Four

Please, dear God, let me make it in time. Please wait to take her. Please ask her mom to wait to take her. Please, please, please.

My prayer ran on a continuous loop in my head, pleading.

My phone dinged. It was a message from my best friend, Amber. Tony had called her that morning and filled her in on everything that had happened. He was so considerate. I was meant to be leaving in just a few days to meet up with her and two of my most amazing friends for our annual girls’ trip. This year we were going to Portland… but now I likely wouldn’t been joining them. Now I would be helping with a funeral. The thought pulled at my heartstrings, but I felt strangely at peace with it. I always wanted to be with my friends, but right now I needed to be with my family.

As we texted back and forth, Amber mentioned that she had put my name on the LDS temple prayer roll. I wasn’t active or involved in the faith this faith that I was raised in, but the thought brought me peace. I would take any help I could get.

Please, please let me make it in time. Please ask great grandma to wait to take her. Please wait to take her. Please let me see her in this life one more time. Please, please, please.

I had been silently pleading for hours, locked in my own angst. Then, suddenly, everything changed. It was like someone had dumped a big bucket of calm over me. All the fear fled. I felt the panic drain out of me, leaving peace and calm in its wake. One o’clock, I thought. One o’clock. The thought popped into my head unbidden. I would make it. It would be ok. They would wait. 

The calmness was cleansing. I felt better. But what was one o’clock? Was that my deadline? What did it mean? Would it happen at one o’clock or was my mind simply trying to placate itself before my stress caused it to implode? Right on cue, my brain reminded me that feelings don’t equal fact and that this could all easily be imagined. It could all be fantasy. It could simply be wrong. Still, I felt better.

We were in the mountains now. They jutted up around us almost violently in their apocalyptic size and jagged edges. Tiny weather-worn towns huddled in the shadows of the great Rocky Mountains, etching out a quiet and historically difficult existence. The “Welcome to Montana” sign materialized before me and I was filled with the strange mix of emotions that always manifested themselves whenever I entered my home state.

I thought of how eager I was to leave this place … What was it? Fifteen years ago? Actually, it was almost exactly 15 years ago, I realized, when I’d been chomping at the bit to fly away from everything and everyone I knew.

Like so many newly minted adults, I fled to college … the farthest one I could find.

With a smile I remembered that first day, when I’d stepped off the plane and into a completely new world. The airport pulsated with activity, but it wasn’t the harried, frantic movement of LAX or JFK. Rather, it exuded a deep, rhythmic melody. Tourists, returning home, browsed lazily through floral print merchandise, still hung-over on the luxuries of island life. New visitors deplaned ecstatically, filling the air with their exuberant vocal timber. Business people strode commandingly through the terminal barking orders into their cellphones and flipping decidedly through intimidating black leather agendas.

The corridors overflowed with lush vegetation. Open-air walkways flooded everything with streaming sunlight. The tropical golden rays illuminated people as different from each other as dolphins and giraffes. They wore everything from Aloha shirts to turbans. The burqa to the bindi. They had all converged upon this point, from their origins around the globe. They moved seamlessly, weaving independently in and out of this constantly evolving anthill of human traffic. I joined them, stopping to grab my bags at the carousel, before stepping out onto the curb.

The street outside was overshadowed by layer upon layer of car ramps, overpasses and towering structures. My tongue burned with exhaust. Humidity hung thick in the air like a sauna, clinging to my face and forcing streams of moisture down the contours of my back. Cars, busses and cabs competed with each other. Engines roared. People shouted over the din. Bags thudded into expectant trunks. Doors snapped shut. Baggage carts wriggled shrilly across the asphalt.

Through the smoky haze, a fresh, cool breeze penetrated the chaos. It met my nose, smelling of salty, sweet ocean and exotic flowers. I couldn’t believe I was finally there.

My escape couldn’t have come a moment too soon. I felt like I was going crazy in my small, western Montana town. For years I could feel the pressure building, the need to run overtaking my maturing body. I was a keg of gun powder in a burning building. I needed out or things were going to get ugly.

