The Butterfly Effect: the theory that the flap of a butterfly's wings could cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. People make so many choices every day, every single second, that have such far-flung effects that we don't realize the gravity of them until the consequences have already landed. Some of the stories that follow feature people whose lives were saved thanks to a sudden whim. Other people had their entire lives changed by a single choice they made, sometimes years earlier. Content has been edited for clarity.
A Cheating Girlfriend Led To So Much More
“I was living in Florida and on my birthday, my girlfriend of three years tells me she cheated on me. This led my friend and I to go for a walk on the beach to discuss it. On the beach, we were mugged by three men. This made me decide I hated Florida and I made the decision to move to Seattle.
With no money and in a new city, I took a job at Starbucks. I served drinks to a Czech woman who worked next door and was there on a 6 month work and travel visa. She was leaving for LA in one week and would be back to the Czech Republic in two weeks. I asked her if she wanted to hang out. After one week, she left but missed me and decided to fly back to Seattle for two days before going home. I picked her up at the airport and asked her to marry me – she said yes. She left for home and finds out her father has pancreatic cancer. He was supposed to be dead before she would even come home, so he never told her. I quit my job and flew to the Czech Republic. He walks her down the aisle and was my best man. I find a temp job in the Czech Republic, then join a small start up with 50 people. I start in Customer Service, but work on tech projects. Company proceeds to explode and becomes huge (3,000 people). I become Senior Tech Manager. That was a brief history of my past 5 years, how I met my wife, and how I got my job. All because my girlfriend cheated on me.”
Now They Always Finish Their Drinks
“The wife and I were having dinner in Hawaii one night on vacation. As we were getting up to leave, I noticed she hadn’t finished her drink. I told her she should finish the drink since we paid some ridiculous price for it. Fast forward 30 seconds and we leave the restaurant and are walking the 3 blocks back to the hotel. About 50 feet in front of us as we’re walking (we’re walking down the sidewalk on the left side of the road), a car comes flying out of a side street from the right and crosses through the street, hops the sidewalk in front of us, and smashes into a wall. If she didn’t finish her drink, we would have been smoked by the car and most likely squished between the car and the wall. We always finish our drink now.”
A Brief Friendship Led To A Long-Lasting Promise
“I grew up speaking Spanish, so in high school my mom made me sign up for French. I didn’t really care, but figured whatever at least it’s something new. I was a good kid, bit of a cut up with absolutely 0 direction.
In that class I met a girl and we sort of became friends. She got sick that year, cancer. It was horrible. I visited her in the hospital, got close to her family (still am), she passed the following year.
French, it turns out, was her favorite subject and her dream had been to study abroad. Her parents asked if we (her friends from that class) could do that for her.
The years went on, I worked every summer to try to save up to study abroad. I noticed the others who had made the promise weren’t making moves towards it, so I worked even harder. Finally went for a semester my 3rd year.
To be fair, I always enjoyed French, but it wasn’t a passion. Except that semester something kind of shifted. I came home, finished undergrad, then got into a masters in French. The whole time, my friend’s mom was excited, feeling like my friend is somehow vicariously living through me.
I graduated from my masters and then moved back to France. I’ve been here 3 years now, and May 1st was the 11th anniversary of my friend’s death.
As I type it out, it’s not so outwardly obvious, but the entire time it’s been so clear for me that she’s been with me on this journey. I’m now an English instructor at a university here.”
A Nazi Soldier’s Cruelty Led To New Life
“My mother and her five siblings were deported to Auschwitz in May of 1944. Soon after arriving by ‘train,’ my mother was placed into a line of people assigned to ‘take showers’ after their long trip. My mother was 13 and was holding her mother’s hand, obviously very frightened. A Nazi soldier spotted this and ordered my mother out of the line and into another line, which was for the work camp. The soldier had apparently seen my mother holding her mother’s hand and thought it would be funny to separate them and make my mother cry, which she did. My grandmother told my mother not to worry, she’d see her later. My mother went to the other line and was quickly taken away to the barracks.
