In the fall of 1997, I quit my first ‘real’ job at Planned Parenthood of Missoula, sold or gave away most of my belongings and hopped on a train bound for Chicago. I was going to meet up with one of my best college girlfriends, and we were going to drive to New York City to start fresh and live with her boyfriend. As I made my way from Missoula to the train station in Whitefish, I looked at the low-hanging, ominous, dark clouds shrouding the Mission Mountains and thought, “Thank, God.” I’d spent a little over a year in Montana, and I’d loved it. But it had also been really hard and really lonely. I jumped at the chance to reunite with my friend who’d spent the last year teaching English in Korea.
Our reunion was lovely, and we quickly got down to the business of driving to NYC. After a quick visit to my Mom’s in central Illinois, we were on our way. The plan was to drive straight through in one day, and that’s exactly what we did.
About midway through our drive, my friend started confiding in me that there was maybe another guy that she was interested in. I don’t remember if I hid my shock or just laid it all out, but I was horrified. I’d just quit a job and sold everything to go live with her boyfriend while we found jobs and eventually found a place of our own. The Boyfriend was the key piece to this move happening sanely. Things got a little tense. As we approached the city, I asked if she could take over the wheel as she’d promised, and she froze. So I drove us over that giant bridge and into Manhattan at something like 12:30 in the morning. The skyline was incredible and overwhelming in our bleary-eyed state.
About 2 days into our stay, the boyfriend announced that I could stay, but that my friend needed to move out. They were breaking up. My worst nightmare was coming true. We both stayed on while we sorted things out, and I knew immediately that for me, this was a deal-breaker. This was not what I’d signed up for. I frantically ran through a list of possibilities in my head, all of which led me back to Montana with my tail between my legs. “I just had a going-away party,” I thought. “How can I go back so soon?”
With my favorite cousin in town with his new wife, I did have some fun during those 1 ½ weeks. I called it my ‘1 ½ week-long really stressful vacation’. Somewhere in there, I remembered a woman I’d met at my job at Planned Parenthood. She’d written ‘Montana Conservation Corps’ as her employer on her intake form, and I’d asked her about it. She spoke of building trails in the wilderness, working outside and working with her body. It sounded pretty awesome from inside that windowless clinic. And a heck of a lot less stressful.
So there I was in NYC, dialing the number for the Missoula MCC office. When Keith, my future boss, answered the phone with his gravelly, laid-back, hippie/mountain man voice—the polar opposite of what I was experiencing in downtown Manhattan— I knew that my future was sealed. I couldn’t have been happier. I ran to the nearest Kinko’s and faxed him my resume. Within days, I was back on the train, tail tucked in my back pocket.
This story is on my mind right now, because my niece is on her way to NYC to attend school at the AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts. My niece who just yesterday was five and holding hands with me on Rock Creek, asking me how mosquitos can see in the dark. My niece who grew up in my small hometown and went to the same schools that I did and has virtually the same background is moving to the big city. And she’s never been there! And I am so proud of her. To the moon proud. It’s painful to not be with her as she sets her eyes on that skyline for the first time.
Her story will be different. Yes, it will. And I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
PS—The Boyfriend and my friend did in fact break up that fall. They parted ways for a good 4 years or so. Then they reunited, got married, had two kids and moved to Copenhagen. And yes, we’re still friends. 😉