Talking with . . .

Karen Larsen
An interview by John Coyne (Ethiopia 1962–64)

    I do not know Karen Larsen (Bulgaria 1996–1998). I’ve never met Karen Larsen. I first heard about her book when it was nominated for the best books by RPCV awards that Peace Corps Writers gives every year. Reading Breaking the Limit: One Woman’s Motorcycle Journey Through North America I was taken by her great spirit and love of adventure, and tracked her down — not that she was easy to find. Now, I want you to read my interview with her, but I don’t want you to read it unless you read it from beginning to end and no skipping ahead to get to the best parts. Karen is an amazing person and we are lucky to have her as one of our own. I have known a lot of RPCVs in my years of tracking Peace Corps writers. Karen Larson is not the best writer, as she might be the first to admit, but she is a fine woman, and that is proven page after page in her book as she tells of her ride from New Jersey to Alaska on her Harley-Davidson. And also you’ve got to love someone who when leaving graduate school and Princeton University on her bike knows just how to time the blasts from her Harley so the sound sets off the alarm systems on all the expensive cars parked on trendy Nassau Street. So read what we talked about over the winter and then go out and buy her book.

    Where are you from, Karen?
    I’m from Ontario, originally, a mining city called Sudbury. My Dad is a Danish immigrant and moved the family to America when he was accepted to graduate school in Boston. I grew up in Carlisle, Massachusetts.

    And you went to college where?
    The University of Maine in Orono. I have both a B.S. in Secondary Education and a B.A. in European History. When I completed my Peace Corps tour, I went directly into Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs where I earned an M.P.A in International Development.

    What got you into the Peace Corps?
    Those proverbial stories about influential high school social studies teachers are true. Some of them, anyway. Andre Joseph taught U.S. History at Concord-Carlisle High and it was in his classroom that I learned about Kennedy and the Peace Corps. The idea of service, of travel, of reckless immersion in a culture struck me as a purposeful thing to do, as well as a possibility for great and grand adventure. I never shook free of those ideas (although I modified them substantially after I actually joined the Peace Corps) and ten years after that high school classroom introduction I was on a plane to Bulgaria.

    When was that?
    In 1996.
         My primary assignment was as an English teacher in a language school in the small town of Cherven Bryag (Red Bank) in the north-western part of Bulgaria. My cohort and I had the dubious experience of arriving just before both the government and the economy imploded in the fall of 1996. As that particular set of social disasters unfolded I kept teaching but also morphed into community needs assessment and working with a couple of local orphanages and elderly groups on procuring basic support.

    We haven’t interviewed any RPCV writer from Bulgaria. Tell us about life there as a Volunteer.
    Shall we start with my home? I lived only a hundred yards from the Dr. Peter Beron School where I taught. My apartment was a one-room space with a kitchen alcove and a door fronted by heavy steel grate that had to be unlocked with a medieval-looking key. The building was of the Stalinist school of architecture; concrete, angular and forbidding, with untrapped drainage pipes that let the cockroaches in and left everything smelling vaguely of sewer gas in the summer. There was a broad window and narrow balcony however, which let in hazy light and the green smell of tiny garden plots below.
         On warm days the old people sat on the crumbling stairs outside, watching the goats and the children and the Roma women carrying bags of used clothing to the market. One of my colleagues lived with her husband and young son in a flat on the floor below mine. She and I would sit and smoke cigarettes together, our conversations half in English half in Bulgarian, the subjects that women everywhere share: family and health, hardship and employment, modern fashion, hopes for the future, jokes at the expense of men, where to find bread, our exhaustion and the vacations that we were too poor and too overworked to take.

    And your town?
    My town was a tough place. I say that with some reserve in that, unlike many Peace Corps Volunteers, I did not spend my service living in a bamboo structure as monsoon season raged. The electricity did not always work, the pipes froze and I hauled water across the city from a filthy spring burbling up from under a railroad trestle, but there was electricity, and access to a (mostly) functional telephone. Life was hard, but in a Balkan sort of way: instability, violence, grinding poverty and the emotional dislocation of a society “in transition.” There was no malaria, though, no schistosomiasis, no big snakes, or scorpions, and for that I was grateful and felt like my Peace Corps experience was easier than that of others in different, more tropical parts of the world.