My grandmother was gassed to death about 15 minutes later, along with one of my uncles. My mother worked in the labor camp from May of 1944 until the Russians liberated Auschwitz in January of 1945. She lived with her older sister in Romania for a few years after that and eventually met a man who would become my father.
I’m sitting here, writing this over 75 years after that Nazi soldier cruelly separated my mother from her mother. He unwittingly ensured that I would be born and so would my brother and my four children. Had he sneezed, or turned away or was somehow distracted from his duties, possibly thinking about some fraulein or another, and didn’t separate my mother, I would not be here today.”
In Her Darkest Hours, She Met A Beautiful Light
“I had left an ex who was physically and mentally abusive. I had attempted suicide several times and was admitted to a psychiatric care unit.
There, I met a girl named Lucy, whose mother was from Greece. She and I became good friends and we made plans to go on a trip to Greece together and hit all the ancient spots.
We got the help we needed and each left the care unit and even moved in together. We became more like sisters, we loved each other.
Two months before our trip, I was meant to go collect some books that had arrived for us in our local bookstore but I’d had a bad day at work and was exhausted. Lucy volunteered to go.
As she left the shop, a car came onto the curb and hit her. She was killed instantly. They never caught the driver.
Her mother encouraged me to take the trip anyway and asked if I could take some of my friend’s ashes to scatter into the ocean when I got to Greece. I agreed.
As I was doing so in Athens, a man came up to me and asked me if I was ok, as I was crying.
He was very nice and offered me a coffee in his cafe to help me calm down.
That man was named Luca and he studied mythology and archaeology for fun. I study mythology for fun.
I extended my trip by a month to stay with him. He let me stay in his apartment and insisted I stay as long as I needed.
When I spoke to Lucy’s mother, it turns out that she knew Luca’s mother, they had gone to school together.
We have been together for ten years now, married 8 and have twin daughters. Lucy’s mother is godmother to our girls.”
A Phone Call Kept His Dad Alive
“When I was in grade 6, I won a scholarship from my local council to pay for my books and school stuff to go into high school the next year (high school is 7-12 grade in Australia).
Because I wasn’t being told anything about this yet, my dad talked to my mum in the garage and put me inside the house so I wouldn’t listen in. The TV was left on and a random ad I had never seen was playing about a new psoriasis treatment trial that needed volunteers. I knew my dad had it bad and the number showed on the screen. I remembered the number but didn’t write it down. I told my dad about it and he wrote the number on a box in the garage.
Two weeks later I see the number and asked if he called and he said no. It was weird because I usually didn’t remember phone numbers at that age and normally my dad wouldn’t write on a box. But he actually decided to call up and they booked him in for a medical screen for a pre-health test.
During the test the next month, they found his blood pressure was so high he should have been dead. Like, right there dead (I think it was 245bpm and he was 58). He was given medication for the next few years which prevented the strokes and heart problems from killing him. Had he not had the medication, he would have died within the next month or two.
All because my parents didn’t want to spoil the surprise of a scholarship and put me inside to talk.
I also have never seen that ad or any medical volunteering ads on TV ever again.”
“If Not For McDonald’s, It Could’ve Been 60”
“Me and my girlfriend were on a road trip around the West Coast, and we had planned to spend a night in Las Vegas, go to Zion the following day, do some hiking there and return for another night in Las Vegas.
When we woke up to prepare for the Zion trip, the coffee machine broke down in our hotel and we couldn’t get our morning coffee, so we decided to go to a nearby McDonald’s and get some coffee to go. When we got there, however, they informed us that they had run out of milk, which made us a bit angry, but there was supposed to be another McDonald’s around the corner, according to our GPS. We arrived to the second MCD just to find out it has been permanently closed.
At this point, getting a milk coffee from McDonald’s has become our quest, we weren’t leaving Las Vegas without it.
The third McDonald’s we tried to find only existed on the map… Not sure if it was recently closed or never existed in the first place.
All nervous, we arrived at the fourth and final McDonald’s; we agreed that if they don’t get the coffee there, we’ll stop wasting time and go to Zion.
To our biggest surprise, they had the coffee and milk, so we ordered and took the coffees to our car…only to find out that we were served the wrong order. After they replaced the order, we laughed the situation off and went to Zion.
