and a life story on it. She told us that this was one of the prisoners of one of the camps. At the end of the exhibition, we would discover if "our" prisoner had lived or not. Mine was a 16 year old girl named Misha who had lived in Poland . She had two younger brothers and one younger sister. They had been taken to Auschwitz along with their mother and father. There was no picture of her on my slip of paper but I got a vision in my mind of a girl with brown hair and serious, brown eyes who dreamed of being a doctor. Being the oldest, she was often responsible for her siblings and I could see her putting a protective arm around a couple of them as they were led away from the cattle car that had brought them to this horrible place. The shouts and guns of the guards shattering the bravado she had attempted to wear.

After handing us the paperwork, the woman led us to an elevator that was hidden from view behind her desk. She told us that the exhibit started on the fifth floor and wound its way down to the first. She pushed the button for us, smiled, and then returned to her seat. We rode the elevator to the top and then exited into 1933.

The exhibit actually began after World War I describing how Germany was left in chaos after the Great War. It explained how Hitler and the Nazi Party came into power and then began their assault on humanity. I was impressed with the amount of paraphernalia the museum had acquired from this time period but was not, as yet, particularly moved. It wasn't until we got into the 1939 and later section that I began to realize this was not to be your ordinary, sterile, history-from-a-distance museum trip.

During the circular downward slope, I came across an actual cattle car that had been used to transport people to one of the concentration camps. I was, at first, hesitant to enter the car because I was getting a dark energy from it. But, it was part of the experience so I walked in. I was immediately bombarded with images, sensations, and sounds. I could see people packed into this car so tight that there was no room to move. I could see the terror and despair etched onto their faces. I could hear the moans of pain and the quiet desperate tears. I could feel the anguish of people separated from loved ones and the fear that they would never see them again. I could smell the stench of fear, dozens of sweaty bodies, blood, feces, and urine. These people had been forced to relieve themselves where they sat because there was no where else to go. I could feel the almost overwhelming sense of claustrophobia they had felt being crammed in so tight they could barely take a breath. This car, even 50+ years later, still carried this horrible time in its wooden beams.

I stumbled out of the cattle car gasping for breath so relieved to find myself in the present I almost cried. We continued downward to see a set of bunks where the prisoners had slept. They were stacked on top of each other so close, the sleepers barely had room to slide in. Sitting up was out of the question. They had been constructed this was so as to get as many people as possible into one dorm. There were pictures of emaciated men, women, and children, no more than walking skeletons, on the walls. Behind a wall about four feet high was a video screen. The wall was put up so small children could not see the video playing. So they could not see some of the worst atrocities the Nazis committed. This was video taken by the Germans of their "medical" experiments. Actual documentation of the soullessness of these men. They were proud of what they had done. They stood next to their "subjects" and smiled at the camera. I was torn between wishing that wall had been six feet tall so I couldn't have seen it and realizing that this must be viewed to be believed and believing was one step closer to seeing that it never happened again.

Next we walked past a display of shoes. Just ordinary, old, leather shoes. They were in a bin with a clear front so you could see how many there were. There were thousands and thousands of pairs of these shoes. It took just a heartbeat to realize that there had been a person inside every pair of those shoes. And these thousands and thousands of shoes represented only a small, minute portion of the people that died during this horrible time. The next display bin was filled with combs and hairbrushes, toothbrushes and mirrors, ordinary personal items. The Nazis had seen fit to keep the things they stole off the prisoners while casting the actual people aside like garbage. It was all too overwhelming but the worst was yet to come.

The next display was a section of what looked like a bathroom wall. There were shower heads at even intervals along the top. Unsuspecting women, men, and children were stripped of all their belongings as well as their clothes. They were made to stand naked outside and wait their turn at the "showers". What they didn't realize was that these were not ordinary showers. In fact there wasn't even any water hooked up to the shower heads. As another group was herded inside and the door barred shut, instead of the water they were expecting they could hear a hissing sound from above. It was the gas the Nazis pumped into the room to kill them. I could feel their desperate realization that these were not showers to get them clean but death chambers where they were to die. I could hear the screams and sobs and final gasps for air. I could smell the acrid stench of the gas and feel my lungs suddenly seize at the toxic fumes. I could feel their terror as their lungs began filling with fluid and they began drowning in their own blood. The gas worked fairly quickly as far as the Germans were concerned but for the thousands who experienced it first hand, it took an eternity to die.

