In a Tight Spot

So yesterday I had a bit of a flip-out. Errr… or seven, it’s hard to say. Perhaps it was just one long flip-out. Or a series of miniature flip-outs. Either way I couldn’t really stop reeling with some momentous life decisions I have made as of late.

Mainly meaning I am leaving Wyoming for a spell. I say a spell because my love for Wyoming is right up there with French Roast coffee and seeing any number below 200 on my scale.

I don’t leave Wyoming with any real joy as the mountains are a part of my soul in much the same way that God is. They are intrinsically linked. It is simply that waitressing and I are very much through. We’ve had a good—and by good I mean I am sincerely over it and never want to dally in the dark arts again—run, but as the walrus says, “the time has come.” And I knew it. I knew it before I knew it, ya know?

I read this article about quitting things that feel all wrong. And you should read it too, especially if something in you feels all wrong. But maybe don’t take advice from me. I am very whimsical and make most of my decisions based purely on my emotions. It is almost always a trainwreck but I know no other way. I’d make a really lousy president I’ll tell ya that much.

Anyhow, this article struck a chord and I could feel something churning in my gut. Besides the fact that my secluded mountaintop was getting increasingly dark and increasingly less internet signal, something inside of me began to feel restless, cutoff and altogether like this:

insane

I was starting to get real bluesy. And my anxiety levels were rivaling that of a drug lord being chased down by the Feds and their hounds. Do the Feds have hounds or am I thinking Scotland Yard? Anyhow, you get my drift.

It also didn’t help either that my real cute cowboy boyfriend was some 1600 miles away and when I had a freak-out of Cassandra proportions, instead of being able to hug me which would’ve done just fine, he said something cowboy-esque, like, “well you’re in a tight spot,” only adding fuel to my already mile hile anxiety-riddled flames.

Yeah, I am in a tight spot, sir. I put in my two weeks notice at my job, where I have hardly made a tip in months. I overdrew my checking account. And I just texted Sallie Mae who was calling me for their money, “Go fuck yourself Sallie Mae, I don’t have any money.” I typed this knowing full well the number calling me was a landline. It still made me feel marginally better.

I love the mountains/but loathe my job. However moving back East, no matter how many delightful things it brings with it, still has pitfalls of its own. Namely getting a new lifesuck job and writing my freaking novel—that no matter how hard I will it, does not seem to write itself.

I kid you not, I walked in the door last night to see I had an envelope from St. Martin’s Press, New York, N.Y. and I literally shook while opening it thinking the universe whispered in St. Martin’s ear and said, “psst, she’s ‘penning’ a novel if you’re interested.” And then St. Martin’s just decided to send me a gilt-edged invitation asking to publish me.

It turns out it was my holiday card from one of my all time favorite writers Augusten Burroughs—no we are not close personal friends, though I wish we were. Augusten if you’re reading this, let’s be friends—because I pre-ordered his new book with his promise to send me a holiday card. I was mildly disappointed when I saw that the card wasn’t personally signed by Augusten but merely a typed out thanks.

Ah well. My heart still skipped a couple beats knowing that St. Martin’s Press and Augusten Burroughs now knew my P.O. Box in Wyoming.

And with this I had the dawning realization that no matter where I go or what I say: that mountains or the sea, or a cottage-like interior, or a big writer’s desk or loads of windows, doesn’t magically manifest more writing. I simply have to write wherever I am because it is my calling and it must be done.

So leaving, because leaving feels right for right now, does not mean my writing has to stay here where it’s prettier than a painted pony. No. My writing has to come with me and whether or not I have another lifesuck job (I probably will, because Sallie Mae is ruthless and relentless) I am still a writer and I will still find my way. Muddled and disconcerting though the whole path may be, I shall trudge on anyway.

And I will leave you with this beautiful quote from Cheryl Strayed that made my whole morning brighter and the better for living:

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.”

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The Execution

You know what writers used to do? They used to ride the rails to investigate hobos and no one cared. If I jumped a train now, surely I would get arrested and it’d be this big bureaucratic incident that would go on my permanent record and no one would appreciate that I was just trying to see if aimless vagabonds still rode the rails in search of new life and adventure. Or I would find a hobo and he’d be desperate for food, not adventure and he’d probably shank me thinking the fur on my coat was real and it’d be a whole bloody ordeal.