We returned to Las Vegas late in the evening, just before 10 pm. We started preparing to go out, as we had planned to check out the Harvest Country Music festival that was happening on the strip. We knew it was already late, but we thought we’d go anyway. We turned on the TV just before leaving and all over the news they were talking about some shooting in Las Vegas. We decided that it had happened sometime before and went out.
We were stopped at our hotel exit by a policeman telling us to remain in our room. We had wasted at least an hour in the morning, trying to get a coffee, if this wouldn’t have happened, we would have made it to the festival in time. 58 people were shot dead that night at that festival. If not for McDonald’s, it could’ve been 60.”
Winding Road To Recovery
“I was driving home to Missouri from New York and got pulled over in Ohio at about 2 am. I had just smoked a spliff in the car, and about 5 minutes prior I had pulled off to rail some Molly, both of which I had a pretty decent amount of in the car.
The cop asked me if I knew why he pulled me over, told me I was speeding and he had me clocked at 89 in a 70, but I knew I had been going much faster than that. Gave him my license and registration, he went to his car, came back, gave me a ticket for speeding and left, which as far as I was concerned was a supreme stroke of luck.
Fast forward 2 weeks. I had spent another weekend in New York, but this time I flew. I got very, very wasted, blacked out, missed my flight home, and paid an exorbitant amount of money to get on another flight so I could be at work the next day. I was driving to work Monday morning and was having very, very intense cravings for coke, which I had a pretty rough problem with. It was so bad I couldn’t even drive and had to pull over to recollect myself. I was hating myself because I couldn’t stop using, no matter how much I wanted to stop.
As I pulled up to work, I remembered my speeding ticket. I looked to see when it was due, which I figured would be a while, but the date was set for Wednesday. My boss recommended a great lawyer and called him up, and he said he’d get me in that afternoon. This guy was way out of my way and usual stomping grounds, but I needed to do something so I went out to meet him. I had been looking at Narcotics Anonymous meetings and after I met him I decided I’d just go to a meeting out that way, since it didn’t really make sense for me to drive out of my way again to do that.
So that night I went to my first NA meeting, in an area I never would have gone to had I not needed to meet the lawyer. And here we are, 2 years and 3 months later, still clean, and still going to that same meeting every Monday night.”
A Misdiagnosis Led To Her Dream Job
“I had loads of tests done when I was 19 due to severe mental health issues out of nowhere. One specialist suggested that I had malabsorption which was causing my brain to be starved of vital nutrients (that’s the short version). So she suggested I cut out gluten and I may have coeliac disease. So I lived for 12 years as a coeliac. I set up my own bakery company for vegan and gluten free cakes and breads (basically due to hunger and jealousy of everyone else’s food!), won loads of awards and got offered a job in product development then a role to run my own restaurant, my dream job! I did that for a while and then left to run a consultancy business and now do product development for a dream company.
7 years ago, I got invited to brunch with some friends. I didn’t used to go out to eat much unless there was gluten free options. Luckily this time they were going to a restaurant that offered good gluten free dishes. Off I went. I met my now husband there that day!
In the meantime, I had more digestion issues in recent years so I went to get further tests. A colonoscopy and gastroscopy reveal NO COELIAC DISEASE but instead a massive cyst on my ovaries, hiatus hernia and colon adhesion to my abdominal wall.
So top line: if I didn’t think I was a coeliac for 12 years, I wouldn’t have my dream job, wouldn’t have met my husband and wouldn’t have discovered many other health issues that I have now sorted. Plus, best part is that I can now eat yumyums!! Winning!”
They Really Are Man’s Best Friend
“When I was a kid, my dad got me a puppy without checking with my mom first. She was furious, of course, but eventually bonded with the dog, and loved her. That dog died of cancer just before her 8th birthday. My mom said absolutely no more dogs. Ever. Within 2 weeks, she had adopted a sweet mutt from the local animal shelter. Shortly after, I brought home a mutt of my own. Her dog was female and mine was male. She complained constantly about my dog, because he was ‘too big’ (he weighed 45-50lbs).