I was so grateful to enter the next downward spiral. We were led onto a walkway with walls that went up higher than we could see and went down into the next level. On every surface of those walls were pictures. Thousands of pictures. Birthday pictures, wedding pictures, family portraits, and candid shots of people living life. Women on horseback, children playing in the dirt, men working in the fields. There were old faces and young faces. Beautiful faces and weathered faces. These pictures represented a village of over 900 people. It was actually a joy to step from all that death into all this life. I was enjoying looking at all those pictures as the walkway spiraled down into the next level. It was there that a plaque told us that all these people, all these souls from this one village, had been exterminated by the Nazi mobile killing units. An entire village that had stood in that spot for hundreds of years, wiped out in just two days. Over 900 people had been systematically taken to the village outskirts, forced to dig their own mass graves, then been shot, covered with lye and buried in giant plots of unmarked earth. All those people in all those photographs were dead. I was beyond overwhelmed. Tears that had been hiding in the corner of my eyes now poured freely down my face. It was all I could do not to sob so loudly they would hear me on the upper levels. Even now, years later, I can't help but sit at my computer screen and cry. I had always known how horrible the holocaust had been but I had known it from distant pictures and academic texts. I had never witnessed it up close and personal like this before.

I still had one more horror coming when I stumbled out of the wall of pictures and into an area with several walls about five feet high. On the wall directly facing me was a list of names. I realized these were the names of the people on the slips of paper we had been given what seemed like days ago. I scanned the list for my girl's name and when I found it, I could no longer contain my sobs. I cried out loud, to hell with anybody hearing me. This young girl, who's only worry before the Nazis came was keeping up with her little brother, had died a horrible brutal death, for what? Because of some insane megalomaniac and a country full of people willing to turn their backs. Make that a world of people willing to turn their backs. Other countries had known what was going on and had done nothing to stop it. Some even profited from it.

My vision obscured by tears, I managed to make it into the last part of the exhibit. It was a small temple, round with altars of candles at each of the four cross points. There was daylight coming from a skylight in the center of the roof illuminating the middle of the circle while the edges remained in candlelit darkness. Along the walls of an inner circle were benches made of stone. The room was void of other people and I made my way to one of the benches because standing was something that was getting steadily more difficulty to do. I sat and cried for what seemed like hours, the image of that lost sixteen year old girl still in my mind's eye. What a waste, what a senseless act of carnage the whole thing had been. How anyone could have been complicit in this immense tragedy was, and still is, beyond me.

After I was completely cried out, I arose off that bench and went to one of the altars of candles. In the flickering light, I picked up one of the long matches, lit it off an already burning candle, and then set aflame the candle next to it. As I watched the wick catch fire, I thought of Misha and her family. I thought of all the families that had been touched by this awful atrocity. I thought of all the potential that had been lost, snuffed out way before its time. Never again, I thought. Never again should something like this be allowed to happen. Never again.

I gathered myself and walked out of the temple into the bathroom. I washed my red, tear-streaked face and then washed my hands because I felt dirty. This trip down the spiral of hell that was the holocaust left me feeling as if I might never again be clean. Some things, once seen and heard, can never be unseen and unheard. I was not the same person I had been when I had strolled into that small foyer just a few hours ago. This experience had forever changed me. I no longer believed that all people were essentially good. I no longer believed that given the choice, most people would choose to do the right thing. I no longer had as much faith in humanity as I did before I came in here.

I exited the bathroom and walked through the small gift shop into the cold overcast day. The sun was hidden behind dark, rain-filled clouds and I thought that very appropriate. I walked down the sidewalk past a newsstand where I stopped to read the headline. There, written in big black letters, was proof that "Never again" didn't really mean never again. In some other remote part of the world, people were killing other people by the thousands. One people were trying to eradicate another people. When would it ever stop? When would we learn that underneath all that makes us different, we are all the same?

I pulled my collar up against the cold and strode off down the street back into my world where people are essential good and nobody kills anybody else. Off I went to stick my head back into the sand because, after all, what could one person do?

An Unexpected Love

Growing up an only child is lonely. At least I found it to be so because my mom had to work a lot. My most faithful companion was my cat, Toby. He and I were the same age so I had never known life without him. That is until we were fifteen and he got sick. My mom had to put him to sleep because he was suffering. I was devastated. I didn't think I would ever experience a relationship like that again until one cold November night in 1989.