    You were in a one-Volunteer town?
    Yes. When I arrived in Bulgaria I was twenty-six and already had a few years of professional experience and independent living under my belt. For those reasons, the Peace Corps sent me alone to a town that had a reputation for chewing up Volunteers. The first PCV in Cherven Bryag lasted eight months, the second less than four. I was the third. Yet Cherven Bryag was a place that was rough through circumstance rather than choice. Once it had been a prosperous, orderly and safe place to live and raise a family.
         The town had been built to house the workers of an enormous defense contracting factory that built heavy weaponry for the Soviet-era market. With the collapse of that economic system, that factory, along with so many other Bulgarian state enterprises, hemorrhaged money for several years until late in 1996 when the financial and governmental structures utterly collapsed.
         I arrived in Cherven Bryag as the massive lay-offs, which ultimately threw eighty percent of the population out of work, reached their zenith. When inflation reached three-hundred percent a month, and banks had long since frozen accounts to avoid runs, it was obvious that life in Cherven Bryag was becoming extremely difficult.
         For most people, there was nowhere else to go. Those with connections to the surrounding villages, and those who had access to garden plots on the outskirts of the town, faired better than those who had no family on the land. Strangely, the one industry that did fabulously well during this time was organized crime. We were close enough to the Serbian border that smugglers did a booming business — petrol, washing machines, weapons, drugs, women — anything that could be bought cheaply in Bulgaria and sold across the border for profit was fair game.
         The “insurance” business was vigorous too. The local police and governmental structures were permissive and, it was whispered, in the pay of the thugs locally called “wrestlers” who extorted money under the guise of “protecting people” in those uncertain times. They were dangerous men. They beat one of my neighbors to death, leaving his body, minus an eye and a hand, hanging by the neck in a shower stall for his elderly mother to find. “A bad loan with the wrong people” his mother’s friends said as they came to pay their respects.
         As difficult as it was there, I loved my students and I loved the small courtesies of Bulgarian life, even in the most meager circumstances. I am a jogger and as it was dangerous (and considered very odd) for me to run alone, one of my colleagues would come a few times a week at six in the morning and we would run together, down to the sports arena near the river. He called himself my “Bulgarian Father” and I loved his gentle humor and his correction of my dreadful grammar.
         When “insurance” men kicked in the door of my apartment and took everything I owned, my students showed up en mass that afternoon with food and hand-drawn cards and, assuming that I would leave, begged me to stay. I was mad as hell and told them I wasn’t going anywhere.
         The police interrogated me twice under accusations of spying, and an English language colleague always accompanied me and spent those hours under the bare bulbs making sure that I understood the nuances of every question and that there was no dispute about my replies. Students took me to visit their grandmothers in outlying villages on holiday weekends. Sometimes a lamb was slaughtered and we would eat and drink and sing into the night.
         There is more. Much more. Seven years has gone by and I still think about Bulgaria every day.

    Let’s talk about your book.

    Why the book? What was the reason for the bike ride?
    The motorcycle trip to Alaska began as a tour of the North American continent. Although I had done some wandering through the Appalachians and had a passing familiarity with the wilderness and mining districts north of Lake Huron, I was almost completely ignorant of the rest of my country or, rather, countries. Also, it was becoming increasingly odd to me that I had walked beaches in Mozambique but had never seen Pacific Coast. The deserts of Jordan? Been there. The deserts of the Southwest? Never. The farming villages of Central Asia? I had been through many of those, but the farming communities of Alberta or Kansas? None.
         When I came out of Princeton in May of 2000, intellectually weary and thoroughly sick of the filtered atmosphere of subterranean classrooms, it seemed a good time to both blow off the dust of the academy and to explore a few thousand miles of American and Canadian back roads before a new job began in September.
         There was something else, too. A health issue in the spring of 2000 forced me to contact my biological family who had given me up for adoption when I was an infant. Most of them live in communities scattered up the Canadian Pacific Coast and when I telephoned them, they gave me not only the information I needed, but invited me to visit when I rolled through British Columbia and Alberta later that summer.
         It was a summer of asking questions, exploring concepts of family and nationality, and simply doing something that I really love: riding motorcycles. It was not supposed to be a summer that would become a book. That came later.

