That Big Expanse of Sky Called Montana

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Adventure had never been a part of my life. While some of my childhood friends had come home from trips to the World’s Fair or from far away mystery places like “back east” to see their grandparents, my only claim to fame was that we had stayed at the Motel Fresno (located in farming country in Fresno, California) six years in a row.  It was a halfway point between Los Angeles, where we lived, and Oakland, where my grandmother resided, so my parents and my grandmother met there each summer. And it had a great bar.  My parents could get pleasantly drunk while hanging out at the pool, watching us kids get blistery sunburns the first day out.

So, when Tom asked me to marry him and move to Montana, you can bet I was ready for an adventure. Tom described Montana to me the weeks before he left to start a new job there.

“It’s a land full of mountains, rivers, streams, and waterfalls.  And there’s animals, almost everywhere you look.  Bears and deer, antelope and elk, moose and mountain goats, everywhere! And the sky, well you can breathe in that huge expanse of sky all day long.” So I packed up my meager belongings and flew out to Montana that June.  And he was right about Montana. I’ve seen all those animals and more, sometimes all in one day. I’ve fly-fished those rivers and streams, watched eagles dive for fish on a sunny summer day, while wearing waders in the middle of a premier trout stream, and I’ve viewed some spectacular waterfalls.

Tom had bought a house for us on a street that sounded intriguing to me…Upper Miller Creek Road. He told me to always call it “Upper Miller Crick” if anyone wanted to know where I lived. Me, being me, refused, and I’ve said “creek” when I mean “creek,” for the last nineteen years, but I digress.

Tom and I were both a little skittish about getting married. We had only dated for eight months, and I knew less about Tom than he knew about me.  I only knew that I was going to commit the rest of my life to him unless one of four things happened, and he knew what those four things were. On his part, most of what he knew about me was the stuff I told him early on when I was trying to scare him away.

Tom and I were staying in a campground for a few days until the house closed and the inhabitants moved out, which was supposed to be on Wednesday of that week.  Since Tom had to travel about four hours north for his new job, it was up to me to take some of our things over to the new house and meet Tom there in a couple of days.  I got up early, grabbed a cup of coffee to tide me over, and headed over to my new home. When I arrived, I saw that boxes and furniture filled the two-car garage from floor to rafters, and people were running in and out of the house carrying lamps, boxes, and more pieces of furniture to a rental truck.

Disappointed, I drove past.  It was legally our house as of that day and it didn’t look like they were in any hurry to vacate.  I also noticed that the gorgeous ¾ acre bright green lawn was now yellow and parched. Apparently once it was sold they decided they wouldn’t bother spending any more money on water. My stomach dropped, thinking about Tom and what he would say about this. I had never seen him angry, but I figured there had to be a temper hidden down in there somewhere. All men get angry easily, right?

I didn’t have a cell phone back then, and I knew Tom would be calling me on the phone we had already hooked up in the new house. I was in a new town, two states away from my home, family, and friends. I did not know one soul there, and I felt frightened, alone, and intimidated. I could not go to that house until those people were gone.

So, several times during that long day I drove back up Upper Miller Creek Road to peek at my new home. Each time, people were still there, carrying boxes and furniture to the rental truck. I explored the town, and finally, I decided to kill some time by taking myself to the movies.

Once the movie let out, I climbed back up Upper Miller Creek Road one more time, unsure of what I would do if they were still there.  It was six o’clock at night now, getting dark, and I was sure Tom had been trying to call me all day.

As I rounded the last curve and saw the empty driveway, I let out let out a sigh of relief. I drove up my new driveway and ran up to the house, used my new key to turn the lock, and opened the door. I did a quick glance around but then headed straight to our new phone.  I saw the light was blinking on the phone telling me there were six messages. As I listened to each one, I heard Tom’s voice sounding more and more worried. The sixth message sounded frantic. “If I don’t hear from you in fifteen minutes or so I’m going to drive back to Missoula,” he said.

I dialed the phone with shaking fingers. I knew how angry he would be. Who wouldn’t be angry? I probably did something stupid. I deserved his wrath. I should have marched into “my” house and told those people to hurry up and leave! I should have demanded to use my phone and let Tom know what was going on. Of course he’ll be mad…and he should be. Leave it up to me to cause a problem.

“Hello Tom? What happened was…” I reiterated the story, hoping he wasn’t regretting trusting me with something that should have been so easy.

“Oh, I’m so sorry that happened,” he said. “You must have felt so worried that you couldn’t call me and tell me what was going on. How about if I come pick you up and you can stay up here with me. We’ll drive down to the new house together in a couple of days.”

It’s been almost nineteen years since that first day in my new home in Montana. Over and over again, Tom has proven himself to be that kind, gentle man who was willing to drive four hours to come get me just so I’d be more comfortable. He has taught me more about God’s unconditional love than anyone I have ever known. And he’s never ever done one of the four things. Ah, I can finally breathe, and that big expanse of sky is a great place to catch your breath.