My friends and I had traveled from San Angelo to Abilene and were supposed to meet up with some folks at the local bar. We stopped off at a house along the way because my friend G'Anna wanted to see her sister. When we stepped into the house, these six little white balls of cotton with feet and black noses came running up to us the little runt bringing up the rear. Where the others seemed afraid of us, he just walked right up to me, sat on my foot, and made himself comfortable. It was love at first sight. Turned out the owners were desperate to get rid of these puppies because the mother was no longer producing any milk and they were going crazy feeding six puppies every two hours. I took him home that very night. He was an American Eskimo and he was so small, his entire body fit into the palm of my hand. I named him Jasper but now I can't remember why.

After that, the only time we were apart was when I had to go to work. I took him with me everywhere. I was 21 years old and really not the best parent for a puppy. My discipline was haphazard and it took me forever to get him house trained. But I loved him with all my heart and he loved me. He wore a perpetual smile and when he looked at me his eyes would light up. For several years, Jasper was my one true friend. I had drinking buddies and the people I did drugs with but nobody that would really miss me if I were gone. I moved away to Baltimore for a year and he was still the only friend I had. As long as he was with me, I was home.

Nobody I dated could stand him. He barked too loud and was really ill behaved. He didn't do what he was told and wouldn't come when he was called. He would escape out the door if you weren't careful and he even peed on my girlfriend's clothes one time. He did something to the clothes or shoes of every woman I dated and I finally learned that if Jasper didn't like them, then I better turn and run. He was a good judge of character.When I met Rhonda in 1995, she didn't really like him that much either but she loved me so she tolerated him. He tolerated her too and didn't tear up or pee on any of her things so I figured I had a winner here.

In 2000, Rhonda and I went on vacation for three weeks leaving Jasper in the care of my parents out at their place in the country. When we returned, I found him just sitting on the front porch with his nose all swollen. He had been bitten by a snake. All that night, I held him while he slept. He seemed to be in pain so the vet said to give him some Tylenol. The next morning, he began peeing blood so we rushed him to the vet. Money was really tight and I was trying to figure out how we would pay for the vet bills. When we got there, Rhonda told the vet that money was no object. I think that was the first time I really knew for a fact deep in my heart that she loved me. For her to say that money was no object for this dog that she really didn't like was extraordinary. The only reason was because she loved me and she knew that Jasper meant the world to me.

Unfortunately, nothing could be done for my little buddy. He was old and the poison had attacked his kidneys. He was already going into septic shock. Even if we'd have been there right when he got bit, he still would have died. I held him in my arms when the vet injected the solution into his IV that would allow him to drift off to sleep. I had never in my whole life experienced the pain of loss like that. I felt like my heart was being shattered into a million pieces.

We took him home and buried him under his favorite tree. I would have liked to do more for him but it all happened so sudden. I have had other furry souls that I have loved over the years and we've buried a few others under that tree but Jasper will always be my favorite, my boy, my buddy. It is a testament to how much I loved him and how much he loved me that even now almost five years later, I still cry when I think about him. But I also smile because remembering him is more joy than pain. And I know that he isn't really gone. He visits me sometimes in my dreams and I know that wherever I go, I carry him with me. I am truly blessed to have loved and been loved by that sweet little dog.

Saying Goodbye

I was 8 years old the first time I met you even though you had been around my whole life. I didn't really see the importance of having you in my life at the time but my mom assured me I would come to understand. I was 12 when we met again. You showed up one day unannounced, but not unexpected. I had been waiting for you. I had eagerly anticipated your arrival without really understanding why. I just knew that with you around people looked at me different. I was always ambivalent about you at best. I wasn't really sure we were going to get along. Once I realized how much pain and misery you brought to my life, I knew that this was a bad idea. As I grew older, you got meaner. All around me, people were ecstatic that you were in their lives. You brought them joy and love. You just continued to punish me. Was it because you knew you didn't have a purpose in my life? Was it because you knew I didn't really want you around? Whatever it was, you just continued to inflict pain. Finally, I could ignore you no longer. It was when you were screaming at me, "I'm still here! What are you gonna do about it?" that I knew I finally had to end my relationship with you. I could see that I would never have a life as long as you were around. You would just continue to take up more of my time and energy until I no longer had any to give. You would suck me dry if I didn't stop you. You've been gone just over a month now. It was painful to be separated from you at first but gradually, the pain has been replaced with peace and the gaping wound you left behind has become a scar. I really expected to feel nothing but elation with your departure but honestly, a part of me regrets that our relationship is over. If only things had been different from the start, we may have had a chance. If only you had been kinder to me and I a little more patient. If only, if only, is there a more useless beginning to a sentence? It's over and now it's time to move on. You are gone and I'm better off without you. So long, farewell, adios.