A Year and A Day

I have a love-hate with the iPhoto feature that shows only the photos from the Last 12 Months. Love is scrolling to the top for a visual wake-up call that reminds, “Look. See. You’ve come so far.” Hate is “Hold up, yo. Where’d last year go?”

Up until the turn of the year from oh-thirteen to oh-fourteen I could look at my Last 12 Months and still see my life in Missoula, even if it was just the tail end of a good, long run. Then, in the first few days of January I could no longer see my life in Missoula, but the images of my leaving of Missoula remained.

Friday marked the anniversary of the day I left, and was the last day these pictures were in the Last 12 Months folder.

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Now, within a short span of time (short enough to be measured in hours) my life in Missoula has vanished from my iPhoto past year’s record. The oldest photos right now are of me saying goodbye to my friend Sam, in Jackson, and then there are photos from the road, followed by the ones of my car with an elk splattered on the windshield and hood. Some things are better forgotten, except they’re not because then we’d also lose the lessons and what a shame it would be to lose the opportunity to learn. 

And so it goes as a year peels away. What’s here today is tomorrow a year and a day away. 

January 3rd also marks the anniversary of both a departure and a fresh start for my dear Missoula friend, Mikey Heinbach. As it turns out that was the day after he lost his job and the day he decided to get sober. Not everyone does a bang-up job the first time around, but Mikey’s a real success story. You can read his store HERE, and I’d encourage it if you need a story of faith today or any day. 

Beneath Mikey’s you can also see the incredible support and comments from his friends and supporters, many of them in Missoula. And then, if you still don’t know, you can ask me why it was hard to leave a place I love, a place that gives great hugs. Yes, I’m anthropomorphizing, but Missoula really is a city that has human characteristics, its hug giving just one of them.

At times the hug of a close-knit town can feel like a net that says “Don’t worry we’re not going to let you fall. Trust us.” But it can also feel a bit like a noose. It’s a real yin-yang type of place, that Missoula, with a duality that’s deep-rooted.

There’s so much space in Montana, but sometimes it felt, to me, like there wasn’t enough to bounce off of. Living now in The City affords me more to bounce off of than any person could ever need in her entire lifetime, but here something else is lacking. Here you have to stay alert, pay attention. A person can’t just space out and go for a walk, and today I’d give just about any-any-anything to be able to hike up my beloved Waterworks Hill. I look this picture five (gasp!) years ago, on New Year’s Eve 2008. (The reason there’s nobody on the trail is because it was quite a few degrees below zero.)

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When I first lived in Missoula there was a billboard-sized peace sign on top of the hill, and because i lived underneath it I used it to navigate my way home.

The thing is: I loved my life in Missoula and the people I met there are hands down the best I’ve met anywhere ever. If I ever live somewhere again and have friends half as good I’ll consider myself blessed. But despite that, when i was there I often wanted to go where nobody knew my name. I craved anonymity in a fierce way. When I left it felt like I was breaking up with the town I loved, not because of lack of love, but because we just weren’t as right for each other as we’d once been.

There were times I thought maybe we just needed to restructure our relationship. Or maybe we needed better boundaries. Or maybe just a little space, because no one person (place) can be everything to another. Then i realized maybe it wasn’t Missoula; maybe it was me. Maybe it was me in Missoula. 

We parted on good terms. I changed my driver’s license and plates, but still have a bank account and a storage unit there. It chokes me up in a weird way to think about giving up those things, but that could be because I’m currently in a lengthy limbo, which my friend Emily gently reminds me is not a destination. My Missoula roots are timeless, but like most breakups that don’t end with a circle reconciliation: I’ve (kinda) moved on. I’m not even in a committed relationship with another place, but still: I’ve moved on.

{But what I wouldn’t give to be there for an hour or two on a Sunday morning…..}

I first moved to Missoula as a twenty-six year old divorcée, which was not exactly how I’d pictured it. I was young enough to reclaim my twenties (I couldn’t have picked a better place for that task!), but too young to realize that my favorite parts of my life would be the ones that missed the mark and went off the grid.