    Why a motorcycle?
    When I was about fifteen my older brother rode up the driveway on a black and chrome Yamaha 650 Special. He was sixteen and well into his teenage rebellion, part of which consisted of spending all his money on vehicles that our parents considered either ugly or dangerous. He never took me for a ride and he sold the Yamaha a few weeks later after a minor accident, but I was fascinated by the look of that bike and knew that one day I had to have one. There was, of course, my own rebelliousness. I grew up in an affluent Boston suburb where “nice” girls did not ride motorcycles. I did everything else that I thought I was supposed to do, everything my friends did: I went to school, got good grades, had part-time jobs and played sports, but riding motorcycles was something that was mine and mine alone. I was sixteen when I bought my first bike and riding it was something that made me feel free and powerful and in control. It’s years later now, many years later, but riding motorcycles still gives me that feeling.

    In your book you write about how other women tend to have a bad stereotype of women motorcyclists. Did that happen to you on your trip?
    Well, let me clarify. I mention in my book that I have rarely experienced prejudicial behavior based on the motorcycle that I drive or the leather jacket that I wear. On the rare occasions when people have been confrontational it has, sadly, tended to be other women. They have been women who assumed that am some sort of a slut or a renegade and that, whatever I was, they did not want their husbands, sons or boyfriends anywhere near me. I think that this fear — that I am some sort of a threat or a dangerous example of black-leather sexuality — is based on lack of experience with actual motorcyclists and the growing number of women who ride, race and tour.
         During the trip, most of the people that I met were curious about, and supportive of, women riding their own motorcycles. At worst, the reaction to what I did was couched in terms of “risky behavior” or “you look too small or too young” to handle that machine, or “where is your boyfriend or husband, you shouldn’t be doing this alone.” That sort of commentary happened often, daily actually, but I didn’t consider it to be confrontational. I had very few incidents where people treated me with anything but decency and respect.

    After the trip, when you look back, what do you remember?
    The North American continent is a stunningly beautiful place. I was truly amazed. There were so many places where I thought “this must be the most magnificent spot on the continent” and then the next week, a few hundred miles down the road, another awesome vista would open up. I loved the roll and the space of the Great Plains and would like to return to the wild places of the Yukon and Northern British Columbia one day. It is difficult to pick just one or two spots as “favorites,” but in terms of specific places where land and sky and weather conspired to perfection on the particular days that I was there, I might chose the cerulean blue of Crater Lake in Oregon or the hanging glaciers and rampart mountain walls that surround the Jasper and Lake Louise areas of the Canadian Rockies.

    How do you go about writing the book? Did you take notes along the way, or make tapes of your impressions?
    Many of those descriptions did come from journal entries. I kept notes as I traveled, mostly because I wanted to tell family and friends, who were not overly enthusiastic about my spending the summer wandering around the continent on a motorcycle by myself, some of the specific things, both affirming and difficult, that had made this journey a deeply meaningful one. I wanted to provide “windows” into what had actually happened on a given day in Iowa, for example, not just a recitation of the roads that I had ridden or the towns that I had passed through.
         There are many people whom I remember vividly from my trip, so many who were kind, curious, helpful and welcoming, and who generously shared their lives and their communities with me even if it was just for the duration of a cup of coffee. There was Pat, for example, a lady whom I met in Logan, Kansas when I wandered into the local diner looking for information on how far away the nearest gas station was. I was running low on fuel, and in that part of rural Kansas community gas needs are often served by an unattended “co-op” pump for which one had to have a membership card. Pat got up from her lunch, took me down to the pump, filled my tank and then refused to let me pay for it. Two dollars worth of gas is a small thing, but her kindness toward a total stranger was indicative of the way I was generally received and treated by people living in the small towns through which I passed.
         There were many experiences that I now look back on and think how incredibly lucky I was to have been there. I had the great good luck to meet a man on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula who held a permit that allowed him to dipnet for salmon. The cohos were running in their schools of tens-of-thousands and the day that I spent with him on the water, pulling fish after fish out of into a small inflatable boat remains a highlight of the trip. What else? Storms blowing down off the high ridges of the Saint Elias Mountains, taking the ferry up the Inside Passage, riding through rainbows in Northern British Columbia, encountering a she-wolf on the road near Grand Cache, Alberta, I could go on and on. You’ll just have to read the book!

    Okay, tell me — what was your motorcycle trip really all about?
    I cannot pretend that the intent of my book involved the development of existential, or essential, maxims for life and living. The trip was in some elements a search, in others a circus stunt, but always a personal journey. I am, however, always delighted when someone finds meaning, inspiration, or simply the resonance and temporary transportation, of a traveler's tale within those pages.

