“What in the hell am I going to write?” I texted Tobacco Brunette — my first blog connection who has become one of my best friends. It was her I texted, spoke to as my car idled on the side streets and my voice shook. “There is a reason I tell stories about everyone else — otherwise I’d have to talk about myself.” Let me tell you another one, I’d say, hoping you would, in all of it, forget there was a teller.
I woke up this morning shaking thoughts of Montana out of my head: peopleless vistas, old weathered station wagons with gas cans strapped to the luggage racks, the rolling golden fields and the dark rise of the mountains. It isn’t the same there now, nothing is — and there is no going back there except as a tourist, a visitor and that’s what breaks my heart the most somehow — to know that it will never belong to me: its barren, hardscrabble, unyielding beauty.
For years wherever I was — I was a passenger, literally. I didn’t drive until I was 24 and in Boulder I used to tell my boyfriend to drive, just drive — drive us out into the Eastern plains so I could see the ridge of the front range — drive us into those small mountain towns just north of Boulder that seemed so quaint to me then — cradled by the foothills — drive. When we were living more as roommates than people who were supposed to love one another I would just tell him to drive — as if contained and hurtling through space nothing more could happen, time would stop. In the drone of the wheels and the blur of the line beneath us I would always look out to all the other places in the world that people lived and take, for that moment, their happiness as my own, that golden light held in their windows, the long light of dusk when children were called home. Drive, I’d say, up 93 past Arlee and the Bison range — and the Missions — did we stop the car there, in that small town ball field with its weathered, picket fence — all of the town mailboxes painted vibrant colors that had been scoured by the wind? It seems a relic, these memories, in a day now where everything is catalogued and relentlessly archived — that I should hold these only in my head — the ranchers laying fence in the spring, the burning fields, the snow geese that settled in the marshlands — the frost coating all the grasses, the pond’s glaze of fresh ice catching the sky — the small birds that startled from the bushes along the highway with the roar of the logging trucks — the laundromats and the pay phones — all still there. Drive.
When I left Montana I left of all of my books, boxed, in the garage of a friend — his house not far from the Rattlesnake where I used to run, where once, I saw a mountain lion with a husky in its mouth, or did I dream that? The conservation officer with his binoculars passed solemnly across to me as I came in from my run — I’d seen the tracks and wondered, put it out of my mind. I left my boxes behind and my friend gave me his boom-box and his CDs so I could play music on my twenty hour drive — my radio had long been torn from the dashboard of my 87 Subaru wagon.
I heard this song for the first time:
If you could see me now
The one who said that shed rather roam
The one who said shed rather be alone
If you could only see me now
Ive been too long in the wind
Too long in the rain
Taking any comfort that I can
Looking back and longing for
The freedom of my chains
If you could hear me now
Singing somewhere through the lonely nights
I left that land knowing that I would never come back. I drove out of the mountains and into the badlands. I watched birds dive and swoop in front of the car. It was spring. When I stopped for gas in North Dakota it was impossible to miss the feathers in the grill of the car — some small bird I couldn’t identify. In my own narrative I was a woman who kept moving. If you’d ask me in those days I would have said I would keep moving north. Alaska, I would have said, I’ll stop then. I will go as far as I can where few people are — I probably said that in a bar with a glass of whiskey in my hand because that was in the narrative too. Jameson’s on the rocks, splash of water.
Because in my narrative I would talk about everyone else, but just as in childhood when something happened and I would hoard it, hold it and only release it when I felt safe enough to do so — I didn’t really reveal myself. Vulnerability wasn’t my strong suit. I thought about this for some reason as I stood at the stove over Thanksgiving. I thought about how people could know me for years and then it would occur to me that they didn’t know how my father died, or my childhood or any of the stories that surrounded it and so, really, they didn’t know me — I wouldn’t allow it.