Or hopeful writers used to just brazenly walk into a newspaper to pitch a story and some editor appreciated their pluck and suddenly they had assignments.

Or maybe that’s just the romantic version in my brain, and maybe it was no easier then than it is now, but I feel like now, you have to sign a waiver in blood to the devil himself promising him your first born. And still all the magazines and publishers would cackle and sneer at you, throwing crumpled up McDonalds wrappers in your face and telling you not to quit your day job—and you’ll have given up your first born and half your blood supply for nothing.

Okay maybe I am getting carried away. And I hate to be cynical as I love my craft. I have loved writing for as far back as I can recall. It brings me the same kind of euphoric high that completing a run gives me, but without all the sweat. Although, truthfully I have been known to get rather excitable whilst in the throes of my writing and perhaps get a glossy glow.  Or pit stains… but uh, one of the kids I used to babysit for informed me not to mention my sweating problem in those terms as it was unladylike. So I will stick with glossy glow.

Anyhow. I was admittedly having a rough go of it at work yesterday. Meaning, I really, really loathed waitressing. People were hardly tipping, if at all. I have had an inordinate amount of stiffers lately (as in people flat out just paying their bill, sans tip, disregarding the fact that I basically make slave wages).  And I berated myself over and over that I wasn’t making a difference in the world at all. How was serving people pancakes and up-selling pies making one iota of a difference when I knew the difference I was supposed to make?

My panic levels crept up steadily and were exacerbated when I threw silverware into the soak bucket and all the gunky, putrid water splashed back and hit me directly in the face and mouth. I tried not to jump to my usual action plan when I am deeply disturbed by my life and that is running away and joining the circus. The Swiss circus was what I decided. I told this to one of my coworkers and he asked, why Swiss? I said it sounded nice. I bet the Swiss have a great Circus. Actually, they seem like the types who might frown upon all that lycra and animal cruelty.

I joked with my boyfriend that I was going to jump on the beer delivery guy’s dolly and have him whisk me out of there. He told me not to leave him for a beer guy. I pointed out I wasn’t leaving him for anyone, not even someone who was a chocolate maker with his own railroad, but that I needed to escape before I had a full blown panic attack.

I have this journal where I jot down highlights of my day or at least the notables. I felt very sullen and so I doodled a noose and joked in my journal how worth it it would be to swallow some poison. Then one of the cook/drywallers (don’t even ask) came up and asked if I wanted to see his paint job. This isn’t a euphemism for his penis; he is gay. And he really likes to show off the walls he has recently patched or painted and go over every detail with great pride. I am not exactly sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with loneliness and/or needing some sort of attention or validation.

So poison it is, I thought. Get some dishwashing detergent and swallow half the bottle before you have to go check out another freshly painted wall and get a tutorial on it.

I didn’t poison myself, obviously. I went and politely inspected the freshly painted basement room while my coworker pointed out how much better it looked, didn’t it? I nodded. It sure did. I knew this, because it was his old room and he had brought me down there before to show me his dog. Also not a euphemism. He really does like Show and Tell.

I went home and rationalized that it was no use to get worked up and expect instant gratification, as even if I did have my novel done, (which I don’t) it wouldn’t get published or sell or probably even make money by uhh… tomorrow which is what I wanted so that I could throw my apron on the counter and storm out, vowing never to scrape another sticky pancake plate and get silverware splash in my face again. Unless it is my husband or kids. I will scrape their pancake plates. That’s all right. And so I may as well keep plugging at it with baby steps and not freak the heck out and doodle nooses (or is that like gooses and it’s not a word?)

Except I was still on edge and very much wanted instant gratification anyway. So I ate a whole bunch of peanut butter kiss cookies and felt sufficiently bad about myself, huffing into my bedroom and crying for all of two minutes until I became annoyed with my antics. And then I really did make an action plan. That didn’t involve a noose, poison, running away with the circus or a beer delivery man and mostly involved putting on a sports bra, tying my hair back and brutalizing myself in the room we loosely call a “gym”—a storage room with a few weights, a couple broken cardio machines and an aqua massager—at my place of employ. I reached some semblance of an endorphin high, regaining my clear rationale.