    What are you doing now with your life?
    What am I doing now? Pretending, unsuccessfully, that I have escaped writing and that this is something I no longer wish or need to do. I creep back to it; yellow sticky notes with a few lines of poetry, essay fragments on half-pages of graph paper, a trip to New York that spawns an essay about stained glass and diplomats. Meanwhile, I teach, and love that too in a more simple and understandable way.
         Declining student enrollment will eventually claim my job in this smallest of state capitols, but until then I will continue to teach high school Social Studies in Montpelier, Vermont. This year I have taught European History, Psychology, U.S. Civics, and Women's Humanities. The international element keeps creeping in and I throw nets around any foreigners who come within my reach; Rwandans sang to my students in November, Kyrgyz and Azeri educators have been visitors in these last weeks.
         Apart from that, I run and ski with my labrador-pit bull pooch, love my husband to distraction, and am currently building a beehive that will house a few tens of thousands of Russian hybrid bees come spring.

    Are you writing another book?
    I am teaching, and loving it . . . although the third quarter ended just this past week and I have been doing those sixteen hour days to get exams written, administered, corrected and grades tabulated. The classroom is magic, the paperwork less so. This is the nature of the education beast. Student enrollment is, however, declining precipitously in my district. My job is assured for one more year, and I will be taking on my department’s Advanced Placement courses, but by this time next year, I may very well be looking for work. Last hired, first fired, it happens. Maybe it’s time to write another book!

    Have you read any other RPCVs, people like Theroux, or Hessler, or Sarah Erdman?
    Hessler’s River Town and Erdman’s Nine Hills are in the waiting. I have heard tremendous things about both pieces, but I have yet to read them. Soon, however.
         Theroux and I are old acquaintances, although I have never met the man. Frankly, I am not sure that I would want to. It is trite, obvious, and probably unfair to say, but I like Theroux’s earlier work better than his latter, his non-fiction much more than his fiction. He is a gorgeous, bitter, painful and lonely writer. I come away from his books exhausted, ready to unpack, and wishing that he would take up gardening.

    Are you as nice a person as you appear in the pages of your book?
    No, I don’t think so. My students claim I am a “hard ass,” mostly because of my policies on academic honesty. I get cranky and solitary when I am tired and even the people who love me best claim that I am stubborn to the point of self-destruction. However, I do make a great martini and I like to think that my dog is fiercely protective of me for more reasons than twice-a-day kibble.

    Okay, but who are you really?
    Oh, I’m a little confused . . . but let me try to answer what I think you are asking and then we can clarify from there. Okay?

    Okay. Start with your relationship with your biological parents and how that fits into your trip?
    The adoption issue does add different kinds of thread to a weft that was originally designed to structure a relatively straightforward travel narrative.
         “Finding” Gloria and Dave happened on a number of levels and is for that matter, still happening. I did indeed know about them before I left New Jersey, and Gloria and I had met several years before. An incident that did not make it into the book was that she had come to my Princeton graduation and met my parents there for the first time. I won a departmental prize that year and when my professors asked my parents to stand and be recognized for their support of the work I had done, my mother also pulled Gloria to her feet and they stood together, the three of them, in the middle of all those cheering people. It was one of the finest things I have ever seen.
         Dave was much more of an unknown when I rode north that summer, but in considering both Dave and Gloria, and what roles we would or could play in each other’s lives, the element that I was most unsure of — and most nervous about — was meeting with their families. What I share with Gloria and Dave as individuals is grounded, at least in part, in biological reality. It is genetic and undeniable. That connection reflects little, however, of the important things that bind people together — communication, trust, affection and love. In many ways I felt like I was intruding upon the primary bonds that Gloria and Dave shared with their families and that in dropping into their lives, if only for a few days, that I would disrupt three families: theirs and my own. All of those things were huge unknowns as I started on that motorcycle summer, unknowns that needed time and communication to sort through. We are still sorting them through today.
         So indeed, yes, there are parts of the narrative and of the trip itself that function as metaphor for that search to define, or at least to explore, the nature of those connections with my biological family. How heavy that theme pulls on the pages, however, I leave to you to define. I will add that my publishers, Hyperion, were interested in seeing more of the family and adoption issue than I was willing to write about and that led to some tension.

