The first half of the ride home from the confrontation that I just had, was liberating. But as I past the bank, past the electric office a pit in my stomach began to form.
I had just had an explosion of sorts. A nuclear bomb in human form. I hated my job and I couldn't hold that fact in anymore. I let my boss have it and even though most of me knew it was wrong, nothing had ever felt more right.
My job was seeking out the news. Looking everywhere news could be lurking hoping to find the next hot story. To do so I had to search, sometimes making a fool out of myself or offending people along the way. I had to impose on peoples' moments of tragedy and discomfort. That's the thing about the news. People want to be wrapped up in the misfortunate of others to make their own lives seem better. Not everyone has the ability to be grateful for what they have in their own life.
But being 36 years old and having done this job for 11 years I had seen one too many accidents, talked to one too many victims of fire damage, and wrote about one too many burglaries.
That day I decided that I wasn't going to do it anymore. When my boss gave me the assignment to cover the auto accident at exit nine on I-94 westbound I knew I was finished.
"I'm done Fred," I whispered under my breath not really sure if I wanted to say it out loud. "No, no," as I stood up " I am absolutely finished". "I can't put my recorder in anyone else's face."
"It's your job, Jeanne, It's what we pay you for," said my entirely immovable boss.
That was exactly the attitude that I had decided I was through with. I became a journalist to give a voice to the voiceless. But what I ended up doing was forcing a voice on those who did not wish to speak. And I did it all for a paycheck. Years ago a journalist was all I wanted to be. It was who I knew I was. But the person that I became was a stranger to me.
After 10 more minutes of seemingly irrational statements made to Fred Wellington I was filling a box with possessions scattered about my desk at the New England Examiner. It was a Saturday morning so not many of my colleges were present at that hour, which was how I preferred it. I couldn't even explain what I was doing to myself, let alone to anyone else. Instead I left the place that was my daily destination like it meant nothing to me.
Driving away I knew I had just made the most irrational yet rational decision I had ever made. I wouldn't even call it a decision seeing as a decision in my sense of the word meant long nights pondering a thought and maybe later acting on it. What I had just done was based purely on impulse and I am not an impulsive person. It was crazy and I was a sane person. But I wasn't even sure who I was anymore so I took all this as a rebirth.
Walking in the apartment I put my keys on the side table near the door. I was faced with the feeling that this place was not home anymore. I hadn't really known what home felt like since I was a teenager. My mom left my father and I when I was 16. Then nine years later my father passed away. Ever since then I found it necessary to go from city to city searching for that one thing that turned a place into a home. I transferred from newspaper to newspaper doing the same thing, just on a different day, in a different place. I had always been driven by the pursuit. The search for something. I knew something was missing and seeing as I had nothing left here the only place to go was out to look for it.
I have always had the desire to drive out west. Sadly I kept shoving that dream aside for no good reason. My 1994 Saturn was on it's last leg so I decided to end it's long and loyal life with a bang. I was going to drive in one direction until it would go no more.
Recently in my line of work I was beginning to lose faith in people. Finding that as much as I wanted to trust them, they couldn't be trusted. However, during most of my life I had been such a trusting person and I desired to get that part of me back. I truly needed something to happen to make me believe in trust again.
I packed up some suitcases with some comfortable clothes, books, and other important items that were all I found necessary to live on for a while. I paid a month advance on my rent and turned off all my utilities. I planned on using the rest of my savings for whatever expenses the journey presented me with. I planned on going out for however long it took to find what I didn't even know I was looking for.
With my baggage in tow I waved goodbye to Baltimore and headed out into the unknown. I didn't have a GPS. Even if I did it would not work for me. A GPS is for people who have a destination to program into it. I had no destination to program.
The open road seemed to soothe all my discomforts. Being lost, once seen as a stressful experience for me, took on a completely new meaning. Instead of planning a route in advance, as to not get lost, I wanted nothing more than to be as lost as a person could be. I wanted to be lost on the roads, within myself, and within the world. My car bent with the road ahead and instead of me driving it, it seemed to be driving me. I followed the signs across the states with not much consideration at all for which way I would take. The longer I drove I realized just how free freedom felt.
By the end of the first day I had listened to six cds, ate burgers from different fast food restaurants hundreds of miles from each other, and thought about turning back many times. I knew it was time to call it a night when my eyes could no longer make out what the signs were trying to tell me.
