I was a witness to the strength of the young male university students who feared being picked up on the street by Soviet soldiers because they were the correct age and no one cared if you had a university exemption they would take you away.
I worked for an American-Lithuanian woman who had been the only voice on a pirate radio station she set up when the Soviets took over the TV towers in Vilnus. She translated Martin Luther King and Gandhi into Lithuanian on the fly, reassuring the people of Lithuania to be brave and stand strong.
People came from all around the country to meet with her and shake her hand. To thank her for her words, she would never know what she had done for them on that terrifying night.
I stood witness to the old, stooped woman who sold flowers and one day in the beginning of spring I came upon a square that was overflowing with daffodils for sale.
I mouse lived under the bed I slept on each night and I would wake some mornings with small bites, but it seemed normal at the time. A large rat came out from a hole in a counter at a café, stole a large pastry and took it back through the hole. We were all watching the rat, but not one person commented or stopped eating and drinking.
I stood witness to the poet who was the president of Latvia when he confided to me at a reception that he really would rather be sitting in his garden.
The Lithuanian president was a composer with a cabinet made up of many Lithuanian Americans who were, like me, on leave from university and were taking this time to be part of history.
I had to make appointments with surly phone operators to get a line out and my toilet paper was rolled out on the floor of the hallway outside my room while the maid decided how much I would get for that day.
A sweet young man who’d learned English from watching MTV would walk with me in the village streets and bring me bouquets of flowers I would hold while we walked.
I was greeted by a government official in Riga with a bouquet of freesia as I got off the bus from Kaunas and two sweet women came to my hotel room on the first day of spring with tiny, white flowers they’d dug out from under the snow.
I had my own KGB agent who followed me around, but he must have been pretty bored.
I’d just turned 20 and was lost and confused before I landed in a country where I didn’t speak the language and very few spoke English. I learned that I could learn another language it just took being immersed in a country where no one spoke anything else. I left before I was very good, but I could get by and not starve.
I made mistakes. I made two American women cry when I accidentally lost their cat by leaving a window open. I accidentally insulted people with gestures made out of kindness, but got lost in translation. Bouquets of flowers must be odd numbers, so a dozen roses is bad luck.
I can still remember the names of my friends who I lost touch with almost immediately. There was no internet in Lithuania at the time and the post was unreliable and I was 20 and therefore also unreliable.
All these memories come washing up like a tidal wave with the chaos in the Ukraine. I fear for the people in Crimea. I worry about the Baltic States, where I felt so much at home.