I would find a way. Even if I had to shove my writing down people’s throats, as was suggested to me by one of my Biggest Loser trainers. I hoped it didn’t come to that, but instead of being a big Debbie Downer, I would employ Biggest Loser tactics and get angry and get goin’. Because what else could I do? Boo-hooing into murky silverware water wasn’t going to make me an accomplished writer. I was. So I may as well shut the hell up about writing and get to it. Words to paper, man.

Or something. So here is my execution. Not of myself. Because how very macabre. No, of getting the writing going. And hobnobbing with other folks who write and generally just being a writer and not bemoaning that I am not a writer. Fourth grade me knew I was a writer and didn’t need a paycheck or validation to put pen to paper anyway. So maybe I should channel fourth grade me. Though really un-savvy and prone to wearing oversize Winnie the Pooh shirts, that girl had gumption.

Cheers to fourth grade me then. And not running away or offing myself when things seem bleak. And the written word. Always the written word.

 

All the Kinds of Love

I recently went to visit my boyfriend—hmm. It’s real fun saying that. I think that may be the first time I have said that about him. At least in writing. Anyhow, digressions are my favorite—in Pennsylvania. Where he lives. And yes I live in Wyoming. Let the record state that long distance relationships are real challenging. But if it is with someone truly exceptional, as fits the bill with my boyfriend, then they are also truly worth it. Again I digress. None of this is the point.

Visiting him was… I don’t even want to insert a word there, like incredible or wonderful, because those are just words that are vast and don’t really hold the meaning of what I felt being in his home. His home where he puts his feet down on the hardwood floor in the morning and walks to the shower. Or eats cookies standing up and drinking his milk slowly. Way more slowly than I drink milk, especially with cookies. Where he brushes his teeth and dances with his dogs: Moses and Chubs, totally differing in personality, Moses being sort of subdued and sweet and Chubs being overeager, because she’s still young and fiercely excited for attention. Moses has the same personality as my brother Nick. And I don’t mean this as an insult to Nick. It’s a compliment. I think Nick is darn near perfect in his sweetness. His temperament of not wanting to upset any balances or ruffle feathers and doing exactly as he is told. That’s how Moses was and I loved it.

Being there and walking around his yard, checking out the chickens and goat, who also seemed as curious about me as I was about them. Or writing in his kitchen while he made me lunch and would continually come over to kiss my cheek and smile at me. Then when I got up to refill my coffee, which was really just a ruse to be near him, he pulled me to him and sort of swayed with me right there in the kitchen as he always has music on. And I thought, well… isn’t this lovely… being held in his light blue kitchen with exposed barn wood, lounging dogs and rustic cowboy décor. And with a man who always smells fresh and has this really Colgate-y delicious breath that made me constantly fret over my own breath.

In fact, after lunch one day—which was pulled pork, except I had mine on a salad with raspberry vinaigrette dressing—I went to brush my teeth, because well, yikes. But also I was about to meet his family for the first time and I wanted to make an impression that didn’t include raspberry beef breath which is exactly what I said to him when he asked if I was ready to go. He was rinsing his plate as I made my way to the bathroom.

“Wait a minute!” he yelled, “you better not brush your teeth yet! Raspberry beef breath?! Get over here,” he said with a seductive little smile like he was very enticed by my lunch breath. I began to laugh and came back to the kitchen. He grabbed me and began to kiss me, pulling me into the living room and then tipping me over the back of the couch so we both toppled and I landed on top of him.

“Beef breath huh?” he said, while continuing to kiss me. I giggled and squirmed to get off of him so I could go brush my teeth.

“Okay, get off of me and go brush your teeth,” he said while clutching me tighter to him. I tried to pull away and he pulled tighter. “Well are you going to go?”

“I can’t!” I laughed.

“Oh my gosh, get off of me,” he said, while still holding me tight.

I finally weaseled my way off of him and went to brush my teeth, chuckling the whole way to the bathroom and thinking if a man still wants to smooch me with raspberry beef breath, he’s probably a keeper.