I stopped at the first road side motel I saw. The vacancy sign seemed to be on the fritz so I went inside to see if there was a room available. I entered the small office and saw a small and stout older man perched upon a stool behind the counter. He was talking to a women about half his age who rested her chin upon her fist as they spoke. The bell on the door jingled and they looked up at me.
"I'm afraid we've got no vacancy miss, sign's outta order." The man spoke with a calm, slow speed to his voice, which felt warm and comforting.
"Oh, well I saw that it wasn't on, so I decided to come in and check. So you're all booked up?"
"Well booked and flooded you see. Half our rooms suffered water damage when the fire sprinklers went off last week and the other half are already full."
"I'm not exactly sure where I am. Well that's the point really. I'm driving out west, by myself, and I just needed a place to stop off for the night."
Just then the women that the man had been talking to offered me a warm smile and spoke up. "You look real tired miss, and there ain't any other roadside motels like this for about 40 miles round. I was just about to head home, We'd love you to come stay at our house. My mother, sister, and myself."
"Oh well I couldn't impose."
The women gave me a look that made my last statement seem like nonsense. She explained that there was a cozy couch in her living room and that her mother could cook the best breakfast in the state. Bragging I'm sure but I have always been a fan of a homemade breakfast.
Something in me said to trust this women, so I did. I followed her for about five minutes when we arrived at her bungalow that was rich in character.
"The name's Sable, mine that is. My mother, well she's Marta. And my sister she's Juliet. Picked that name herself seeing as she hated the one she was born with."
The moment my shoes touched the rough, unfinished wood of the porch I had a calm feeling I hadn't felt in a long time. I knew what I was feeling was real, because I knew what was all around me was real.
When we entered the house only a small table lamp was on. The glow of it shining on the soft, fluffy, yellow couch made it look like a kings bed compared to the upright seat I had just been riding in for hours.
"Right here in the linen closet I'll grab you a blanket and pillow, said Sable. Anything you want to eat in the kitchen well you just help yourself."
"Thank you so much for your kindness, Sable, I think I'll be getting to sleep now. I can't barely keep my eyes open anymore."
"Have yourself a nice rest dear, you'll meet my mother and sister in the morning."
As I changed into my pajama pants and t-shirt I wondered why on Earth I felt so comfortable here. I looked around the home and felt a sense of belonging. I went to sleep peacefully.
"Where'd you say you come from again dear?" said Marta, Sable's mother.
"Well I've been all over really. I was raised in Connecticut. I went to school there. But ever since my mid 20s I have been moving around the east coast. Most recently Baltimore."
"Where's your family?" asked Sable's sister Juliet as she fed herself a fork full of homemade hash browns.
"Well my parents split up when I was a teenager and I lost my father when I was 24, so ever sense then I've kinda been a leaf blowing in the wind," I said as I let them into my past willingly.
"What are you doing in a retched place like Beersheba Springs?" inquired Juliet.
I hoped they could understand my longing for a home, longing for freedom, and serenity and not think me totally crazy for heading off into nowhere without a plan. After I tried my best to explain myself Sable spoke as she was setting a fresh plate of pancakes on the table.
"I agree with you, Jeanne, simplicity is the key to happiness. Most people try to fill their lives with work and complications. Take Juliet here, been trying to get out of this town for ages. Says there's something else out there for her. And here you are doing the exact opposite. Wantin' to give away what you got to slow things down a bit."
"Well I doubt you'll be able to find what you'll lookin' for here," said Juliet.
"Just be quiet, she doesn't even know what she's lookin' for and neither do you," scolded Marta, towards her daughter. "Sometimes you just gotta stumble upon something that you never knew you needed."
With her motherly advice, I knew I was on the right track. After finishing up my breakfast I helped clean up the kitchen as much as they would let me and thanked these three women graciously for their kindness to a total stranger. They sent me off and again I was on my way to something.
Hours after leaving Tennessee I began feeling hungry for so lunch so I stopped in the first place I saw once I couldn't bear the feeling anymore. Like the hundreds of other eating establishments in the country the sign boor the simple, straightforward word- diner. Vintage style not as a novelty but due to the fact that the owners saw no reason to change the place in nearly 50 years. I found an empty seat at the counter and ordered what was called "Milly's Grilled Cheese."
Minutes later a man took the vacant seat next to me and spoke up right away.
"You're from out east aren't ya, " the man asked of me.
"How could you tell," I replied.