About 4-5 years later, my dad had what we would later find out was a seizure in his sleep and stopped breathing. My mom’s dog woke her up frantically barking and nudging my dad’s hand. My mom gave my dad a good shake and he started breathing again. His eyes were open, but he was not responsive. Mom came barreling down the stairs to get me and my dog came with us. He actually passed us as we were going down the hall and takes a running leap into my parents’ room from the doorway and lands on the bed about 7 feet away. He puts one paw on either side of my dad’s face and began licking his face, from chin to forehead. My dog was not a licky dog, and this was totally out of character for him. A moment or two later, my dad responded and said, ‘Get off of me, you silly hound,’ while gently pushing my dog to the side. My boy stopped immediately and laid down on the other side of the bed, watching my dad closely.
It took a while to get a diagnosis, but the response from the animals made them look for seizures first. He’s fine now, seizure free and no meds. But if we hadn’t gotten our first dog 20 years ago and lost her young, leading my mom to the shelter to find the next dog, and me to where I found my boy, my dad would have been dead for the last 13 years. Both of the dogs are gone now, and lived long, happy lives.”
How An Overdraft Fee Resulted In Four Weddings And Six Kids
“I was just out of high school and new in town with no job. I was living off what savings I had left and my account went below zero without me knowing. I was overdraft charged like 10 times and owed over $300. I went down to the bank, spoke with a teller and she ended up being a lifesaver. She worked with me and got all the charges removed. On top of getting the charges removed, we got to talking about my situation and she said that her son worked at a local restaurant and she would help me get a job. She was a woman of her word and by the end of the week, I was working full time.
Fast forward, I meet a cool dude who worked there and we became friends. I introduced him to my sister, they fell in love, got married and had two kids. His best friend came into town for the wedding and I introduced him to my roommate at the time, they fell in love, got married and had two babies. I also got my best friend a job at the restaurant, where he met a girl working there, they fell in love, got married and had a kid. Right before I left, I got my other roommate a job at the restaurant, where he met a customer, fell in love, got married and had a kid.
As a bonus, my best friend, who I helped get the job, repaid the favor and got me a job at a different restaurant, where I met a girl, fell in love and got married.”
Saved By The Hummingbirds
“I was in a very abusive relationship and very depressed. Everything I did was for this person and his child, I had nothing for myself. I got up early and went to bed late to make their lives run and had nothing for myself. I got an email from my college advisor that there was a volunteer opportunity to catch hummingbirds at a local park. The experience would help build my resume and while my abusive partner was angry that I went, it didn’t impact him that much and while it bothered me that he was mad at me, I decided I could live with the manchild’s silent treatment for a few days if it meant I could get a job after college and have a few hours of happiness just for me.
So I go and catch hummingbirds two or three times. I invite the manchild to bring his son and he says it’s too much work. I say that’s fine, I’m not getting up at 5 am to get his son dressed and out the door and then babysitting while I’m trying to network. Manchild is ticked. Silent treatment ensues. I end up meeting a guy about my dad’s age who is the guy over the hummingbird project, he is certified to band them and comes occasionally. He tells me there’s an internship for next summer and I should apply. Come spring, the same opportunity comes around and I’m invited back to catch hummingbirds. The guy is there again and says the applications are open and I should apply. I’m too afraid because it means moving to a different city and I knew my abusive partner wouldn’t allow that.
Fast forward, I found out he was cheating on me and had been for a while. He told me I should kill myself and when I said he wasn’t worth dying over, he threatened to kill me. I got some of my stuff with my mom’s help (he kept a lot of things that were important to me and threw them away because he’s a jerk) and decided the rest I could replace or deal with the loss of. He had his shiny new 19-year-old girlfriend (10 year difference between him and her) move her stuff in while I moved my stuff out. He left my account negative $200 and went to my boss and told lies about me and tried to get me fired and expelled from college (thankfully it didn’t work and almost got him arrested). I should have taken it to court but I didn’t. I just cut and ran and tried to rebuild my life and figure out who I was.
