Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Don't know when I'll be back again. And, actually, that's true. Possibly not for two whole years.

This is my last entry from the United States. After all those trials, those tribulations, that blood and those tears, I'm finally departing for the Peace Corps in Guyana. Almost one year, one nomination change, and ten thousand pages of paperwork have come and gone since then. And technically speaking I'm just beginning.

I wanted to do so much more before I left, like call my friends and spend a while on the phone with each of them. I got to call exactly NO ONE (well, except Melonie, but that's because I needed some contact info from her). So if you didn't get a call, don't feel bad because you're in good company.

My plane leaves in about 7 hours, and I still need to get some modicum of sleep, so I can't write long. Too bad, because before I went I also wanted to write a few more blog entries on Dominica. Well, maybe it will be a work in progress. My fear is that those memories will become a blur as they are replaced with newer, fresher (and hopefully more successful) memories. But that's probably a baseless fear. That Peace Corps experience and this one are totally different -- different place, different people, different experiences, and even from different times in my life. This experience won't supplant or replace that one. It will be totally new. And it's going to kick ass.

I'll try to update as often as I can. I'm aiming for once per week, maybe slightly more frequently -- but depending on circumstances, it might be more like bi-weekly. A lot of these Peace Corps blogs seems to get kinda quiet after someone gets into country, often because of inaccessibility to internet access, shortage of time, or diversion of energy. I can't make any promises, but I've really enjoyed writing this so far and have no intentions of letting this blog simply die, so at least I'll try to make it to a cybercafe or to the Peace Corps office every so often to drop a line. I thank all my readers for their support, advice, and comments. Peace out. And to those still in the application process, just wait -- your day will come sooner than it feels like. No doubt you'll feel like, right there in the last few hours, that you could use a couple more days to square away things. I sure could.

A hui hou,

Fly out of Abilene, TX at 7 am
Arrive Miami, FL at 12:30 pm
Drop off all my stuff in the hotel room around 2:00 pm
Report to Check-In and Staging at 3:00 pm
Meet tons of new, cool, and interesting people at 3:30 pm.
Go out to South Beach with some of them around 8 pm.
Crash back at the hotel at 11:00 pm.

More to come. Much, much more to come.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

One Week and Counting

After the heavy post I wrote before this, I thought I'd leave you all with something lighter. Before I go to bed tonight I thought I'd just freak out a little over the fact that I leave for Guyana in one week!

A few months from now, this moment will seem so quaint, and this little ol' me sitting here at my mother's computer in West Texas will seem so naive. But right now, I'm just anxious and excited. I'm already there, so to speak.

The Country Desk Officer for South America sent out an e-mail a couple days ago asking who would like to hear from other Guyana Invitees before we leave. I put my e-mail on that list, and tonight I've received a bunch of e-mails from about 10 people who will be in my training group. It's wonderful to be able to get a "sneak peek," so to speak. It's quite a diverse crowd, but we all have one thing in common: we're going to Guyana together in one week. We might all be scattered across the country, but each of us is going through the same thing.

Kick ass!


Coming Up Close

While I was in Seattle last week I had a day to kill when my friends were busy with work and other obligations, and I had the fortune of having a rental car to give me freedom of mobility. I decided I was going to take a little trip to check out some of my old stomping grounds. I sometimes enjoy doing this, because for me memory is very strongly tied to location, yet going back to places that used to mean a lot to me can be very sad, bordering on painful. It can also be bittersweet, though, and I find I am addicted to the sensation. I ended up driving around the Puget Sound to Silverdale in my quest.

But first, let me tell you a story.

I moved to the Seattle area from Spokane in fall of 1993. I was 22. Most of my friends already lived there or had by then relocated there, so I had been going over there for a couple of years on a regular basis and so was fairly familiar with it. I shared an apartment on Bainbridge Island with Greg, and as fall went on I got a job at a mall in Silverdale, which was a twenty minute drive or so from our place on the island. My lame job was Christmas help at a Sam Goody music store. Around this time I began to get my usual winter stir-craziness and began applying for colleges, and the ones I chose were the University of Hawai`i and the University of the West Indies (obviously I wanted to get the hell out of rainy and cold Washington). Little did I know, I was drastically altering the course of my life.