Then there was flying in his plane. I wish I had words for this as well. But I don’t because certain things in life leave me utterly speechless in the most profound way and I know it’s God letting me know that not every thing or every experience can be assigned a word—when some things simply illicit overwhelming feelings of awe, wonder and intense gratitude for the moments that belong to you. And being in a plane, that my boyfriend flew, while staring out at patches of land, clouds, lakes, rivers, sunshine, birds and barns, was an extended moment in time that I wanted to frame and put on my memory’s mantelpiece. If truth be told I would probably frame the beef breath thing too.

And so when it came time to leave, naturally I took it like a total toddler. I sat in the airport listening to a song that reminded me of him, and a bluesy one at that—in true masochistic fashion—wanting to weep. But didn’t because while my eyes lighten to a stark shade of turquoise when I cry, that is the only part of me that’s remotely fetching. And I wanted to spare my fellow Delta passengers awkward discomfort while I sniveled as if my boyfriend had just left for war, when really we were A-okay, we just couldn’t make out and eat cookies together in his kitchen anymore. As I have a job and he has a job. It’s a whole messy debacle this adulthood nonsense, but alas.

Now here I am, back in the West and it has been a few days for me to come to grips with being minus one cowboy, while I admittedly have continued to be a bit of a baby brat about the whole thing. So when I trudged home through the snow last night, to my quaint and cozy house, I had to pull myself out of the doldrums, where I had been comfortably sitting for some number of hours. It was necessary and it was time.

I walked inside determined to see the loveliness around me and not just fixate on my bluesiness over finally meeting a real solid man only have to him live oh so far from me and my mountains. He was nice, see? He stocked his house full of dark roast coffee and chocolatey snacks because he knew I liked them. And he kissed me even when I had coffee breath… or worse. And well if we’re throwing out stats, he’s also super easy on the eyes, which isn’t hurting anyone.

But my heart isn’t so small that it cannot recognize all the kinds of love. The part of me that craves love—especially of the coffee and chocolate/dog and chicken loving/good kisser/silly and wonderful/delicious cowboy variety—isn’t the only kind of love that means something to me.

So I started doing the dishes. Which, though a chore, always soothes me and I found the task of cleaning plates and organizing a messy kitchen helped un-rattle nerves that were wound tight. Then I scurried about the house tidying coats and papers and adjusting candles and making the house look generally pleasing.

And as I did this I noticed something else. The way the house smelled like pine trees and pecans. How Kia high-fived me as I walked past and smiled at me just because she’s my sister and she’s fond of me. How the Christmas tree lights reflected in the kitchen window and sparkled in the dark. How nice it was to have a home with my sisters, where we shared things and talked over one another when we were excited to make a point and cuddled and cried and did each others laundry.

And all these things are a very specific kind of love too. Suddenly enveloping me I thought, all these seemingly mundane details of life: like how my back room that I share with Kirst is too cold and even though there are at least 5 mismatched comforters on the bed including one with Mickey mouse and one with goldfish, sometimes I am still too cold and so Kia will give up her room, which is the laundry room and is always hot from the dryer, so that I can be warm and cozy. That is love. And Kirstie will pack granola bars for hikes and purposefully give me the one that is not s’mores flavored because she knows I hate s’mores flavored anything unless it is a real s’more. That too is love.

These things add up to love whichever way you do the addition, whether it is a sister or a cowboy, the love is there.

And while being held tight by a cowboy kind of love is sincerely wonderful, I don’t know how many more years I will be able to have Kirst and Kia (though both much littler than me) be the big spoon in a bed full of Disney blankets. So maybe I shouldn’t bemoan so much now. Love is love after all. And there is no absence of that in my life.

A Christmas Tree Cutting

My sisters and I live in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Some rumors were flying around since I got here that you could cut down your own Christmas tree. Now to those in the know, or perhaps in the West, or maybe even anywhere but Fowlerville, Michigan—where I grew up—this wouldn’t seem an unusual concept.

But in my mind, the only people who cut down their own Christmas trees were the Griswold family or people with hundreds of acres of land—like oil barons, but oil barons who dressed like normal people but weren’t, because they own an oil conglomerate.