I graduated with my bachelor’s degree two months later. Spent a lot of time painting and reading self-help books my mom helped me find. I applied for the hummingbird internship finally even though it was probably filled. Got a call that there were only two other applicants with no biology experience and he wanted me to take the internship. I accepted. I went on a week-long trip to Iceland with my best friend who helped me through all the awfulness of the break up. When I came back, I was happier and much more healthy and felt like I had a grip on life, as I’d been working a lot and I finally had some money in my account again. My parents helped me find a place to stay in this city 3.5 hours away from home, which ended up being a trailer behind the office I worked for (thanks boss!!!). This made it possible for me to take the internship.
I spent more time figuring out who I was. Even getting to choose what I wanted to eat for dinner was more freedom than I had had in years. Choosing what kind of pasta and sauce. What I bought at the grocery store. What movie I wanted to watch. When I went to bed. It was freedom. I was finally a human being again. And I was happy! My boss quickly became my friend and work was more like play. I was so happy that I had completed my degree. My boss told me we’d be leading some foreign students on a 6 mile hike and catching hummingbirds and snakes and lizards to entertain them and teach them about the American West, and it’d be a paid day of work. Sweet!
Well, I woke up late but had put makeup on because my mom wanted me to get pictures with the students. What I didn’t know was their American teachers brought two of their sons along to help with the 8 students. One was a year younger than me (let’s call him Preston), I found out, and very handsome. His parents were super fun to talk to and his brother was pretty cool, if shy. I found out that Preston and I had literally everything in common. We even watched the same series of movies the week before. So I ask if he wants to keep in touch, he says yes and we swap numbers (FINALLY). He asks if I’m busy later, because he’d love to buy me a drink at the little pub in town. I got nervous. I swore off dating the week before and let EVERYONE KNOW. And then this guy comes along. I ended up saying yes.
So we go on this date and we ended up closing the bar down and talking in the parking lot for two hours after closing. I tell my dad about it the next morning and my boss teases me and says it must have gone well because I’m in a pretty good mood. I visit home for the weekend and tell my parents the long version of meeting this guy and my dad says he likes him already and asks me if I just met my soul mate. I’m thinking probably.
Fast forward to now, 5 months later. He treats me not just as a human being capable of and allowed to make mistakes, but like a queen. I’m happier and healthier physically and mentally than I have been in six years, and I’ve repaired a lot of family relationships. And I really owe it to that decision to go volunteer and catch hummingbirds last fall. It started bringing everything to a head because I was trying to be an actual independent person and my ex didn’t want that. And now everything has completely turned around!
Trust your college advisors. Practice self-care. Don’t let anyone destroy who you are. Say yes to more good things and fewer bad things. So much can change in less than a year.”
She Really Didn’t Know Best
“My coworker has a big ego and thinks she knows best. We had a patient who received home visits. He had a medical condition that, if observed by a newcomer, might cause alarm, but we were very much informed about it and familiar with it. Instructions were that the condition was ‘normal’ for him, not a concern in itself.
One day, the patient’s wife and my coworker seemed to have some kind of power struggle/disagreement about his condition and treatment and the coworker ended up calling an ambulance (for his long term, unchanged condition that we were very familiar with). He was taken to hospital and while there, he caught an infection. This infection impacted his eating and he lost a lot of weight, fast. His condition deteriorated over the next few months and he passed away.
Honestly, it wasn’t unexpected that he might pass, but it seems the specific scenario it ended up happening in stemmed from that unnecessary hospital visit.”
His Uncle Was Never The Same
“My uncle was with his pregnant girlfriend in high school and he wanted to bring her to a church picnic to meet my family. My grandpa told him she wasn’t welcome there because he was angry at my uncle for the pregnancy.
My uncle’s girlfriend took off upset. She was hit by a driver who was under the influence soon after while crossing the street, killing her and her unborn child.
My uncle never had another relationship after that and is childless to this day. He’s nearly 70 now. So if my grandpa had allowed her at the picnic, she might still be alive and my uncle wouldn’t have lived a life of loneliness and solitude.”