While I worked at Sam Goody, I met a girl named Catt, and we started dating very heavily, even after I got accepted to the University of Hawai`i and moved back to Spokane to prepare to move to Honolulu. I remember that spring and summer as being one of the most intense and excellent of my life, that relationship becoming the standard by which I compare my relationships since. I had been in a few relationships before that, but nothing had ever had this level of passion. Catt ended up agreeing to move with me to Honolulu, a move which was very rash and probably ill-advised on some levels, since she was really at a stage in her life where she needed to remain around her huge network of friends in Seattle.

Things fell apart slowly from there, and though we spent a year in Hawai`i together but somehow we couldn't recapture what we had in Silverdale. It wasn't all my fault, but it mostly was. I can say that honestly -- I was a little self-absorbed back then, and definitely not mature enough to accept my various responsibilities. When I think back now, I tend mostly to think of the first few months of our relationship instead of the time in Hawai`i, and I remember all that quite fondly indeed. Good memories.

So last week, there I was in Seattle with an entire day to kill and a rental car paid-for. I drove up to the U-district, to the apartment where my friend Greg had lived for damn near ten full years. He now lives with his wife in another part of the city. But for basically most of my 20s he lived in the same place and I have a wealth of strong memories tied to it. For some reason, most of my memories come as sense memory, tiny pieces of moments like snapshots complete with sensation. Rarely do I remember events as completely as I remember moments. Who knows, maybe everyone is that way, but for me they are very vivid and always tied in with a sense of melancholy, a sense of having lost something to time, something important. Funny, because I never care too much about what's going on around me at the time it's happening...

The strongest and most meaningful memories of Greg's old place revolve around the spring and summer of 1994, the same time I was so in love with Catt. She was over there many times during then as well and so I've come to largely associate his apartment with her. I drove up to this apartment on University Avenue and parked and walked down to see it. It was in shabby condition, but it always had been. Other than the business downstairs being different, everything looked the same as it did in my memories, as it did in 1994. But rather than being hit with the same feelings of sadness and loss at the march of time, I felt... nothing. It was a place. Nobody I cared about or loved was there anymore. It didn't feel haunted, like places often feel to me, but rather it felt unimportant. Why should I care about it if Greg, or Catt, or anyone else isn't there?

Having the rest of the day to kill, I decided to drive over to Bainbridge Island and check out that place, as well as the mall at Silverdale and Catt's old place. Instead of taking the ferry, which would have taken me right to Bainbridge, I decided to save money by driving around the Tacoma Narrows. This would take me past Silverdale/Bremerton first. So I decided to do those in reverse order, and go to Catt's old place first. Well, it took me almost an hour and a half to find that damn apartment. All I remembered was it was one of the Silverdale exits, north of Port Orchard, that it was to the right soon after coming off the off-ramp, and that it was at a dead-end by the waterside. I figured I'd be able to find it easily once I was back in the area, working off memory, something that usually works okay. But these were eleven year-old memories so it was a real struggle.

I did manage to find it eventually. The moment I made the right turn I felt all the puzzle pieces click into place. And then -- there it was. It was like stepping back a decade through a time portal. Everything was, of course, slightly different. But it looked almost exactly as I remembered it. The sudden backward timeslip made me gasp a little, I admit. I parked in the same spot by the dead-end where I used to park my Geo Metro after driving across the state to see her, and I got out and stood by my car. It was beginning to rain lightly. Seagulls strutted the same rocky beach the apartment looked over. The same dock angled out into the same water. The same blackberry bushes and weeds rustled along the embankment. The apartment now had a security fence, but otherwise was the same white color and still might as well have had the same cars parked in the carports. It was as though the last eleven years hadn't happened.

But one thing was missing: just like at Greg's place, I didn't feel that sense of bittersweet regret at times long lost. I was expecting... what? To feel Catt's presence -- or, more importantly, the presence of a 22-year-old Brian? That there would be ghosts there? There was nothing. Just a 33-year-old man standing by his car in a dead-end by the sea. Catt now lives in California. I've been all over the place, from Hawai`i to Florida, been married, had adventures, grown up.

What the heck was I doing there?

Something major had changed in me, more so that I had expected. I began to realize that, even though I still treasure my memories of good times had in Seattle, or in Silverdale, or in Bainbridge or wherever, I no longer felt as sentimental about them as I once did. What did this mean? Maybe it meant that I was in a place in my life where, finally, I was looking forward rather than back. Maybe it meant my memories have finally achieved autonomy from the places where they were formed.