I love planning, but as it turns out the best stuff is what happens in between everything you’ve planned, in the accidental gaps where there’s just enough space for a little magic to happen. And where does this magic happen: in the places where we pause and breathe. If anyone—even the world’s best psychic or astrologer—had suggested that I’d be living in NYC (under one roof!) with my mother and grandmother I’d have suggested that person throw in the towel on clairvoyance and sign up for some vocational school classes ASAP. I wouldn’t even have explained it like crazy, I’d just have simply said, “There’s no way that would work.”

Now, the situation here is far from perfect, so far that it’s at the top of the list of most frustrating scenarios I’ve ever been involved with. The end is only occasionally in sight, and it’s a squirrely little thing that moves toward and away as it fancies. Some days are better than others, but the fact that we get along enough that no blood’s been shed is nothing short of a miracle.

I’d have bet good money against us, and I’m 33.333% of us.

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I lost my footing on Friday, and not just because of Winter Storm Hercules that dumped a lot of snow on a city that has nowhere to put it. Highways shutdown and airports closed—lives were affected in big ways. Lives were lost. At least sixteen people died as a result of Hercules, including a woman with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from her house. I just kind of lost my mind.

It was 100% unsafe for my grandmother to go out, yet Mimi gets antsy when she’s trapped inside the house so we were stuck with a lose-lose situation. When Mimi’s restless she asks more of the same questions with greater frequency. Her general confusion is heightened and her tears more frequent. Her anxiety skyrockets and you can’t be a part of our household and not be affected.

To have all three of us confined in the house on a snow day under the best of circumstances could be dicey, but a few other issues left me on the brink of implosion so I took one for the team and headed for the streets. Many sections of the sidewalks were unshoveled or only partially cleared because I’m not kidding when I say this city has nowhere to put the snow, and more than a couple inches cripples the place. I think we got around eight.

Despite the single digit temps and frigid wind, I doubled-down on my down, wore a thick hat, two pairs of gloves and a scarf that I wrapped around my face. I figured tears frozen to my face would only complicate my situation. I didn’t think about where I was going, I just went, and this was probably a good thing since I wasn’t exactly in an optimal position for decision-making. Somehow, instead of going to a neighborhood that I like, I went to a place called Jackson Heights.

A few weeks ago I went to Jackson Heights to meet someone who might’ve helped me navigate my healthcare options, but it was a frustrating bust and I hated almost everything about that day including the crux moment when I decided to walk home instead of getting on the subway. In the process of walking home from Jackson Heights I discovered what it felt like to be in a real-life version of Epcot where several ethnicities are represented on every single block. On many of those blocks I didn’t see another white person. I didn’t hear English.

NYC men aren’t known for their restraint, but in Jackson Heights they get right up in your face to call you precioso or caliente. The women are pushy too. One woman touched my eyebrows and attempted to drag me into a hole-in-the-wall salon for what I could only imagine (based on the dragger’s permanently surprised face) would have been a complete violation of my eyebrows. When I dug my heels in and used the sharpness of an affected Spanish accent to make my “No!” sound more serious, she effectively questioned my decision by raising one of her penciled eyebrows at me.

I said “no gracias” to a manicure when another over-coiffed women made it clear without words that I was either blind or stupid not to do something about my naked nubs, and although her price fell with every curt “no,” eventually our eyes locked in a moment of understanding and she let me go. For the rest of the walk home I kept my pace determined and my eyes locked and loaded.

That’s the thing about international travel, or a day in Jackson Heights, or communicating with animals: so much is said through gestures. It’s what’s critically missing in email, texting, and virtual communication, and why we need to take extra care with those modes.

Actions can be louder than words and words can be louder than actions and sometimes we’re wrong. And as much as my mother might disagree, I love to be wrong. I love to have my beliefs flipped inside out. I’m tickled to discover a new way of looking at something.

I’m living in Sunnyside, which this New York magazine article lists as reason #11 to love NYC because it has cuisines from twenty-seven countries and five continents within a seven-block stretch of Queens Boulevard.  It’s remarkable. While I may not be living in a bubble over here, Jackson Heights offers a completely elevated level of multicultural. I struggled to get a cup of coffee (despite knowing enough Spanish to do so), and even though I said no to azucar when asked how many I got enough in my cup to make my eyeballs twitch.