So when it came time for my own potential pine, I considered all the people who were out and about in the Bighorns hacking down trees. I asked about this. Could people really just go into the forest and chop down a tree? That seemed to have illegal written all over it. Well, I was right. You can’t just go into the forest and chop down a tree, all willy-nilly. But you can, however, go to the Forestry Department first, like a law-abiding lil lass and pay for a permit to cut down a Christmas tree.

I had never heard of such wonder and delight. But I prepared myself thinking to acquire a permit to cut down your own tree would cost at least $40. So when the nice gent at the Forestry—bedecked in his appropriately forest green uniform—told me that the permit was in fact $8, I almost did hip swivels accompanied by boisterous fist pumps. But I didn’t. Because that’s uncouth. Although I bet the Forestry man might not have minded. But the prospect of cutting down my own Christmas tree in the mountains for a mere $8 was pretty jazzy—and wildly inexpensive—as far as firsts go.

On the day that would be the Christmas tree cutting, I bundled up in my newly purchased for life atop a mountain: $3 ski suit that zipped all the way to my chin. I donned my faux fur bear hat, grabbed my rusty old ax, some rope and hot cocoa for myself and the girls.

We located a field a couple of miles away from the lodge. After parking the car we began our trudge into the forest to find the perfect tree. We mulled some over here and there but none that struck us as the perfect Christmas tree. So we kept on. Scraggly brown brush were scattered throughout the field that I thought looked like they might belong somewhere swampy but the ground we were walking on was packed and firm so I thought nothing more about it as we wove into the forest.

We had just contemplated whether to wind our way back along the forest line toward the car or go a little deeper in when we spotted a tree with a halo of light glowing down upon it. Once all our eyes clapped onto the tree we agreed she looked like a beaut as we made our way toward her to further investigate. We got excited inspecting: the tree looked to be the appropriate height for our small abode, had sturdy branches and was altogether charming.

It was our tree alright. Kia said a little prayer of thanks that the tree was giving its life for our Christmas fancies and I took the first hack with my rusty but very efficient ax. After we all took turns chopping for the sheer lumberjacky-ness of it, we had the tree down and Kirstie roped it with what she called her “Boy Scout” techniques. I am certain these knots were not Boy Scout approved, but she got the job done and looped the rope over her shoulders to start pulling the tree out of the forest.

Kia took a turn as the tree was heavier than it looked. I mosied ahead, taking a different way back and not much paying attention to our footprint tracks from the way there. I found myself in that same brown brush again. I was holding my cocoa and the ax when suddenly I felt myself sinking fast beneath the snow. It felt like quicksand as I glanced down to see my left leg sinking in mucky brown goo up to my thigh. My right leg was safely pressed against some brush and not yet sunk.

I lurched my body backwards to avoid sinking further into the mud bog and yelled at the girls to get back, thinking the situation was worse than it was. Like that maybe I was about to be enveloped in mysterious brown goop that would swallow me whole as I flailed and told the girls to save themselves. I am highly dramatic like that. As I pulled my left leg out of the muddy glop, a smell rather pungent and along the lines of cow shit hit my nostrils.

I shimmied back, getting myself unlodged from the mess, assessing my now mud-soaked leg as the girls stared on and laughed from behind me.

“I think it’s a poop pit!” I yelled, scrunching up my nose in disgust, remembering that this exact field had housed numerous cattle all summer long. “I just fell in a poop pit!”

As I quickly backtracked my steps to avoid any more surprise underbellies of filth and muck I couldn’t help but note the hilarity of the situation. Only I would manage to walk atop some dingy cow pie pasture while on a happy Christmas tree hunt.

Kia was looking a little like an overworked mule dragging the Christmas tree across the field so I took over while she and Kirst went ahead. I was naturally quite nervous about more surprise mud bog/poop pits so I yelled to the girls to avoid the brown brush and make sure the ground was secure before I came through with the Christmas tree.

Kirst crossed an area that was teeming with the brown brush and I paused, asking her if any of the ground was squishy. She said no and that she’d made it across fine. I still hesitated, “but you’re like 100 pounds lighter than me!” I yelled, looking at the brush nervously and my already soaked left leg.