Whatever the reason, I decided to go. Instead of going on to check out other old stomping grounds in the area, I would just drive back to Issaquah and spend the rest of the day with my friends... the same ones from so long ago, and yet, themselves new people.

And I just got back in my car and drove away.


Am I My Blogger's Keeper?

I haven't had much of a chance to post over the last week-plus, mainly because I was in Seattle and my friends kept me very busy. This is the time, though, when I should be very active on this blog. There's one week left until departure! After this long wait (secen years, if you think about it!) I'm finally heading out of here in one week. I'll try to post my packing list and some other thoughts here, on the eve of my departure.

The trip to Seattle was incredible. After leaving Oregon, I went up to Bellingham to stay with my dad and stepmother for a couple of days. Then they had to fly off to Central and South America, respectively, so I went to stay with my friend Ryan for three nights and my friend Greg for two. Ryan's wife, Liz, was in her 9th month of pregnancy and due any time, and as it turned out, they induced labor the night before I was to leave. Due to a mix-up with some boxes I needed (which I stupidly left in Ryan's trunk) Greg and I went up to the hospital late Thursday night to meet up with Ryan and make a swap -- my boxes for a DVD we had rented under his name. I could hear Liz in there moaning and screaming in the throes of childbirth. Turns out, had we shown up just a half hour later, Greg and I might have actually seen Ryan's baby boy (Wesley Cole) before I had to leave. But it was still interesting that I was there when it all went down. Some of the almost magical closure, like what I experienced in Tallahassee a couple weeks ago.

And the run of odd coincidences and circumstances continued throughout the trip. While I was in Bellingham, out of the clear freaking blue my ex-wife Michelle called me. She was astonished when I answered, and she said she was only testing the number to see if it was still active. She was expecting me to be in the Pacific somewhere, and I realized we hadn't spoken since October, when I still held out hope for a November departure. She asked where I was. I couldn't exactly lie to her, so I said "Bellingham." "Get OUT!" she cried, in astonishment, perhaps expecting to hear somewhere in Florida. "Are you going to make it down to Seattle?" I paused, again not wanting to lie. But I didn't exactly want to meet up with her, either. Those who have read this blog will remember we didn't part in the best of circumstances, and I do hold quite a bit of resentment toward her for how things went down. But yeah, I said, I'll be in Seattle. So she wanted to meet up. I gave her a very non-committal "yeah, we can do that," and she could tell immediately that I had reservations. But after some thought over the next day or two, I realized I probably should, so at the very least I could give her my contact info and that way she can pay me the money she owes for our divorce settlement.

Turns out, we couldn't meet up. I had to return the rental car on Monday and then had no way out to where she was the other days. So instead, we chatted on the phone. As we did so, some of my anger and resentment toward her eased a little. It seems her life hasn't been too wonderful since our divorce -- all understatement aside, it's been awful. I won't, of course, divulge all the details because they're private, but I will say I know her well enough to know when she's exaggerating or playing something up for pity, and this was very real. She lost everything she owned to a fire at the storage unit in Atlanta (everything: her photo albums, her wedding dress, her artwork, her books, her mementos, everything). And from there things got worse. She now works at a couple restaurants in the Seattle area and lives in Greenwood and is starting to put the pieces of her life back together. She said she's starting to get a better sense of herself and regain some balance in her life. Listening to the details, I couldn't help but feel a little sad for her, but also one phrase kept repeating in my mind: karma's a bitch.

At least it was nice to get that conversation in before I depart. When I come back I'll have some money coming my way from her, by hook or by crook, but until then I hope she can find some success and order in life.


Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Host Country

This is an interesting page -- a report on Guyana from the State Department, designed to give foreign diplomats and others who are moving there for State Department work an idea of what to expect and what to bring. Good reading, although not geared specifically toward those who will be living more simply in rural communities.

U.S. Department of State Post Report on Guyana:

Friday, May 13, 2005

Something Strange -- Resolved!

Nothing is ever easy.

Today my father, his wife, and my sister and I took a trip up to Mt. Saint Helens. We got a later start than I wanted (although that was my fault - *ahem*) because I really really needed to call the Peace Corps and resolve this issue with my missing Staging Packet and Ticket. I tried calling from my sister's house, but even in the heavily-populated area of Beaverton, Oregon (a bedroom community just west of Portland) our crappy Sprint phones pick up no signal. Even on the back porch there was nothing; I'd get three "bars" for a few seconds, try to hurriedly make the call, then have the call drop just as the PC operator was picking up.