After my first trip to Jackson Heights I swore thought I’d never go back. It happened to be a rainy day, and by the time I got home my cotton pants had absorbed water nearly to the knee. They’d grown so heavy that I had to keep one hand on them to keep them from falling right off, so with one hand on my waistband and one on my umbrella I was quite a sight hobbling through Jackson Heights, though nobody noticed. It’s the kind of place where you can sing out loud and half walk-half dance as if you’re a backup dancer or in a Prancersize exercise video and nobody notices. They’re certainly not going to notice if you’re gimping your way down the street.

I wrung my pants out in the bathroom sink when I got home, and the water that filled it was nearly black. NYC’s streets are filthy—this is not a secret—but I think there’s extra soot and grim in Jackson Heights where the trains run overhead on an elevated track that’s open, like a roller coaster, to the ground below. Residue from the trains (including but not limited to steel dust from the tracks and asbestos particles from brake linings) falls to street level where we wear, breath and probably eat it.

So, yes the “real” Epcot even has its version of a monorail except the whole thing is far more exhilarating. At first it’s scary when a train flies by because you can’t hear the voice of a person standing a foot in front of you or the music blasting out of your earbuds. It’s hard not to imagine that at some point the track’s going to fall from the sky, but like all of the sensory onslaughts that NYC offers: you get used to it.Image

After that day I considered a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post about how anyone craving an international vacation—but lacking time or cash—could just take a trip to Jackson Heights. When ready to repatriate to the United Stated, explorers could travel via Woodside (which was originally an Irish neighborhood, and still resembles Ireland in places) into Sunnyside, which after Queens’ 2-legit-2-quit Epcot, feels like a quaint, serene New England village.

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 That night, under my covers and hiding from the world, I was positive that I’d never go back. But despite the fact that I’ve done considerable research in this department, I never cease to be amazed by the power of a perspective change, and yesterday that’s exactly what I needed. I needed to step outside my comfort zone in order to step back into myself. I could’ve gone anywhere, but I chose my nemesis.

I could’ve walked in the direction of my yoga studio in Astoria, or to the shops and restaurants in Hunter’s Point, which are right up my alley. I could’ve walked myself right across the 59th Street Bridge to Manhattan, or down to the East River for a view of Manhattan. (This was taken in September, but the view is good any time of day or night.)

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But I wasn’t looking for up my alley, and I wasn’t looking for my comfort zone. I needed an experience that would transport me out of myself for a while, and so I chose the place that almost undid me a couple of weeks earlier. I wanted to see if I might find something different there, which was of course to find something different within. I questioned my questionable judgment, but figured that the worst that could happen was that it was a flop and I’d move on the Plan B, C, D etc.

The first thing that happened—before I was even out of my neighborhood—was that I started to laugh. It’s well founded that moving the body is important for mental health, and something I’ve known about myself since I discovered track in seventh grade. I wrote about it during the dark ages of September 2012 when I ran despite unhealthy air quality in Missoula as a result of forest fires.

As I walked into “Epcot”  I turned off my music, and I found that listening to the multitude of languages allowed me a mental vacation. Instead of focusing on my interior dialogue, I heard the unfamiliar words but focused on nothing in particular. I quieted. I found the pause. My laugh turned from a nervous response over entering into the unknown into a genuine chuckle. Just to play it safe, I kept walking.

All in all, I probably walked close to two hundred blocks on Friday, yet I could’ve walked a hundred more. The unfamiliar parts of the world—even the ones that are close by— ignite my curiosity and sense of discovery, and allow me to recharge and restore.

Or maybe it doesn’t so much matter where I walked, what I heard, or what I saw. Maybe I was ripe for a perspective shift, and the physical movement and change of scenery enabled me to tap into what was already inside me.

Just because time is trimming the past off my Last 12 Months photo folder doesn’t mean it’s gone. Not even close. Those pictures are like shadows. They’re there, they just don’t exist without the light.

Here’s a picture of me and Lucky in shadows almost a year ago on a rural road in New Mexico, and then another of us yesterday reflected again the side of a grocery store.

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Here are a few more photos of some of the sights of Jackson Heights: 1) An Indian fabric store; location Noted, 2) Kababs and phone cards: one stop shopping, 3) I don’t think so….., 4) Discoteca, 5) Where to buy those white shoes from “Vacation,” 6) The mannequin has dance moves, 7) These kids are ready to party too…, 8) A few “everything stores,” 9) Pink Horse, 10) Hitting Lucid on the way home; lucid is one of my favorite words….What a perfect reintegration station.

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