A Delicious And Lifesaving Snack
“My mom used to take pain medicine because she had a rare bone disease that caused her pain. She had a sitting walker as well that she used to get around the house. She would take the pain meds at night, but she would be so out of it that she would hurt herself. My mom was always a snacker too, so she would sneak to the kitchen despite being heavily medicated.
One evening she went and made herself popcorn, missed where she was supposed to turn and fell down six steps. She cracked her skull open, knocked herself out cold. Long story short, after going to the hospital, they found out she had cancer. But they had caught it so early, it was easily treated. She made it through chemo and stayed in remission.
She has since passed away, but I always think, what if she wouldn’t have fell down the stairs? The cancer could have gotten worse and she could have died years before she was supposed to, all because she wanted a bowl of popcorn!”
He Had Everything To Live For
“There’s a guy that I used to know. He was the brother of a friend of a friend who I grew to know, care about, share laughs and tears with, and generally was a good influence on me. I liked him a lot because he reminded me of me.
I was the one that, through some sheer dumb luck, that had spread my wings a little, experienced things, tried things, done things. Here he was, had never had a girlfriend, never been to a steakhouse… and it was something that bothered him and his family too. We decided for his 22nd birthday, we would take him out to experience things, and help him find his path. He’d really live life; he’d enjoy a proper steak, he’d know the loving embrace of a woman, and generally give him a year of trying new everything.
Then he went to see a doctor about his cough. Ends up he had a very aggressive cancer. From diagnosis to grave, 6 weeks. I’ve been to a few funerals to bury friends, but his was the hardest. It was 10 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I was gutted, more so than someone who didn’t know him that well should have been, because I knew that it could just as easily have been me. I resolved there and then to live the life that he had been denied, applied for a hail mary job at Microsoft, got the job, it led onto bigger and better things. I also used a ton of my resources to change the world as much as I could, including working closely with a good friend of mine to launch a cancer cycling team which has since raised over a million dollars and has gone from ‘highly experimental’ to ‘nearing medical approval needs to become a permanent and viable treatment in cancer’ for children.
I shared this story most recently with a really great friend of mine who asked for help moving, then suddenly cancelled. It ended up that he had surgery to remove a cancerous testicular growth that day. He hadn’t realized that every day I wake up and try so hard in my life to make the world a better place was because of someone who was just like me died back then and never got that chance. I’ll keep doing that until I die, in honor and memory of him.
RIP Gavin K, September 1985 to January, 2008. You inspired me to be so much more than I was.”
A Second Chance
“I was a straight A student in high school, working my butt off, studying several languages and taking extra courses, with the aim of getting into a prestigious university and studying the field which I was so passionate about. I got in there, but slipped into depression, failed so many courses that I almost got expelled, and got a burn out trying to repeat all my failed exams, worsening my health even further. I dropped out, lost my job, and my family cut me off financially. I lived with a friend until another uni with a really bad reputation finally accepted me to let me continue my studies.
The depression got worse, I was suicidal, living from one minimum wage temp job to another, regularly dumpster diving behind the supermarket I sometimes filled the shelves in. I eventually graduated with almost the worst possible passing GPA and applied for graduate studies, as a bachelor’s degree in my field is basically worthless on the job market. 28 applications were rejected on the spot, until a prestigious university invited me to their assessment center. I originally applied ironically, as I was in the flow and thought, ‘Eh, what the heck.’ I was baffled, but immediately scraped together my money to buy a ticket for the 8 hour train ride, slept in the central station hall, and went to the assessment center.
Having had a rough night and a long trip, I was exhausted and in my tired state, went to the wrong interview room. The lady in there firmly asked who I was before I could turn around, and it turned out that she was the director of the program I was applying for. She told me to take a seat and interviewed me on the spot. She pulled up my CV from the database, briefly commented on my formerly assigned interviewer being a prick, and then just plainly asked me what happened. I told her everything. She listened and after 30 minutes, told me the time was up, but that she found it very interesting.
I walked back to the central station, angry at myself for daring to dream that I would ever be allowed into such a university again after all my mess ups. I was ready to take my life, after my return, not being able to bear yet another failure. I walked up the stairs to the ticket vending machines, when my phone rang. It was the application center, offering me a spot in the program. For a moment, the earth stood still, and I broke down crying in disbelief.
