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.

When You Love Too Much

Cover of "Women Who Love Too Much"

Cover of Women Who Love Too Much

Last week I wrote a post about the various and sundry relationships I had entered into with men who were all too wrong for me.  After writing that post, I thought of a core belief that has percolated in the back of my mind for many years.  The belief has been this:

The reason I had gotten into so many terrible relationships when I was younger  is because I was mentally ill.

But that belief got flipped on its backside during the editing process of Monikers.

As I reflected on the different relationships I had been in, as well as the symptoms of mental illness I had experienced over that decade, I realized that my belief about how it all came about was upside-down and backwards.  I now believe this:

The reason I became so seriously mentally ill is because of the relationships I had allowed myself to get into.

Wow.  I am still gaining insight into this issue, 35 years later.

You see, I had all the earmarks of someone who was born with certain emotional tendencies in the first place.  I was an anxious, shy child from the time I was born.  But the glowing coals and smoldering kindling of being a Nervous Nelly somehow got fanned into the flames of full-blown panic disorder and agoraphobia as well as major depression.  So what happened?

I. loved. too. much.

Really?  How can someone love too much?

Someone can love too much when that four letter word ~ L.o.v.e, is spelled with four very different letters ~ F. e. a. r.

I desperately loved my father.  In trying to win his love for me, I bought him expensive gifts, made him his favorite pies, and tried to hang out with him at his favorite bar.  I felt closer to him for a short time, but he still seemed to find it easy to move out of our childhood home without so much as a goodbye.  When he left I felt a lot of fear.

A child who has no security that their parents love them experiences fear because they believe there is no one there to guide them or keep them safe.  They start to look elsewhere to get that need for love and security met.

My own first relationship was with a man (I was fifteen and he was twenty) who physically looked a lot like the father I wanted to love me. I poured my heart into him thinking I would receive love in return. We married when I was sixteen and our firstborn son was born when I was seventeen.  The marriage lasted about a week and a half. So I had to look for someone else to fill the hole I had been left with.

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.

~Mother Teresa

Robin Norwood provides this insight in her book, “Women Who Love Too Much:”

“We are attracted to men who replicate for us the struggle we endured with our parents, when we tried to be good enough, loving enough, worthy enough, helpful enough, and smart enough to win the love, attention, and approval from those who could not give us what we needed, because of their own problems and preoccupations.”

I first read Robin’s book in 1992.  It was a mind-blower for me.  I felt as if she had sent a private detective to follow me around and document my relationships as I married, divorced, married again, and divorced again, and then dated the likes of “The Weatherman,” “Air Force Guy” and others. Her words forced me to look back over the littered path of the relationships in my own life and reflect on how I got into them in the first place. I asked myself what drew me to each man I either dated or lived with or married. Quite the revelation.

But still, after all these years, I thought what I had done, and what I had allowed to happen to me, was because I had become seriously mentally ill as a young teen after my first marriage fell apart. Now I understand that what caused me to become so seriously ill was how I was treated within relationships that I thought would bring love, trust, security, and peace, and instead brought me abuse, trauma, betrayal, and chaos.

Now, I am a psychotherapist in private practice.  I see women and teen girls all week long.  I see the same patterns in them that I saw in myself.  If I could do anything, I would open up their skulls and insert the insight I have gained about what constitutes a healthy choice in a life partner.

There’s a checklist in Robin’s book that lists characteristics of “women who love too much.”  I took the test, thinking back on who I was over twenty years ago before I met and married someone who truly does love me. Soon we will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary.  Ahhh…authentic love…at last.

Anyway, I placed my check mark next to fifteen out of fifteen questions. I was a woman who used to love too much.  So, I brought the checklist to my teen girl’s group.  I asked the questions and had them check off a list of their own.  Most of the girls checked fifteen out of fifteen.  So we’re going to have a little book club.  It’s that important.

Has this been a problem in your life?  Have you, as a man looking for his woman or a woman looking for that perfect husband, found yourself looking back at littered, broken relationships?  Perhaps you are in a broken relationship right now. What drew you to that person?  What was “familiar” about them?   What felt “comfortable” to you?  That’s the key.  Something felt comfortable about that person, and it may be that something about them reminded you of a parent you desperately wanted to love you.  Only what was missing from your parent is also, sadly, missing from your latest love as well.

Please comment and let me know if this post resonated.  Let’s have a discussion!