The Guy in the Parking Lot

????????????????????????????????????????Emerald green eyes with lashes to die for.  That’s all I noticed when I first laid my own baby blues on the guy in the parking lot of my apartment complex.  His eyes sparkled with an inner joy I had not seen since the last time I saw a picture of Santa Claus.

I finished loading my mountain bike into the back of my truck and politely said hello.

After that he began appearing whenever I was outside.  I told my daughter about this new “guy in the parking lot.”  I wondered if he was interested in me, but I was not interested in anyone, gorgeous eyes not withstanding.  I had sworn off men in general, and especially those that lived in my apartment complex.  “The Weatherman” had made me realize that dating men that knew when I was coming and going was a bad idea.

But the guy in the parking lot didn’t give up.  Even after I explained why I would not date him, he continued to seek me out.  He brought us homemade cookies at Christmas.  While he and his daughter were vacationing in Hawaii, he went into a store and bought me a bumper sticker about windsurfing for the bumper of my truck.  I was so surprised.  That evening I said to my daughter, “The guy in the parking lot thought about me when he was in Hawaii! Do you believe that?”  Still, I wasn’t interested.

As the months went by, the guy in the parking lot began to tell me little bits and pieces about his life.  His birth mother was a movie star and a model. She had given birth to him at seventeen and gave him up for adoption.  Soon after his birth, her face graced the cover of a dozen magazines.  He had traveled the world and was an artist with a camera.  He loved books.  We loved a lot of the same type of music.  Both of us were raised in Los Angeles.  We wondered if we had ever crossed paths and not known it.  Interesting…but still, I was not interested. He didn’t make me anxious.  I wasn’t sitting around on a Saturday with nothing to do, waiting for him to call me.  I didn’t feel the urge to stop my life for him.  Yawn.

We eventually began dating, and on one of the Saturday afternoons I wasn’t home waiting for him to call, I found myself perusing the self-help shelf at the local library.  I noticed the title of a book by Robin Norwood, “Women Who Love Too Much.”  I pulled it off the shelf and turned it over to read the back. Huh!  Maybe this is why I get so heartbroken over guys who don’t deserve so much as a backward glance.  I took it up to the check-out counter.

I devoured that book.  It was like reading a biography about myself.  I mentioned in my last post that I felt as if Norwood had set a private detective after me, documenting my escapades for her book on women like me…giving their hearts away hither and yon, or more like helter skelter. I read the last page, got up and looked in the mirror, studying myself, trying to remain upright while my brain turned upside down. I blushed.  Profusely.  Yep…I was that woman. Now what?

I guessed I was going to have to do some serious soul-searching about the man in the parking lot. Was I really willing to throw away a relationship that was built on trust, security, shared interests, and peace?  Did I really want one that was more familiar to what I was used to? You know, emotional chaos. What were my chances of ever meeting a guy like the man in the parking lot who wasn’t already taken by someone who was much smarter than me?  Could I actually commit my life to him? It was a lot to think over.  It took about a half hour. I dialed the phone.

“Tom? This is Linda.  Are you still interested in wanting to marry me? Because if you are, I am. Until death do us part.”

It’s been almost twenty years.  Once in awhile, Tom looks at me across the room, his gorgeous green eyes sparkling with laughter.  “I’m the guy in the parking lot!” he jokes.

“I know!” I answer.  And I look across the room back at him, and I feel so very, very blessed.

Monikers

Mr. BunglesI was working at a job I loved and that made me feel good about myself.  After all, making other people’s teeth whiter was important work.  And I also had my first business card with my name on it. I got into the habit of leaving them on tables in restaurants or accidentally dropping one in the foyer as I left church.   I gave them out to strangers on the street or in the chip aisle at the supermarket.

My daughter had grown up, and was planning on moving out.  We untangled from each other like octopi backing out of a group hug.  We knew it was what was needed for both of us, but we didn’t want to let go.

My son was spending summers at his grandparent’s home in Los Angeles.  Suddenly I had time on my hands…too much time.

I didn’t know what to do with all that freedom.  After a lifetime of feeling encased in anxiety and grief, I had broken out of the cocoon and was flying on my own for the first time.  I tried to relive a childhood I had missed.  Every minute I wasn’t working I was playing on the beach or windsurfing at the lake.  One sunny morning I went out to the street to look northwest towards the beach.   I wanted to see if there was any telltale sign of fog.   There was.  That meant wind by 1:00 or 2:00 p.m.  I ran back into the apartment and dashed down the hallway, sliding into the bedroom I shared with my eighteen-year-old daughter. I shook her awake and yelled “Kowabunga!” She rolled her eyes and turned toward the wall in an attempt to get back to sleep. She had become the older, responsible one.

I was still the orphan looking for someone to love me.  There was a part of me that didn’t believe God would ever allow me to get into another relationship.  After all, I had blown three marriages.  But then I thought, maybe my definition of marriage is flawed.  I mean, I thought marriage meant that “two became one.”  I was pretty sure that didn’t mean I became one with the STD my husband shared with his latest girlfriend or that my eye became one with the end of his fist.  Still, I felt stupid; the type of woman people felt sorry for; kind of like a dimwit. Oh, that’s Linda, don’t mind her…she can’t help it.  She’s been…shhhh…don’t tell anybody…mentally ill for years now.

