I sit in a silver Dodge Grand Caravan with a recently detailed interior just barely tarnished by the last few days of kids’ sandy feet and sticky fingers, wheat-colored dog hair tailings, lotion consistency mishaps, and the occasional water or tea spill, and a hundred other delicious moments of life happening all over it. I can almost hear the laughter and the weeping and the loving and the learning that has been filling this space during the many miles and hours we’ve spent in it since Monday. Finished books lie folded on the floorboard. Bags of toys and journals, food, and other accoutrements lie at the ready. They are the trail of our travel, left inside the van rather than on the landscape.
I sit in this silver dynamo of motion, we call her Sylvia Brown McTague, Sylive, or sometimes Sil, in a place that won’t show up on most maps. Well, maybe Google Earth or something, not on the old kind of maps. But even though you can see satellite photographs of the town on almost any computer in the world, it still feels like nowhere. Like the end of the road.
And for us, it is the “end of the road”. A very long and winding, golden, idyllic, utterly surprising and amazing road, littered with play and joy and synchronicity.
Here’s an abridged version.
In January 1998, I returned to Montana from a 10-month stint “back east” in order to finish my long and winding undergraduate degree. On my way back, I took “the Southern Route” — the one I liked best between my parents home in Montgomery, Alabama and my impending one in Missoula, Montana — crossing all the way west to New Mexico before proceeding north through Utah, etc.. I ended up pulling into a winter-deserted campground off a small county road around dusk. I jumped in the sleeping bag in the back of the Subaru that I drove back then and woke up before dawn to head out again. On my way back out, I fell in love with the campground and the town nearby, and even with the name they both shared. It was a land stilled by the adobe and earth, and nestled from modernity by the hills and the river and the desert all around. Time had stopped. And when I drove through, I felt stilled, too. And I saw a piece of land for sale on my way out of town, and I pulled up to it and thought, I would LOVE to own land here some day – what a wonderful place to live – I am definitely coming back.
Flash forward through returning to Montana, setting up home in Missoula for the first time, meeting people, falling in love, getting married, finishing school, having a baby, moving away to Salem, Oregon, moving back to Missoula, getting divorced, meeting other people, loving, making another baby, co-parenting, living life.
Then I met Natalie in 2002. We became co-workers, associates, cohorts, friends, confidantes, and then lovers. Natalie has the same birthday as my mother. Her sister has the same birthday as my step-dad. Her grandma Alice’s birthday, February 12th, contains my lucky number, 212, if you write it out numerically, 2.12…. Natalie came from California to Missoula instead of taking a bus trip through the south beginning in Alabama. I came from Alabama to Missoula instead of going to California to finish school. Our elder two daughters (made without Natalie’s help, but raised with) are the same age spread as Natalie and her older sister, and regularly exhibit a similar dynamic and similar traits to each respectively. I could go on, but I don’t want to bore you, and I think you get the idea…
Now flash forward again, it’s 2011, (I’m having a déjà vu as I write these words) Natalie and I have been together 7 years, we have a four year-old of our own as well as the two lovely daughters I brought to our relationship. We have a fun life. We decided it would be fun to come and visit Natalie’s grandma Alice, and uncle, along with Natalie’s father, step-mom, and sister at her grandma’s new place in New Mexico that none of us have ever seen. It’s the place where Sylvia and I now sit, and it is a cricket’s call from the campground and town I fell in love with 13 years ago.
Villanueva. Thank you for orchestrating my return so gracefully. I see you haven’t changed. Thanks for that, too. I have travelled so many miles – so many, many miles – to get here. It feels like high time, and a perfect time. And I’m so glad I got to keep my word about returning.
Be well, wherever you are.