I delicately made my way across the field, now heaving with sweat from pulling our perfect little tree. I made it across just fine. And upon reaching the car, peeled off my snowsuit and threw it in the trunk and then all three of us girls climbed and maneuvered to get the tree tied to the roof.

We got home to haul it in, set it up and inspect our handiwork… only to realize that much like the Griswolds who had a similarly enlightening experience with a tree in the woods only to get home and find it was 7,000 times too large… ours was perhaps 7,000 times too small. Or at least not nearly as full and lush and brilliant as it had seemed in the forest surrounded by her other piney friends.

It didn’t matter though. We were all fiercely in love with our tree, our handiwork and the charm that only a freshly cut Christmas tree could possess. Our lil gal was perfect. We donned ugly Christmas sweaters and got her bedecked in Christmas flair. And then staring at our tree glowing in silvers and blues and old fashioned Christmas lights… I realized that even with falling in a poop pit, my first adventure of cutting down a Christmas tree in the wilds of Wyoming was entirely satisfactory.

Merry Christmas y’all!

He’s the Berries (Part 2)

All the next day I hoped I would see the pilot again and that he—instead of his friend—would ask me out. I was in the midst of a smallish dinner rush and was buzzing about my tables, checking on how their food tasted and if they needed refills. I had a water jug in hand and was filling up a table’s water glasses when I spotted him out of the corner of my eye. Instantly my stomach clenched and I could feel myself wanting to beam, but I didn’t want to seem overly giddy, so instead I kept my cool—which if you know me at all, is still me being wildly uncool. I kept filling the glasses though one wasn’t water, it was Sprite and as soon as I did it I snapped back to the present and away from the pilot’s smile.

“That was Sprite wasn’t it?” I said to the gentleman staring at his newly destroyed Sprite/water mix. He smiled and nodded. “Ooops. I am so sorry. I will go get you a new Sprite.”

I scurried to the front to seat the pilot and get a new Sprite. Again, he stayed until close. His new buddy Bill joined him again and I frequented their table, pretending it was just because I am an attentive waitress, but really I couldn’t get enough of the pilot or his disarming smile.

I hardly knew what to do with myself, he was such a distraction to me. I was delivering the wrong food and pouring the wrong drinks, but I couldn’t redirect my thoughts to the tasks at hand; they only wanted to be on him.

And so when he got up to leave, I kind of slunk behind my waitress station in nervous anticipation of whether he would just leave and that’d be the end of it or if he did remember that tomorrow was my day off and he really did want to take me to dinner. I had a large glass of ice water I was sipping on and I inched over to the counter at the front of the restaurant. He had paid for his dinner and walked back over to the counter where I was standing.

“So, if you would like to hang out or anything tomorrow on your day off…” he ventured while my brain instantly ceased functioning. “I can give you my information.”

I don’t remember what I said, maybe I just nodded like a loon, sliding a waitress tablet across for him to write down his information. He ripped off the sheet and slid it back to me. And being too dumbfounded for words—because besides his smile, have I mentioned how beautiful he is? How tall? Or dapper? How ‘bout that he looks just like a cowboy—I accidentally knocked over my entire glass of water onto the slip of paper, ice sliding this way and that, while water ran over the sides of the counter.

He laughed and asked if I was alright.

I felt honesty was my only option at this point. “It’s just your smile…” I confessed. “It’s very unsettling.”

“That doesn’t seem like a good thing,” he replied.

“No it is!” I insisted, “But it distracts me… and well…” I motioned to the mess I was trying to mop up with napkins, while shaking out the paper with his name, phone number and email.

“Maybe I should take your information too…” he suggested. I was deeply relieved. I knew I would have contacted him, because I was already too far gone, but I was very nervous and preferred the idea of him getting ahold of me.

I wrote out my information and finished cleaning up my mess.

The next day I shopped in town with my sister trying not to dwell on the impending ‘hangout,’ and if that meant date and if the pilot would take me to dinner or worst-case scenario, if he would even text me at all. When he did text me and even passed my serial killer joke test—where I ask if he’s a serial killer to test his sense of humor, to which he responded, “No I am not a serial killer! What about you? Are you the Bear Lodge brutalizer?”—I had to phone my mother and give her the lowdown: that my life goal of being asked out by a handsome stranger while at work, had finally come true.