    A couple more questions. A lot of RPCVs who want to write read our site, so I have the writers explain how they went about publishing their books. Tell the story of your book with details on how many drafts did it take, did you have an agent, and if not, how did you get it published, how long did it take to find a publisher, was your book rejected by some editors, etc., etc.? Okay?
    Such an odd tale. What happened with the development of my book project was like getting hit by lightening. What needs to be said first is that I am not writer. Neither training nor the dedicated attempt at the trade has defined anything of mine has gone into print. I write when an encounter or the possibility of a story intrigues me but the vocation to write, which is both a blessing and a curse, has left me almost completely alone. Sometimes I am grateful for that, other times I wish I had that passion that drives other writers in their three-in-the-morning garret studio efforts.
         In the spring of 2001 I was working at an urban non-profit development organization in Trenton, New Jersey. I was the better part of a year back from my motorcycle trip and had no intention of doing more than typing up the detailed journal that I had kept while on the road. The journal was important to me, although not from a literary perspective, and it was never intended to be the foundation of book. The journal was something that I kept for my family to read. My parents were wildly unenthusiastic about my motorcycle predilections and were understandably concerned about what the meetings with my biological family might mean. I wanted to help them understand what a tremendous experience that summer on the road had been. I wanted to show them what a gorgeous and powerful thing it is to ride a bike for months circling the continent. I wanted to write for them what meeting Dave and Gloria and their respective families had been like. In my parents home, where Scandinavian sensibilities of reserve and restraint are dominant, a transcript of a journal was going to be an easier platform to get those things across than (god forbid) actually having to sit down and have those discussions. I had typed up only a few pages of it, however, when it precipitously became a book project.
         I had a former professor from Princeton — a traveler himself, an old Alaska hand, and a fisherman — with whom I would get together from time to time to have lunch and tell lies about trout. He was the one who suggested that my journal might become a book and that I should consider writing up a proposal and sending it off to a few agents. I was busy with my new job and delayed for a few months, but one week in late spring I decided to stay at work for a few extra evenings and typed up twenty pages. My proposal was basic: a sample chapter, a few excerpts, and a cover letter. I sent it off to seven or eight agents and did not really expect anything other than those slim letters that start with “thank you for your submission, but . . ..” I did in fact get a couple of those letters, but strangely, the rest of the agents called interested in the possibility of representation. They were all in and around the New York, so I took a couple of days and went into the city for interviews.
         Truthfully, this was a blue smoke and banana peel process as I did not really know what agents do, and these interviews were at least as much about me trying to get information without looking like an idiot as they were about me choosing an agent. In the end I settled with Virginia Barber at the William Morris Agency. I chose her in part because she had a reputation for impeccable integrity but mostly because I truly enjoyed her conversation, her intellect, and I thought that we could build a business relationship that also had a base of honesty and open communication. Ms. Barber is retired now but I am eternally grateful to her for taking me on as the last client of her career and for stewarding me through the process that resulted in Breaking the Limit.
         Ms. Barber told me that book can take months to be sold to publishers, and sometimes not get sold at all, so I should be prepared for a long wait at best, utter disappointment at worst. This was fine with me; at the time I was figuring out how to get my boss out of Kosovo and a conference that he was supposed to be attending on international strategy sharing for grass-roots NGOs. Macedonia was in crisis and he would be traveling through the shelling near the border. Literature seemed of rather secondary importance. When Ms. Barber called two weeks after our initial meeting to say that there was interest in my book, I took a half a day off from work, went to the city, had a one-o’clock meeting at one publishing house, a three o’clock at a second publishing house, and had a book contract by four o’clock. Ridiculous and unbelievable as it is, it happened that quickly.
         Having told that tale, I am also cognizant that at that moment in June of 2001, my book project fit a profile that publishers were looking for and I was, frankly, the fortunate recipient of a whole lot of dumb luck.
         Krakauer’s Into Thin Air was huge at the time, as was Junger’s Perfect Storm. The nonfiction market was awash in money generated by male-adventure-tales. People were buying books that listed place to go Before You Die, planning their next adventure to Central America, taking up rock-climbing in urban gyms, and buying books — mostly written by men — to support the same. What was missing? Women on motorcycles, apparently. My project was gobbled up not, I think, for its literary merit, but for a demographic that publishers hoped to tap into.
         This was my first learning experience in the world of publishing. As hopelessly naive as it sounds, I truly believed that book publishing was all about providing people with good (and sometimes great) literature. I have yet to become completely cynical about the business of books, but it is now much more obvious to me that books are in large part just that: a business that the publishing industry hopes to make money from. How shocking!
         This realization became an issue in September of that year. I was most of the way through my first draft, an eight-hundred page jungle of text, when planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and that field in Pennsylvania. Among the great tragedies and losses of those terrible days and in the in the carnage and violence that has followed, a minor fatality was the collapse of the adventure-travel market. Who wants to go bungee jumping in Brazil when New York has just been bombed? In those days of suspicion when the Department of Homeland Security was telling us to seal ourselves in our homes with a gallon of water and a roll of duct tape, who wants to go crashing around the countryside on a motorcycle?
         I was fortunate in that I had a consistent and careful editor at Hyperion. She was with me through the duration of my project and I have enormous respect for the care she took in answering my questions, the pruning that she did with my manuscript, and her gentle attempts to coach me through the new directions that Hyperion — given the events of 2001 — hoped I would take my book.
         By early 2002 they made it clear that they would prefer a “deeper” book, something focused much more strongly on family, adoption, and the human saga of my story, as opposed to the travel narrative that they had bought. I was not capable of — nor was I willing — to write-the sort of material, exposing both myself and my family, that would have underpinned the sort of book that they wanted. Those were difficult conversations. It took three drafts and the better part of two years, but I think we ultimately we came to a collective and collaborative understanding that resulted in the book that you now have.
          That’s the story, John, strange as it is.