"Used to live out there myself, can sense that kind, one of my many talents," he boasted as his eyebrows went up and down.
While sharing a sandwich and a cup of coffee with this man I heard his story which was not far off from my own. He worked for many years in the adverting business before he decided he had had too much.
"Sales and deals, pushing papers and answering calls, after too long it makes you numb you know. Led me into drinking too much, lost my wife and daughter because of it. One day I decided I had nothing to lose so I rode a bus out here to Kansas. Started off in Topeka, but I wanted something simpler. Been relaxin' on a porch in McCune ever since."
After finishing off his coffee and what seemed like a sigh of relief he said that now at age 64 he does the simplest thing there is to do in the world, he lives.
Finding a small inn I pulled in and decided to get a room for the day. I had been blessed with spectacular night vision and I wanted to see what it would be like to drive from sunset to sunrise instead of sunrise to sunset. After resting all day I got ready to leave at about 9 pm I felt privileged. Privileged that the open road lay out ahead of me.
I drove through the Great Plains through the middle of the night being guided by the moon and entertained by the stars. I felt confident and alone. I liked to think that I was the only one still awake. No one would be around to judge or bother me. I expected to hear a voice of my own judgment but instead I felt soothed by the sounds of the night out my open window.
Just as the sun began to rise I stopped for a few minutes to stretch my legs. The beauty of the sunrise was impossible to withhold while driving. Standing there seeing the open space around me light up by the fresh sunlight I felt small and insignificant. Like my problems were just as small as I was.
I have always been a believer of signs. As least I have always wanted to believe in them. As I looked near my feet in the spot I was standing I noticed some sticks on the ground. The sticks were oddly configured into the letters M.T. M"T"M"T. As I thought I recognized the two letters as the state abbreviation for Montana. I didn't choose to argue with it, I just jumped back into my car seat and set myself on course for Montana.
I didn't know what could be in Montana for me or if I would even like it there. I never had thought much about the place to be honest. For some reason this sign was driving me.
I entered an area where everything looked the same. I felt like I was driving in circles for hours. I drove for so long without finding much of anything and was beginning to question my entire decision to take this journey. I wanted to believe in the power of the freedom that this trip could provide me but reality kept staring me in the face. My own image in my rear view mirror kept mocking me for making the ridiculous choice to do this. I wanted to end my Saturn's life with a bang but stricken with denial I never thought anything bad would actually happen to me. My car broke down in a place that looked just like the rest of the other places in Montana.
I got out and walked for what was probably a mile and came upon an archway leading to a long driveway. Since I saw no other civilization around I decided I had to walk up this driveway, even though I was unsure of what I would find. There were horses gracing in the field to my right and I spotted a large barn off in the distance. I kept walking for what seemed like 10 minutes and I saw a man working on a fence made of wood and wire. He was swinging a large sledge hammer with the strength of a lumberjack and with the rhythm of a drummer. He spotted me through one of his swings and I'm sure had a normal amount of curiosity about a stranger wandering around on his property.
As he was walking over to me the sun was shining behind his back and the beautiful dusk light was orange, pink, and yellow. His hat was made of raw leather and was worn due the result of many years of wear. I started stepping through some tall grass to meet this mystery man halfway. As I was walking to him I was trying to come up with exactly what I was going to say but I was nervous as I was a stranger in this man's territory.
When he was finally within an ear shot he called out "can I help you miss?"
"I'm afraid my car has broken down about a mile from here and you were the first house I saw," I explained.
The closer I got the more charming the man became. Your average genuine John Wayne type with a modern yet relaxed feel. I observed the rest of the landscape surrounding me and realized I'd never seen such a place in the United States and always wanted proof that it existed. Now that I had it I wanted to be a part of it.
The man in the field in introduced himself as James and said that I should come inside to talk to his brother-in-law who knew everything about cars. Walking up to the house took about 10 minutes during which I tried to ask James as many questions as I could to prevent having to tell my story. I found out that the house were we walking to belonged to James' family for generations. It's current inhabitants were James, his sister and husband, their son, and James' father.
I walked up the stairs of the smooth, paint chipped, wooden porch and heard the wood framed screen door slam behind me. I caught a pungent whiff of a delicious roast beef dinner being served and saw warm home furnishings all around with me. Their living room looked like a picture out of Country Home magazine. Everything unique and in a perfect disarray that was by no means deliberate.