It didn’t get any more cliché. All I needed was a southern drawl, a mediocre singing voice (check) and a burning desire to “make it in the big city.” I could have been a “Lifetime Original Movie”… Although, on second thought, I probably wasn’t spending nearly enough time staring tragically out of a stormy window while the rain’s shadow traced a single, solitary tear down my moonlit cheek. Se la vie.

I had applied to college in Hawaii on a lark; throwing it into the mix of more “sensible” schools at the last minute. After applying, however, I found all of my hopes riding on this one option. It was my chance at freedom, at adventure! It was also the only place where no one had any idea who I was and therefore no preconceived opinions of who I should be.

I was unceremoniously rejected. I accepted this defeat with my characteristic blend of optimism and humility. I believe my prayers during this time went something like, Ok God, I accept that I’m not meant to go anywhere or do anything with my life … if that’s really what you want. I’ll just stay here in this nowhere town and spend my college years living with my parents and showing up for my classes at the local college only when I’m not too hung over from drinking away the pain. It’s ok. I obviously wasn’t meant for more. I get it. I’ll just hang here until I get pregnant out of boredom, or whatever. Then I’ll just work at the gas station until I die alone in a pile of my own despair and broken dreams. If that’s what you want. You’re God… so your will be done… or whatever.

These prayers usually took place while I lay draped dramatically across my bed, contemplating my untimely demise in a frozen wasteland of desolation and unfulfilled potential.

After a couple weeks of drenching God (and everyone else within a 300 foot radius) in my melodrama, an envelope arrived. I had been rewarded a small art scholarship and my denial had been overturned.

Thinking back on it, I still couldn’t believe this incredibly fortunate turn of events. What was the lesson there? If at first you don’t succeed, give in to despair and accept that your life is ruined forever so God will grow tired of listening to you moan and either help you out or kill you off, just to shut you up. I supposed I got the better end of that deal.

I remembered how my blood felt like Tabasco, burning through my exhilarated veins as my ride ventured up and out of the dark, concrete maze and plunged boldly into the brilliant, everlasting, summer sun. Plants and trees, straight out of Jurassic Park, lined the windy road on both sides. Palm trees, heavy with woody coconuts, swayed overhead. The landscape exploded with voluptuous, blindingly green overgrowth. It was like I’d never seen the color before. Its intensity hurt my untested eyes.

Montana usually had more of a “paper bag” countryside. There the greenery rarely had enough time to develop, let alone thrive. Winters were cold and desolate, sometimes dropping down to 30 degrees below zero on a particularly arctic day. Snow fell in abundance, but even in winter, temperatures fluctuated so sporadically that it didn’t always stick around. The white disintegrated into a bleak and defeated mud-scape, overshadowed by the gray winter sky. Snow storms often appeared well into the spring, giving new growth the first test of its budding young life.

When it did show up, spring in western Montana was short and vibrant. It was the most beautiful three weeks though, as plants and flowers peeked timidly out of hiding. But then summer set in like a menopausal hot flash, intense and unbearable. An untended plant was lucky to make it out of July alive. The ones that did were nothing like the blushing buds of spring. These were callused, like raspy-voiced, old barmaids, having long ago forsaken any vestige of youth or vitality.

The subsequent browning of the earth set the stage for a short and vibrant fall before winter started up again. Thank God for the evergreens! At least they guaranteed us some color … the ones that didn’t get incinerated in our traditional midsummer wildfires, that is. It was like the entire state was on a cyclical year-long bender; all binged out on temperatures it couldn’t quite stomach. It hadn’t learned to pace its self yet.

Hawaii was everything Montana was not. It was warm and lush, bright and vibrant. Unlike Montana it was bursting with diverse people and cultural traditions from around the world. I had always nursed a curiosity of far flung places and here I could satisfy this curiosity infinitely. Hawaii was my heaven. What’s more, no one knew me in Hawaii. Here I could be or do anything I wanted. An opportunity I took full advantage of, I thought as the “Welcome to Montana” sign disappeared in the rear view mirror.

This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.

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