I spent the next weeks extremely anxious, wondering whether I would even manage to get that degree, thinking of my past failures and my GPA. But it turned out that the program structure, curriculum, etc. were exactly what I could ever have dreamt of, reigniting my passion for my field, getting me into an upward spiral of good internships, good grades and new friends. I regained my self-confidence, and finally managed to get that depression under control. I also worked and studied up to 90 hours a week to make sure that I would never fail myself again – but in the end, without having stumbled into the wrong room and consequently getting a second chance by the director, this would never have happened and I would probably not be here today.”
This Train Ran Right On Time
“All the way back in 1989, I was on a round-the-world trip. I had been traveling through Australia, South-East Asia and China. To get back to Europe I decided to take the Trans-Siberian railway through Mongolia and what was then the Soviet Union. In pre-internet days and with China and the Soviet Union not exactly tourist-friendly countries at the time, this wasn’t super-easy. I had to organize all my own visas, train tickets, etc. When I got to Beijing, the hotel I stayed at had free loan bicycles and so I grabbed one and made my way around to the city to try and find the Mongolian embassy to get a visa.
There was only one train running each week, so I was desperate to get this organized as soon as possible, partially because I was low on money, but I was also quite homesick by now. I’d already gotten a train ticket and a Soviet visa in Hong Kong, but I still needed a visa for Mongolia. Again, this is pre-internet, pre-google maps days. I had a street map but just couldn’t find that bloody embassy. At long last I got lucky and found it. But by then they were just shutting the gates. Business hours were over for the day (at 3 pm!). If I couldn’t get a visa, I’d not be able to get on this week’s train. My train ticket would be worthless and I’d have to wait a full week for the next train, plus I’d need a new Soviet Visa too. So I pleaded with the guard. Eventually he relented and let me in. There was still someone in the office and because they were keen to finish off for the day, they pretty much just put the sticker in my passport and shuffled me out the door.
All set, I got on the train the next day and had an amazing time, going through Mongolia, the Soviet Union, spent a few days in Moscow and then headed via Finland and Scandinavia back home.
The week after I’d been on the Trans-Siberian train, there was a massive gas explosion caused by a leaking gas pipeline and triggered by a passing train. Over 500 people died. If the Mongolian embassy guard hadn’t let me through, I probably would have ended up being on that train.”
World War II Almost Ended His Life Before It Even Began
“I’m alive because my aunt was born.
My grandfather was conscripted into the Romanian army as a medic, and his unit was one of the many acting as a defensive barrier, covering the Nazi supply lines to Stalingrad. My aunt was born and he was called back to Bucharest from the front. While he was on leave, the Russians launched Operation Uranus, which decimated the axis forces. He received word that his unit had been completely destroyed. He was never reassigned and in 1948, my mother was born.
I’m also alive because a bunch of Romanian cows got sick. My other grandfather was a pharmacist, back when that meant actually making medicines. He was also a Jew. The town he lived in was largely agrarian and their cow herds came down with some illness that was killing them. He whipped something up that cured them. The townspeople were very grateful to him. So grateful that when the chief of police heard that the Nazis were coming to town to take inventory of who lived there, he came to my grandfather’s house with some train tickets for him and his wife. They escaped the Nazis, and never got caught. My father was born at the end of 1945.”
The Streets Of Mexico Were No Longer Safe
“When I was a kid, my parents had a pretty good life for themselves in Mexico. Then they got caught up in this ‘sounds too good to be true’ pyramid scheme that was too good to be true. They pretty much lost everything, all their savings, their house, and there were a few people that were furious with them for getting them involved in that scheme.
One woman in particular became obsessed with my mom, calling all the time, leaving threatening notes at the door, and even showing up at places we were going. My parents started to worry that she might try to do something to harm me, so they decided to move to the U.S. far away from her and start over.
Had my parents not gotten involved in that pyramid scheme, which got that crazy lady after them, causing them to pack up and move to another country, my life could be so much different right now. I often wonder how things would have been for me if I had grown up in Mexico instead of Chicago.”