James found his brother-in-law Seth helping to set the table for dinner. He introduced us and told him my issue. James' sister Rosalie, who was one of the nicest women I've ever met, immediately invited me to eat before we went to look at my broken down car. Their invitation was so kind hearted I couldn't turn it down.
I knew it would only take minutes for the family to ask me my story. As I told it I knew they were not easily relating to the quick pace of the city that I was used to but that they could understand my need for serenity, as it is what they had their whole lives in Montana.
"Our land is so calming and we, at least I can't, imagine another way of living, said James. The person I report to is myself."
As he painted this picture I became jealous of the life he had and began wanting him so save me from my own. I knew this was some kind of fantasy thought and that I had just met James and he couldn't save me from anything. I quickly pushed the thought from my mind, at least momentarily.
As we were finishing up dinner rain began to fall in large amounts. Myself and Rosalie stepped out on the porch to witness the high amounts of water falling down upon us. Fixing my car right now wasn't going to be an option and it was already heading towards nightfall.
Rosalie explained to me that there was a very comfortable guest room just up the stairs and that I was more than welcome to use it. Experiencing this kind of hospitality was warm and comforting to me and I had no other option but to trust it.
I had nothing with me but the clothes on my back and a small purse. Rosalie took notice of this quickly and hustled to her bedroom to grab me a pair of her spare pajamas and a fresh towel. She invited me downstairs to sit near the fireplace and to drink some hot cocoa, a Sunday tradition for the family.
Sitting there I tried to study the dynamic of this family and figure them out through observations. But then they figured it was only fair to tell me about themselves seeing as I was a stranger staying in their house. James and Rosalie's mother had taken off, much as mine had, decades ago to find what she thought was a better life in the city. James was just ten, while Rosalie was seven. I watched the rain run down the windowpane and felt calm and safe.
Rosalie claimed that their father, Charlie, was the best father in the world. Charlie's facial expression after this statement was one of agreement.
"We learned about hard work, discipline, and responsibility at a very young age. Even though I wanted to kill him almost daily thought my teen years when he woke me up at 4:30am to tend the animals. But I realized later how much this was teaching me and how much he needed our help."
As Rosalie spoke she showed a indisputable admiration for her father. As she spoke more I found out that she had a degree in English literature from the University of Montana, moved back in with her father to help care for him when he was sick, and decided to stay with him. James had never moved out because he had never been married. I guessed James at about 40 or 42 and was curious about why he never married.
"Apparently none of the girls around here are good enough for James, said Seth. He's also never been willing to go look elsewhere for one."
With that James gave his brother-in-law a dirty yet playful smirk and stepped out of the house. The rain had now become nothing more than a drizzle and I saw James heading toward the field. I watched him discreetly from the living room floor out the front screen door. He stopped under a tree and appeared to be looking toward the sky.
"James seems to have the right idea, " I announced. "I love star gazing, I think I'll join him."
"He just can't get enough of that night sky," Charlie said.
I slipped my feet into a pair of tall rain boots that were sitting vacant on the porch and began to trudge out to the tree where James was standing.
"You ever see this many stars where you are in the city?" James shouted as a approached.
"Never, to be honest, I didn't think this many stars existed, " I told him. The moonlight was bright and some how it was all I needed to see James. He looked all silver and blue and calm and pure. Almost sad in a way, but content.
"I think it's odd that you turned up here like this, a 30-something, single woman." James said. "Why is it that a beautiful and interesting woman such as yourself hasn"t settled down?" He inquired.
"That's a hard question to answer because I'm not convinced I know the answer myself. To be honest I've dated a string of unreliable men, taking off when you least expect it, and after so many times it's hard to put faith in anyone. I buried myself in my work for so long I just kinda forgot about the possibility." As James listened he had a look of approval on his face.
"Well you better be getting off to bed, said James, Seth is an early riser and he will probably want to go fix your car pretty early tomorrow."
As we walked back up to the house together I realized that I had just told a total stranger something that I usually tell no one. Why was James a person I felt I could talk to? Why did I feel so comfortable here?
James was right Seth got up at 5am and was ready to take me to my car by 6am. James was already up too, as we drove Seth's truck I could see him out in the field tending to some of the horses.
Seth went equipped with his tool kit and a confident attitude that he could fix my car on his own.
Sure enough he was right. After 45 minutes of tinkering under the hood the car was in working condition.
"So where are you planning on going next, "Seth asked.