Making My Move

Michael the Archangel and I had finally found our way back to Los Angeles.  His mother had allowed us to temporarily move in with her.  She already shared the three-bedroom bungalow with her elderly mother, who had lost a leg lifting a car off of a six-year-old girl.  We were supposedly saving money for our own place.  I had a different plan in mind.  I just hadn’t figured out how I was going to pull it off.

The next time I felt Michael’s fury,  the blow to my face was so loud it woke his mother out of a deep sleep.  She flew into our room, screaming for her son to get out of the house.  Instead, he dashed into the bathroom and ran a razor blade over wrists already scarred from previous attempts.  Somehow his mother kept him in the bathroom so he wouldn’t bleed all over the house, but neither one of us made an attempt to call for help.  We just stared at each other, as if daring each other to make a move to the phone.

Finally, his mother made the call and an ambulance arrived. This time Michael landed himself in a facility for a three-day evaluation, but as always, he convinced the docs he was ready to face the world again.  Looking pale and haunted with his wrists bandaged up, he attempted to gain my sympathy.  He related how the EMT told him that if he really wanted to end it, he would need to slice vertically up his wrist, and not waste his time marking up his arm side to side.  Information offered too late.  For the next several weeks I hid out, not wanting anyone to see my face in public.

As soon as my eye was almost back to normal, I applied for a job where Michael’s mother worked.  Garrett AiResearch manufactured and sold turbochargers to the military, so to even get into the plant I had to drive up to the guard shack and show my photo I.D. badge.  Once in the building, I felt safe.  Michael the Archangel would not be allowed in.  But my children were not there with me.  So I waited and then made my move.

I was hardly ever left alone, but one day Michael decided he could trust me long enough to take my car to the repair shop.  He’d hitch back, so I figured I had about 45 minutes.  I carefully pulled the curtain aside and watched as he backed out of the driveway.  I waited about one minute and then ran into the kitchen and pulled a large green garbage bag out of the cabinet.   Scarcely breathing, I pulled socks, underwear, pants and shirts for my son, diapers for the baby, bottles, a couple of toys, and tossed them without looking into the bag.  I threw the bag into my son’s Little Red Wagon and pulled the baby up onto my hip.  “Come on!” I told my four-year-old.  “Follow Mommy!”  “Hurry!”

My son didn’t even question me.  It was as if he knew exactly what we needed to do.  The three of us raced out of the house, with Michael’s grandmother helpless in her recliner, yelling at us to stop.  I walked as fast as I could and still keep us all together.  We went around the corner, up a few blocks, down a street, up another block, zig zagging away so as not to be found easily.  I was petrified, sure that if Michael found us I would be killed.

I knocked on a door in the middle of a block.  A middle-aged woman answered the door.  She took one look at us; me at eighty-two pounds, long, stringy brown hair, shaking like a leaf; my son, a look of bewilderment on his face.  And then there was the baby in my arms.  “Could I use your phone to call a taxi?” I said.  She hesitated, folding her arms.  Surely she’s not going to say no!  I almost began to scream, “Let me in your house!!”  “Please!”

There are far too many silent sufferers.  Not because they don’t yearn to reach out, but because they’ve tried and found no one who cares.
― Richelle E. Goodrich

She let us in and with fumbling, shaking fingers I looked up the number and made the call.  She asked us to wait on the porch, exposed.  I saw her watch me out the window.  Thoughts of being killed in front of my kids raced through my mind but I felt trapped, cemented to the spot.  If I left the taxi would not pick us up.

The driver looked incredulous as he lifted the red wagon and the garbage bag into the trunk of the cab.  I wondered if he was going to call the police on me, as if I were some fugitive from justice.  I gave him the address of a guy I had met at work.  He had stopped me in the lunchroom one day and asked me what was wrong with me.  Why was I so thin?  Why did I shake?  I unburdened myself and he offered to help.  I was sure he didn’t really expect me to take him up on it and show up on his doorstep, but I gave the driver his address anyway.  It was our only chance.  I felt myself begin to breathe again as we drove away, and I melted into the back of the seat.

I didn’t stop shaking for weeks.  I never saw Michael the Archangel again…ever.  I never showed up for another day at Garrett AiResearch, and within a week we were living miles away in another city.  I heard years later that Michael had died of an overdose in a fleabag hotel in San Francisco.  As for me, I made it for another year before I really began to unravel, before I began to lose myself completely.  It was finally safe to let go.