So I tried again once we got on the road. Several tall hills and tunnels foiled me yet again, and to my utter frustration I was unable to receive a clear and uninterrupted signal until we reached freaking downtown Portland! By then, the battery in my buster-ass phone was threateningly low. (Needless to say, I have an older phone, something I choose because I don't care much about cell phones -- but that bites me in the ass sometimes). So I called the Peace Corps, but now the answering service was claiming the Peace Corps was closed... at 3:30 pm Eastern!

By then I was officially wigging out. The universe was out to get me, to conspire to keep me from going to Guyana. After telling me they were closed for the day, the answering machine message at the PC HQ gave an alternate number for current PCVs who have had a sudden death in the family or some other major crisis, directing them to the Duty Officer who would be available 24 hours a day. Just yesterday I had heard the same message when I really did call after hours, and I figured it didn't apply to me. But today some sort of desperation born of mounting fear led me to toss their restrictions and call the duty officer. Turns out the PC wasn't closed, and that everyone was still there, diligently working away. The duty officer gave me the number for the Guyana desk and a Staging specialist, and just as she was going to transfer my call, Sprint dropped my connection again. By this time we had gone through Portland and were crossing the river into Vancouver. I called back using the numbers she gave and reached the Guyana desk but... nobody was there.

So I called the Staging specialist. This time, things finally worked out. He very kindly took down my info, e-mailed me the paperwork I'll need to bring, snail-mailed a copy to my mom's place, then gave me the SATO number (this is the department in charge of travel for volunteers). I arranged my plane ticket right then and there. They sent me the itinerary via e-mail and hard copy. And I hung up the phone, relieved.

Guess I will be going to Guyana, thank heavens!


Oh yeah: It was a nice trip to St. Helens. We went up deep into the mountains to a spot where the Park Service has a tourist station on a high cliff overlooking the volcano. They have typical tourist things there, like themed toys and books and many interactive displays. Out across a moonscape plain far below the overlook was the mountain itself, rising up out of a blasted valley. It was massive; it was so huge, and the vegetation in the valley and adjoining hills so sparse, that it defied attempts to judge distance. Scattered hillocks and water-carved gorges broke the otherwise smooth plain formed by the initial avalanche that triggered the explosion. Almost half the mountain broke off and cascaded down into a valley, and the explosions and pyroclastic flows that followed dumped even more detritus down until it was a nearly smooth bald slope up to the crater. From the vantage point at the station you could see into the U-shaped crater and clearly see the towering walls forming a bowl at the top. Deep inside was a crumbly dome of lava rock. Clouds the size of a city obscured parts of the mountain flank. The whole scene was simply staggering in its magnitude and power. It was made even more so by the wonderful clear weather. I've never seen anything like it. (Except, of course, Kilauea and Halemaumau in Hawai`i, but that's another story.)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Something Strange

... is going on. I still haven't received my Staging packet, which contains information about where to report for staging and all that other good stuff. Nor have I received my plane ticket! I talked to my ex-roomie back in Tallahassee, and he swears nothing has come from the Peace Corps since I left. I checked the online toolkit and found I hadn't updated my address to my mother's, but still -- that stuff should have come to my old address, and it apparently hasn't.

So I'm calling them tomorrow. There are less than 20 days until I fly out, and I really need that stuff pronto. It's getting scary. I'd hate to miss this assignment, too!!!


Every Day is Like Sunday

I'm currently in Portland, Oregon, visiting my sister and father (and his wife). It has been rainy, which is no surprise, but tomorrow it should clear up. We plan to drive up to Mount Saint Helens to the observation area nearby. This, on almost the 25th anniversary of the eruption. It will be interesting.

Indeed, I remember St. Helens erupting back in May 18, 1980. At the time I was nine years old and living in Spokane, Washington. On the day of the eruption we were driving out to the Air Force base west of Spokane for an air show, and I remember the loooooooong line of cars leading up to the place. Then for some reason air-raid sirens began to howl everywhere and the base guards started turning people away. On the horizon a massive black wall of clouds was filling the sky. I thought it was a nasty storm, but Dad turned on the radio and we heard the news about the huge eruption and that a cloud of ash was stretching across the state. Everyone should get indoors, they said, cover your faces, and get ready for the ash to fall. Sure enough, in a few hours the clouds had totally covered Spokane and everything was eerily dark. It was the kind of dark people report before tornadoes hit, or when there's an eclipse -- just a ghostly half-light left over. And small flakes of what looked like snow began to fall, only these were slightly greyish and didn't really drift down as much as sift.