"I don't really know yet. You know I actually kinda like this town I think maybe I'll tour for a little while and see what I think later. That bed and breakfast I saw looked very nice. I've always loved that style of architecture."
"Well you know you're welcome back at our house, Seth reminded me.
"I've always been kinda a loner, I enjoy being alone. Allows me to take things in exactly how I want to. I just need some time here to think."
"You know the way if you change your mind," said Seth.
With a reassuring smile we parted ways. I drove back into the town I had passed the day before and found a place to park. I walked around the main street for a few minutes wondering why I wanted to stay here so bad. I also wondered why I was fighting myself so much. I checked into the Traveler's Club Bed and Breakfast. I thought a night there might be enough to let me think about some things and in the morning if I felt the same I would decide what to do next.
The bedroom I was given was called the Sunset room. It was painted in hues of orange and yellow and the bedding seemed to be inspired by the setting of the sun. Included was a large front window complete with a window seat.
I decided to rest for a few minutes before trying to go out and find some lunch. The bed was soft and comfortable and help create even a clearer feeling of home.
I found a small lunch cafÃ just minutes from the bed and breakfast. I sat down and ordered a tuna salad sandwich with chips and a raspberry iced tea, the special of the day. As I watched the people in the restaurant I realized this was nothing like where I came from. They looked relaxed just like they were sitting at their own kitchen tables. What I had experienced in my big city life was nothing but a rushed feeling almost all the time. Get in and get out and move on was the way things went for me. There was always something else to check off my to-do list and relaxation wasn't one of those things.
I ended up staying just over two hours in the cafÃ as the waitress kept my iced tea glass full. I watched the people out the window strolling down the street. Window shopping, eating ice cream cones, and laughing. I began to wish like hell this was my home and that this was my life.
After leaving the cafÃ I found a park that I decided to wander around in. I walked with a freedom that I hadn't walked with probably since childhood. Knowing that no one knew where I was, was comforting to me. It felt good to be lost . Like no one in the world could touch me or tell me what I should do. I knew I had no deadline to meet and I had no one waiting for me. Or did I? Being in the open space of the park reminded me of the day before when I first saw James, alone in the field. All my life I felt I deserved to find what I wanted but I was never sure exactly what it was that I wanted. Was this is? Was James it? Had I accidentally stumbled upon exactly what I wanted and what I was always meant to find.
Just then I decided to get back in my car and drive back to James' farm. I had no idea what I was going to say but I knew I had to go. I was finished with being rational.
I got half way to the farm and I saw a man walking about 50 feet ahead. As I got closer I noticed it was James. I began to get nervous since I still wasn't sure what I was going to say to him. As I approached I put my window down and jokingly asked if he needed a ride.
"I was just walking to town to see if I could find you there," he explained.
"Walking? It's about three miles isn't it?"
"I figured I could use the time to think along the way."
"What exactly were you thinking about, and why did you want to come find me?" I asked.
Suddenly I felt like the journalist that I was. Grilling James seemed to make him
uncomfortable and I was making things more awkward than I would have liked them to be. I was surprised by the fact that he was coming to look for me just as I was going to look for him I couldn't seem to control what I was saying.
"I've never been good at saying how I feel, but instead of making this any more difficult than it needs to be I will just go ahead and say it."
After a long pause and deep breath James confirmed the thought that I was trying to work out for myself.
"I think there is a reason that you ended up here. I don't really know what it is and I don't know why I feel this way but I think you should stay for a while."
With James' confession I felt relieved. Like I burden had been released from me and I wouldn't have to make myself vulnerable to him. With his reassuring words I began to except these feelings that I couldn't explain.
"Well James the strange thing is, I feel the same way. I have from the moment I set foot on your land and I saw you. I've never felt this way and I really don't know what I should do about it. I feel like it's crazy to just end up here and feel like this."
"Maybe we shouldn't try to figure all this out right now. You don't sound like you've got much to go home to so why don't you just stay here a while." suggested James. "Rosalie has lots more dishes like the one you ate last night up her sleeve."
"That's a tempting offer. And you know my car was acting kinda funny again I don't even think it would make it back out east. Why don't we leave it here for a while and take a walk."
"Sounds good, I'll show you the long way home."
As we walked down the dust filled road, side by side, I didn't know what would happen to me from here. And finally I didn't care. I let me heart win over my head for the first time in my life and nothing had felt more right.