I kid that isn’t my life goal, but I will admit, many a romantic comedy had given me the notion that this rather rare happenstance—at least in my case—could one day happen to me.

We settled upon meeting in the lodge gift shop at two and would go into town to visit, King’s Saddlery Museum. I ran into the lodge a minute late feeling breathless and nervous and quickly apologized for being late. He shrugged it off and said he usually ran late too. We walked out to his truck where he held the door open for me.

I chitter-chattered our way down the mountain. I couldn’t seem to stop or take a breath. Maybe it was nerves or maybe he just brought out the extra verbose in me. Country music played in the background and we both agreed that the new pop style of country was utter rubbish.

We arrived at the museum, where we wound our way throughout the Wild West decor, him admiring ropes and the fine craftsmanship of the saddles, me mostly admiring him. The pilot made saddles as a hobby. And he had horses. And although he was a pilot—also as a hobby—and not a cowboy, he had the quality of a cowboy, both in attitude, dress and general demeanor. He even had a sort of cowboy drawl.

Before we got to the checkout, so he could purchase his King’s Saddlery baseball hats, he asked me if I would like to get dinner. I nodded casually, while inside I did fist pumps and victory leaps that would impress the flashiest gay Broadway star.

Dinner was lovely and after we went on a drive around Sheridan and then out into the country where he played me cowboy poetry he had on his Spotify. My heart quieted for a minute, while I let the gruff words sift down inside of me like lazy dust flecks coming in through a sunshiny window. I think in that moment, driving in the country with him, rock ridges to my right, mountains to my left, and cowboy poetry playing on the radio, I fell a little in love with him.

He told me he wished I didn’t have to work the next day as he was going to a canyon he’d always wanted to see, and he would’ve taken me with. I told him I only worked the morning shift until one, if he wanted to wait.

He said he’d wait.

We wound our way back up the mountain where an 80’s party was taking place at the lodge. My outfit was to be your basic 80’s aerobics gear, while my sisters dressed up as Molly Ringwald and Madonna respectively—total knockouts. But upon seeing me in my simple cotton workout gear the pilot beamed and said, “If this is what the 80’s looked like, I want to go back!”

Later after we had a couple drinks and I danced with my sisters to Footloose the pilot walked me home, while holding my hand. Then he pulled me to him in a tight hug while he beamed and told me he would see me the next day.

The next day we drove two hours to the Wind River Canyon. He held my hand and made me laugh until all my mascara washed off. We stopped at the Marriage of the Waters, where I joked that I was going to jump in. We struggled to find anywhere to eat in Thermopolis, but I hardly had an appetite anyway as I was drunk on him.

On the drive home he told me I could sleep and got me a sleeping bag to lay my head on. Before I dozed he told me to pick out songs on his Spotify. I was listening to Righteous Brothers, You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling, while he pumped gas, and at the part where they belt out, “baby, baby, I’d get down on my knees for you!” he popped his head in the car and belted out the words to me.

I fell a little more in love.

Then I passed out.

When I awoke we were already winding back up the switchbacks and his hand was in my hair. I sleepily commented that we were almost home. He looked at me, the dashboard light flickering on his five-o-clock shadow and said, “I wish we had a 100 more miles to go.”

And right then I knew, the way you know about a good melon.

He left to go home to Pennsylvania a few days later and I ached thinking it was just to be some perfect mountain fling, but right before leaving, he wrapped a blue silky scarf around my neck that he said was his lucky scarf.

“I want you to have it,” he said.

Why would he give me his lucky scarf if I was just a fling, my brain reasoned?

I went off to Colorado on a weekend trip and he made his way back East.

And that’s the end.

Just kidding! That’s not the end. Barf, that would’ve been horrid.

No, my pilot cowboy continued to text and call. And then send me packages and letters. And generally seem like I was the farthest thing from a mountain dalliance. And well, now that handsome pilot is my handsome beau. In fact I am going to see him in Pennsylvania in two days.

So there you have it. The berries. Total berries up in here.