In the morning, the world was blanketed with a few inches of the stuff. It had the look of snow, but outside it was 60 degrees, and as soon as you touched it you could tell the difference. It was grainy and left an afterimpression on the skin, much like that one gets when one touches fiberglass insulation. Makes sense, since like fiberglass, this was made of tiny shards of earth fused into glass. For the next few weeks (I don't recall how long, because when you're in 4th grade a week seems a lifetime) we had to go about everywhere with masks on, just like the kind you saw Chinese people wearing during the SARS scare. I remember riding my bike through the ash and leaving a trail behind me, and being afraid to step off the bike because of all the admonishions from my folks.

Anyhow, so tomorrow I'll go up to St. Helens and see how 25 years have changed it. I can't believe it's been that long -- stuff like that makes me feel so old.

After Portland, I'm off to spend a couple of days more in Bellingham, up by the Canadian border. That's where my dad lives with his wife, whom he met while working in Venezuela. She has been to Guyana a couple times and is from the general area of northern S. America, so she is full of all kinds of information. She is very excited about my going there. Today we went to Powell's World of Books (the largest and most wonderful bookstore I've ever been in, and a staple for the readers in our family whenever we come out here to Portland) and we scoured it for books on Guyana. She found an interesting one about the area where she and my father used to work, a place called El Dorado, in eastern Venezuela, not but 80 miles from the border with Guyana. I didn't find much else, but I did find an excellent map of Guyana that shows lots of information. At last! Most of what I bought, to tell the truth, had to do with Hawai`i, my first love in this world. Lots of great books on politics, language, and history. I ended up forking over $65 for some books and a CD set which will teach me Hawaiian language. It was about a quarter what I could have spent if I didn't stop myself. But the Hawaiian language lessons I'll try to rip and put on my...

...New iPod! Yes, I got a 30 gig picture iPod as well today. A major splurge, but this was my thinking: I would like to be able to continue writing the novel I'm working on (about 3/5ths of the way through) and I'm sure my computer won't last all that long in Guyana. Big bonus if it does. But if it fails, I can still access all the files because my iPod is compatible with both Mac and PC. So I can use just about any computer, and so maybe can continue writing my book even sans my iBook. Plus journal and write the other stuff I want to write. Needless to say, I'll keep this on the D.L. once I'm in country, get it insured, and generally protect it like a treasure. There's been a lot of discussion on the peacecorps2 Yahoo group about how much technology is too much, and I tend to agree that bringing all kinds of cool technology can not only distract one from the cultural environment around you, but also is uncool because you have all these goodies your HCNs don't have. I probably wouldn't bother to bring a computer, in fact, but for the fact that I'm a writer and do by far my best work by keyboard. If it weren't for my need to keep writing and not lose two more years toward my ultimate career as novelist, I'd eschew the laptop. But I'll definitely not rely on it and come to expect it.

I'll cut this entry off here, as it is long enough. More rainy Puget Sound weather to come, and I'll let you know how all that goes.


A Damn Shame

I received word a few days ago that one of the PCVs I know in Guyana (whom I met through this blog -- yes! validation!) has decided to ET. I can't and won't go into all the details, out of respect to her and her family, but she felt she needed to leave because of problems with a local Guyanese person.

I was strangely saddened when I heard this news, perhaps because I wanted her to be able to find inner strength to overcome this obstacle. Perhaps it is because being in a new and scary environment can be hard and I was looking forward to knowing someone before I even arrived. Perhaps it was because when someone ETs it makes it that much easier for others to. And I can't help but be nervous about my staying power -- after all, I only have the one sample to go from, and it didn't speak well for me.

Whatever the reason, I want to just say to her family that I'm very sad this happened and that she felt she needed to remove herself from the situation for it to be resolved. I will sorely miss her when I arrive in country. May she have an easy transition back to the states. Maybe she'll consider a new assignment and a new country with Peace Corps after a short break. It's possible. But outside of that, I hope she can find something exciting and interesting to do and have fun doing that. Thanks for all the great e-mails and information you've shared -- it has been invaluable to me. I'll think of you when I arrive in G'town.