The guys I dated were all wrong for me.  I was like a jigsaw puzzle, trying to fill that missing piece with guys who just didn’t fit.

I was still giving men nicknames, just as I had in the 1970’s.  It hurt a little less to be dumped by “Wing Nut” than it did to be dumped by Scott, the man I had just given my heart to.

There was “the dentist.”  Seven years younger than I and a playboy with a fancy education from back east…not a good match for the likes of me.  Oh…and he had a pretty blond girlfriend stashed away in England part time.  Whenever her visa ran out in the States, she headed back across the pond for a spell and a spot of tea.  That’s when he would ask me out.  When she returned, he dated her; something he conveniently failed to mention.  I called him at home one day and there was her voice was on the answering machine.  “Hulloo…this is Lady Mary Elizabeth…”we’re” not home just now…yada yada yada.” Oh yeah…I got a million of ‘em.

After the dentist, I met “the pilot/surfer/IT geek.”  He bragged about his ability to do somersaults in the sky.  One day we rented a Cessna 170 and flew from San Luis Obispo to Fullerton Airport.  Soon into the flight I looked out the window and said, “There’s Lake Lopez.”

“That’s not Lake Lopez,” he said.  I looked again.  I had windsurfed that lake a hundred times.  I would recognize it upside down and backwards.

“Yeah, that’s Lake Lopez, alright.” I said.

The engine was so loud that I couldn’t hear the quick chatter between him and the air traffic controllers.  He avoided eye contact for the rest of the trip. I noticed the right half of his face twitching as we entered LAX airspace.  I just thought he had a tic.  When we finally cruised down the landing strip at Fullerton he broke out into sobs. Apparently he had almost flown us into the side of a mountain.  He climbed out of the cockpit and vomited onto the tarmac.  My children already didn’t like him very much. That pretty much cinched it.

That coupled with the cases of beer he consumed on a nightly basis worked to pull us apart.

And I can’t leave out “AJ the Weatherman.”  Most of the time I couldn’t remember what his real name was so I just called him “The Weatherman,” for short.  He reported all the latest weather patterns on the 7:00 o’clock and the 11:00 o’clock evening newscast for the local television network.  When he took me out on a date (rare) he wore his letterman jacket with the station call letters on the back.  This was to impress the cute cocktail waitresses so he could get us free drinks.  He also wanted to make sure I knew that all the cute cocktail waitresses thought he was hot stuff.  Apparently he didn’t see them roll their eyes as he headed over to his table.  I wasn’t impressed either.

I was right in the middle of breaking it off with him during our date on New Year’s Eve.  “No!” he yelled, almost spilling his Bud Light.  “I was willing to give up ever having children for you!”

Oh, and don’t let me forget to mention his stalking behavior.  I caught him hiding behind the potted plants on his deck balcony more than once after coming home from the 11:00 o’clock news report, lying in wait for me to arrive home.  The next day, as I left my apartment, his somewhat shrill “Hey!” would force me to look up towards his second floor patio.  Leaning on his patio railing was all 125 pounds of him, baby-oiled arms, hands properly protected by weight-lifting gloves, his smile looking like a Chihuahua ready to latch on to the mailman’s ankle.  “Oh, yeah, hi,” I answered.

“How’s it going?”

“Fine.”

“So, where were you last night?”  Subtlety was not his strong suit.

That coupled with the cases of beer he consumed on a nightly basis worked to pull us apart.

So, I decided it was better if I didn’t date men who lived at “Divorce Central” with my children and me.

By this time I was beginning to think I didn’t know how to pick men or something.  I mean, seriously. I was learning.  Really.  I just wasn’t a quick study.

So then, along came “the Air Force guy.”  He went to my church.  He dressed impeccably.  I was drawn to guys in Italian suits from the Mens Warehouse with $20 Rolex watches from Mexico who drove leased Mercedes Benz’ far beyond their budget.  Well, truth be told, I had never been drawn to guys like that.  I had been drawn to guys in dreadlocks with Jamaican accents, but that’s another story altogether. I’m all about experiencing all the world has to offer.

We began dating, and I found myself falling for him.  I had waited a little while this time before falling in love; at least two and a half weeks.  I couldn’t really figure out what it was about him that drew me in.  He wasn’t handsome.  He had a high voice, like a man pretending to sound like a woman.  If I called when he wasn’t home, I found myself cringing at the recording on his answering machine.  “Hi, this is Todd.”  He sounded like Robin Williams might sound on crack during one of his manic episodes.  But he drew me in.  And apparently he drew a lot of other women in too.  By the time he got done wringing out my self-esteem like a wet, dirty dishcloth, I knew something was seriously wrong with me.  I began to run the track at the high school after work in an attempt to outrun years of rejection and abandonment.

And then, along came “the guy in the parking lot.”