Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Lost Year

I've blabbed a lot here about my experience living in New Jersey and New York, but something I haven't talked as much about is my first relocation experience: when I moved to Montana in 2000. It's not just here, either: I have plenty of friends and associates, some of whom have known me for years, who say, "I didn't know you lived in Montana! How come you never talk about it?"

Well, the reason I never talk about it is pretty personal, but it's faded enough into the background of my life that I'm not uncomfortable talking about it anymore. That is, a very intense romantic relationship fell apart in Montana, and that's what I've always associated it with most. So, the year in Montana = bad memories.

But really, it wasn't all bad. It was living in Missoula, Montana, that made me discover the importance of walkable neighborhoods. During the four months I spent out of work in the Big Sky state, I had my routine: I'd walk to the bank, the post office, the library, and back home again, all the space of 20 minutes. It was a comforting thing.

I have a lot of happy memories about reading, and buying huckleberries at the farmers market, and interesting characters like my neighbor Billy, a retired math professor who told dirty jokes in the laundry room and who had a fridge full of nothing but yogurt that he got on clearance at Safeway. Billy had wandered on foot all over North America. He liked my cooking and didn't mind that we had no furniture to sit on, because he had even less. I never found out why, but he was estranged from his family. Billy was the last person I ever saw or talked to in Montana. I still remember him waving to us, his face sweaty from helping us move crap from our apartment down to the car.

I got my first driver's license in Montana. And since so much time has gone by, I can even remember happy memories from the relationship that wasn't meant to be. It's taken me a long, long time to get to that place, but no matter how cringeworthy the memories are, you get there eventually.

Most of the interesting stories I acquired during my twenties took place not in New York, where my experience was the refreshingly mundane routine of someone who'd gotten burned out too quickly and needed to dissolve into anonymity right quick, but in Montana. In Montana, someone got stabbed outside the 24-hour casino that I lived above. In New York, I lived two stories above the parking garage, and one storey above a Dominican couple whose chief idiosyncrasy was that they watched Lifetime movies a little too loud on weeknights. In Montana, I attended a creepy death-day party for G.I. Gurdjieff. In New York, the only recreational outing I ever went to was the company Christmas party, and even then I left early because I'd had too much free beer and I was afraid I might say something stupid.

In New York, I never peered through the blinds to see my neighbor engaged in a scene that, if it were a 19th century painting, would be titled, "Twenty Unclothed Men and a Vacuum Cleaner." Or made sympathy dinner for that neighbor after he got evicted, either. Or for that matter, been surprised at how hungry he was, and wondered whether he had enough money to buy food.

There were no bears in New York.

So what I aim to do, now that the tenth anniversary of my great westward migration is at hand, is explore what it means to be a Midwest migrant, a Rust Belt refugee, in these modern times. What made me leave? What made me come back? What did I learn about myself, about where I came from, about America, while I was out west?

Please stay tuned. I hope we both learn something.

3 Comments:

Blogger John Ettorre said...

Wonderful stuff, Christine. You're finding your voice in sublime fashion. You always leave me wanting so much more.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Christine Borne said...

Well, thank you, that's very kind. But I can never hear the word "sublime" without thinking of my 9th grade English teacher, a very prim and stern woman who scared the daylights out of all of us. One week, "sublime" was one of our vocabulary words. Now I'd been warned by a 10th grade friend that Ms. M. was going to talk about the, ahem, "relations" between a man and a woman to illustrate the meaning of the word "sublime." So of course I sat there sweating in anticipation. When she launched into her speech, I burst out giggling, she gave me a detention, and rumor has it that every year after that (until she retired), she told the story of the one immature student who couldn't handle a teacher talking about doing it.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Sublime. Good memories, study buddy.

4:54 PM  

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