Monday, May 02, 2005

ENC 1102 Spring 2005, NFC

ENC 1102 Spring 2005, NFC
For the last year, I've been teaching the same great group of students at North Florida Christian, through the local Community College (they were taking a dual-enrolled class which was held on their campus). I myself am not a Christian, but found them to be a wonderful group of both students and human beings, and had probably the best year of my teaching career so far. It helped that I had the same students two semesters in a row for the two consecutive freshman English classes, so I got to know them very, very well. That's me in the back on the left-hand side, standing up.

Congratulations to all of you, and good luck in your academic future and beyond, whatever that might hold. A hui hou (until we meet again).


ENC 1102 Spring 2005, NFC

ENC 1102 Spring 2005, NFC
My 2nd-period class at North Florida Christian. That's me in the far back behind the girl in the black shirt.

The End of the Road

This will be my final blog entry from Tallahassee, Florida. My U-Haul trailer is packed, other than some last-minute items I'll be using over the next 12 hours, and I'm ready to go. My goal is to leave by noon tomorrow morning (technically today). This was my night of "last times," including the last time I'll eat at my favorite local restaurant (La Pitaria), the last time I'll see a movie in Tally (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and the last time I'll bump into an ex-student.

Yes, that's right: in a truly bizarre twist of fate, I saw a former student of mine at the store as I stopped on the way back from the movie, to get something to eat before bed. Brandie G. was in my class several years ago when she was a freshman, and she has stuck in my mind for years because a) she was a delightful student, b) she had me as a teacher twice for successive English Comp. classes, and c) her final essay in my spring semester class included a bunch of photographs taken of her grandfather and she never came back for them.

Now, these weren't just polariods shot around a barbecue. These were old black-and-whites taken at the start of WWII, when her grandfather was only 19 years old. And these were the originals. Yes, she had affixed the actual original photos to her essay using double-sided tape. It was an extra effort she didn't need to make -- the essay was already "A" quality. But it was nice that she felt the motivation to bring in other media to supplement her essay, and dug into family archives. Most students surf the 'Net for ten minutes and print something out unmodified and call it good.

After the end of the class, I always kept the essays for one semester so students could come back and reclaim them, if they wanted. A few months later I went to toss the essays and there was hers, with the photos of her grandfather in them. So I pulled hers aside and let the rest go to recycling. I e-mailed her to come pick up her photos, if not her essay. She never wrote back and never came for them. So I e-mailed her again a few months later -- same result. Now a year had elapsed since she was my student, and still the essay lingered in my "out" box. So I tossed the bulky folder in favor of the single sheet of taped photos and brought it home. A few months later I found it yet again, and came very close to throwing them away in frustration. But I couldn't just toss these photos out... Like I said, these weren't crappy point-and-clicks. These were originals, antiques, family heirlooms.

So I looked up her family. They lived in central Florida, near Orlando. I wrote up a note explaining the odd situation, placed it and the photos in an envelope, and sent it. It never returned, so I always presumed I got the address right. In time I forgot about it. But tonight, seeing Brandie at the store, I suddenly was hit with this burning need to know if those photos had ever made their way back into the family's possession.

As I approached her and a friend she was with, I was struck with the oddity that I could remember her name clealy and instantly. Anyone who knows me can attest to my poor capacity for name-recognition. Faces, I can do, but names slip my mind unless used constantly. So anyway, she was astonished to see me, and said she would have thought I'd be gone by now. "Funny you say that," I said. "This is literally my last night in Tallahassee." Hers to, it turned out: she just graduated from FSU (I contributed to that!) and was moving to a new job elsewhere. I explained my impending service in the Peace Corps and she seemed excited. Then I told her I just had to know what happened to those photos, and I explained to her how long I held onto them and the agony I faced at throwing them out.

"We got them," she said, smiling. "Thanks so much for that!"

"No problem. They belonged with your family. I couldn't just toss 'em."

A minute later we said our goodbyes and exchanged wishes for a successful and exciting future, and we walked off. And that was that -- the last time I'll bump into an ex-student (most likely), or at least the last time here in town. It had a remarkable tone of closure to it, this encounter. It answered a years-old nagging question of mine. It let me see a former student who, when I last saw her, was fresh-faced and young, just starting out her academic career, and I got to see her successful and beginning the career she entered college to study for. It bookended my years in Tallahassee and as a teacher. If I believed in such things, I might say it was meant to be. But even if it was just a weird coincidence, it was incredibly meaningful to me in a way only perhaps another teacher could understand. It was a perfect last experience.

Now I'll never forget her name!