    You are back teaching, correct? But you think you’ll be out of work, is that it?
    I am teaching, and loving it . . . although the third quarter ended just this past week and I have been doing those sixteen hour days to get exams written, administered, corrected and grades tabulated. The classroom is magic, the paperwork less so. This is the nature of the education beast. Student enrollment is, however, declining precipitously in my district. My job is assured for one more year, and I will be taking on my department’s Advanced Placement courses, but by this time next year, I may very well be looking for work. Last hired, first fired, it happens. Maybe it’s time to write another book!

    What about Dave’s family . . . are you in touch with them, with you natural mother?
    Absolutely, with both Dave and Gloria and their respective families. The best snapshot I can offer is that when Brad and I were married in October of 2002, they ALL came to the wedding. It was the first time that my parents met Dave, Colleen and the girls, and Gloria and Dave had not seen one another in more than twenty years. It was a great night for all sorts of reasons. All of these relationships are still developing and I would be untruthful in pretending that it felt normal and natural all the time. But we all keep talking and writing and visiting, and it seems to be working. Gloria and Isabel were here in Vermont last fall and Brad and I will be taking a sun-holiday of some sort (Belize perhaps?) with the Innisfail gang next Spring.

    Your husband must be really someone special to have corralled you. Is he an RPCV?
    He is the best of men. With the possible exception of my Dad, Brad is the finest human being I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. It is sappy, but I still can not quite believe that he and I get to do this “marriage-thing” for the rest of our lives. It is very sweet. He is not, however, an RPCV. In fact, before we took our honeymoon to Italy — we rented a tiny apartment in Venice — he had never been on an international flight.
         He is, however, a traveler; we met through a shared interest in long-distance motorcycling. He has done the solo Alaska run as well and now that his feet have been dampened in the lagoons of Venice, he is more than suggestible about other wanderings. We were in Iceland together this past year, and Bulgaria is definitely on the travel itinerary sometime in the not-too-distant future.
         I think he would have done well in Peace Corps. He’s compassionate and tough, a skilled craftsman — he builds custom millwork and fine furniture — and has a strong sense of responsibility to give something toward the future. The long-term plan here in Vermont, in conjunction with the woodshop that he is now building, is to one day open a small school to teach an art that is sadly on the wane. Brad is also a survivor.
         We had been home from Venice all of two months when a hit-and-run driver ran him down in crosswalk almost directly in front of our home. He nearly died that night — so did I for that matter — and the next year and a half was a nightmarish progression of reconstructive surgeries, five months in a wheelchair, and grueling physical therapy. I tell people that this is part of the bargain, that creating a life together also means that one partner cares for the other when it is needed, and that ultimately one partner listens to the last breath of the other, but we never thought that those considerations would some quite so early. We survived and continue to live and love and build our life.

    Thank you, Karen.
    Thank you, John.