I was not related to her, by blood nor by any legal bond. All the same, we were family.
I wasn't even aware of her existence for the first two and a half years of her life, but once we met, she very quickly became an important and a vital part of my life.
I knew from that first meeting that Anastasia was someone special. Her intelligence and self-awareness were remarkably evident, even at that young age. I had no idea then how important she would become to me, how much a part of my life she would fill. Before she died, I was fully aware that I loved her, but until that time I had no idea just how hollow and elderly my life would seem without her, what an unfillable void she would leave.
She and her younger sisters quickly became my "adoptive" nieces, and when I spoke of them to others, I frequently forgot to include the "adoptive" in my reference. As time went on, as they became acquainted with those children who were my nephews and nieces by blood, and as our relationship evolved, it was inappropriate to refer to them as my "adoptive" nieces and the others as my "real" nieces. They became my goddaughters, to distinguish them from merely being nieces, and to better describe our familial ties.
I thought of them as my godchildren and myself as a mentor to them. Anastasia, being the oldest, sought my help and counsel more often than her siblings. As a teenager, she would call me on the phone just to chat about everything and nothing. We talked of politics, philosophy, science, school, family, anything. I sometimes shared many of my musical, literary, pop culture, and political interests with her, and she made many of them her own in time. I cherished those conversations as life lessons for both of us.
But with whatever I might have given Anastasia, she gave me a gift of immeasurable value: she shared her life with me, and invited my participation. There is nothing that I could have been given her to match that. I am incalculably richer as a person because of her life, and indescribably poorer because of her death. The lessons of the heart that she and her sisters have given me are worth more than anything I could have given or taught any of them, and I cannot imagine what my life to now would have been without them as part of it.
I can recall so many memories of Anastasia: helping with her first arithmetic lessons, and watching the epiphany spring forth from her as she grasped the mysteries of addition; teaching her to drive, and especially how to parallel park years later, and feeling her frustration as she tried to master the skill; seeing that jump-for-joy happiness when we got her computer set up for her sixteenth birthday, and the fun and frustration that followed; helping her launch her first web page, as she taught herself the intricacies of the internet, and surpassed her mentor in several areas.
I remember her joy when she graduated high school in June '97, and of my own feeling of gratitude in sharing it with her. It may well have been the happiest day of her life, with her whole life in front of her, and a world to conquer . . . Later that summer and through the fall, as her relationship with her boyfriend, Justin, soured and fell into an on-again, off-again pattern, I was among those who thought it was just a matter of time before she and Justin would quit seeing each other altogether . . . Little did we know the horror that awaited them both.
Anastasia and I had many arguments over her responsibilities, as she struggled between adolescence and adulthood, often depressed, frequently full of anger and frustration, but also full of love and having a great capacity for joy. I always told her that she was a work in progress, and the last words I said to her, in a phone conversation two nights before her murder, were "I love you"; her last words to me were "I love you too". I will treasure and carry her words with me to my grave. And those words are not said often enough. If we learn nothing else from this hideous loss, we should learn to tell all of those we love just how we feel, not just now, but every day, as a habit, because Anastasia has very painfully reminded us all just how fragile and precious all our lives are.
Anastasia deserved so much better than the end she met, and we are all remain diminished by her death.
To read Anastasia's poetry
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