This year is full of contradictions. Paradoxically, it's been one of my best and my worst years. I began the year with an extended Christmas break followed by a great study abroad experience. Then my summer alternated between immense activity and complete isolation. While at times I thought I might go insane from lack of social interaction, at other times I got to see good friends that I hadn't seen in years. I spent a little over a week catching up with Kim on a trans-US/Canadian road trip (whom I hadn't seen since June of 2008). Even though we spent a lot of time driving and listening to the same songs over and over again, we also got to see a lot of cool scenery and wildlife....and avoid getting eaten in our tent by said wildlife, gain valuable work-place experience in the moving industry, perfect our rendition of "My Life Would Suck Without You", acquire a premium German accent, have heart-to-heart conversations, partake in dust art, and I learned how to drive without using my rear-view mirror.

In Arizona I discovered that while moving heavy furniture down a set of stairs is frustrating, moving it up stairs is even worse. I got to make a trip back up to my old haunt of Cottonwood and see Amanda #2, which was also fantastic. Then I spent a few days in extreme suburbia and returned to Alaska.

I had an awful flight going to Alaska, and discovered by accident that I had my ride's old cell phone number...and so failed to let her know that my flight was going to be delayed about 4 hours. Luckily she didn't abandon me, even though she'd had a long rough day too. Even though we were both exhausted, we had a nice little catch-up session (I hadn't seen Tara since she'd come to visit me in Arizona a few years earlier). I also discovered that Fruitland smoothies are amazing.

I got to the house in Alaska to find that the car keys weren't there (a big problem). Luckily, everything got sorted out the next day and it just became a slight mishap rather than a disaster (since there wasn't really any food at the house and we lived 16 miles outside of town). Then I got to have some alone time...something I had severely missed in Russia. A lot of alone time.

However, when I wasn't being alone or admiring the great view of the inlet, I was seeing old friends...some of whom I hadn't seen since I left 5 years ago. Sarah and I learned to open champagne bottles with a sword, Gabe and I went rock climbing and had many a late night chat, Mark showed me the joys of scary computer games and rollerskiing (or being pulled by him on rollerskis), Jessica and I had a nice dinner, and Trevor and I had lunch and my first game of frisbee golf (which I discovered I'm not so good at). I knitted my first scarf ever (although I have since knitted a 2nd...the key is to use larger needles).

Then comes school. I'm living in a great suite with a great group of girls. I'm only taking 3 classes, which means I have an unusual amount of free time. However, I somehow never seem to get enough sleep..even though my classes don't start until 10 or 11 each day. I'm playing 1st in orchestra and have managed to avoid the wrath of the director so far (which is better than I can say for a lot of the other members). My boat for crew has come together surprisingly well. Even though 2 of the girls have never rowed before they've caught on amazingly fast, and we even won a medal at our last regatta (a medal that we earned, not just got because there were only 3 boats). I got an A on my midterm, even though I didn't like my essay. My Fulbright application finally got turned in (and with minimal conflicts). I'm feeling optimistic about the year, and looking forward to Thanksgiving, which is just around the corner.

Unfortunately though, this year has not been without its troubles. October has been an especially emotionally taxing month for me. On October 1st I began the month by oversleeping an important crew practice. I had been up late doing homework, and then had trouble falling asleep, so it's not surprising that I either incorrectly set my alarm clock, or I just didn't hear it go off. As soon as I woke up I sent my coach a quick e-mailed apology, and went back to bed. When I woke back up at about 9 I went through my usual morning routine: get up, bathroom, brush teeth, get dressed, check e-mail. I almost didn't see the e-mail from the dean. It said there had been a tragedy on turns out that 4 girls driving to the practice I overslept had been hit by an 18-wheeler. 2 of them died instantly, and 2 others were badly injured. I had only met them a couple of times, but it was still shocking to learn the news.

Then, yesterday, I got home at about 8 pm from a busy day and found an e-mail from my site director in Irkutsk titled "Amanda, I have some bad news". This time the news was much more personal. She said that a few days ago Igor (my friend and ex-boyfriend from Irkutsk who was currently in Seattle) committed suicide. His sister wanted me to know that it had nothing to do with me or the relationship, and I believe her. The breakup was sad, but necessary, and we parted on as amiable of terms as possible, but decided that it would be best for both of us not to have any contact for a while. That being the case, I hadn't talked to or heard from Igor in 3 or 4 months. The last thing I knew, he was really enjoying Seattle, found the work he was doing rewarding, and was starting to make plans for the future back in Irkutsk. I guess we can never truly know what's going on in the heads of others though. I don't know how or why it happened. In some ways I don't want to know. It's just heartbreaking to know that someone you cared about could hurt so much that death seemed like the only answer....and that there was nothing you could do to help.

I don't want to think about him as he must have been this week, I want to remember him as I knew him. If he had a fault, it was that he cared too much. He regularly rescued poor lost foreigners and loved children. Even though he classified himself as a loner and only had a couple of people he considered his true friends, the whole town knew and liked him. He was brilliant, but modest. He looked best when he played soccer...I never did care for his maroon dress shirt that he wore so much. Somehow he managed to be a complete dreamer and romantic...and utterly practical. He always said that he was just like a big child, and I agree. He rescued me from countless dinners (if I didn't like something, he would just sigh and roll his eyes and eat it for me), and always insisted on washing the dishes. I taught him how to make chocolate chip cookies (which he thought were "bearable"..along with PB&J), banana bread, and Chinese fried rice. Together we learned how to make blini...however, he had no skill at all at flipping them. Sometimes he was pensive and didn't understand the world, but overall he was an optimist. We had a lot of good times together. We were different in a lot of ways, and in the end that drew us apart, but through it all he was always a fun and loving friend. He's one of my greatest memories from Irkutsk. Had I known when we said goodbye in Moscow that it would have been for forever, I would have hugged him tighter.

R.I.P Игорь Михаилович Лужков. I hope the next world is better for you than this one was.

Please keep everyone's families and friends in your prayers. Death is never easy for anyone.

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Good news: no more required disclaimer!
Bad news: I'm really lazy about posting when I'm not in Russia