He’s the Berries (Part 1)

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.
Rick, –Casablanca

It is no secret that I am a romance-a-holic. I kid that I have been this way since I left the womb… maybe ask my mother to back this point up as she’s the only one who can give you the real facts on my womb exit. Or ya know, maybe don’t. Just take my word for it.

Anyhow, when I packed up for the West, which has a romance all her own, I had some notions of the kind of romantic grandeur I was looking for. Naturally I expected to be romanced pure and proper by the mountains—and lord help me, those beauties nearly romance my pants right off daily. Nearly, I said. Don’t worry, I am wearing pants.

I also liked to make grandiose declarations before I left the Midwest about how I was off to find my cowboy. I even packed my cream lace flapper dress I had worn for a Roaring 20’s party the Halloween before, telling my dad, the justification for taking such a dress to live on a mountaintop in Wyoming was in case I did in fact meet my cowboy and he was so taken with me that he just whisked me away. At least I would be prepared with a lace dress should such a man fall for me in such a way.

Here is the thing about cowboys. They have this essence about them that embodies all the things I like: ruggedness, the outdoors, they always have a horse… but besides all that, if my experience with the Farmers Only matchmaking commercials was any indication, I suspected cowboys, like farmers, might be real good old fashioned men just hankering for a girl who wants to live on a farm (or ranch) cook homemade bread and have babies on her hip—while she writes and whisks things—and her cowboy rustles up chickens, mends fences and generally goes about being handsome and handy.

At least that’s how it always plays out in my mind. I blame Pioneer Woman and Chip and JoJo on HGTV’s Fixer Upper for giving me ideas on the kind of cowboy I wanted to find. Also JoJo’s cowboy—or version of it—is a goofy and kind cowboy who knows how to build all kinds of things, ride horses and also thinks JoJo is the berries. That’s what my mom says when something is really wonderful. Well isn’t that the berries.

So with cowboys and mountains on the brain, I headed West with all sorts of hankerings in my heart, knowing I would find mountains. And simply telling all my customers if they spotted a good cowboy who happened to be looking for a good gal, well then to point him in my direction.

I once had a table of two sweet old men, who asked me why I had come to Wyoming. I always thought this was a rather obvious question but I’ve never minded answering it one bit. I always answered in the same fashion: that I came for the scenery—the mountains and the cowboys. What more could a girl want? When they asked if I’d found my cowboy, I placed a hand on my hip, and said, “well no, but I saw one out there riding’—waving my hands in the direction of the adjacent field—‘the other day and I about dropped what I was doing and went and hopped on his horse with him.”

They seemed rather bemused and later when I went to refill their coffees one of the men waved me away saying he couldn’t have any more coffee. “I’d be liable to get jittery and run over that cowboy who’s looking to marry you.”

“Oh no don’t do that!” I exclaimed.

They wished me well on finding him and went about their day. I never really believed my life to be so propitious that I’d actually find a cowboy in the West, but I am ever the hopeful one.

And then… in he walked one evening to have some spaghetti and meatballs, cherry pie and glass of milk. My cowboy that is. Of all the lodges, in all the mountains, in all the world, he walked into mine.

Nothing was different about this day of work on the mountain. I had my hair in a side braid. I was dressed in my usual Catwoman waitressing attire of all black. The only difference was I wasn’t on my normal morning shift. I was covering Kirstie’s evening shift because she had the day off. In fact here is the intriguing part. The night prior Kirst had come home and I was playing a game of Scrabble with a friend. I was intent on beating him so was half listening to Kirst telling me about her day and this dreamy pilot she had met. Kirst waxes a lot of poetic about dreamy men so I wasn’t all that phased. She carried on about this particular pilot’s smile. She went on and on.

I nodded and said, “that’s nice, Kirst,” not giving one thought to the pilot or his smile.

Until the next day. The pilot came in for dinner. Of course I didn’t know he was the infamous smiley pilot yet. I didn’t have any tables at the moment and so I sat him in a booth and took his order.

I talked to him here and there. And then other patrons started to trickle in. After checking on how he was doing with his pie, he mentioned that he had my sister as a waitress the night prior. I smiled and said, “oh yeah?”

“Yeah, she mentioned that I would have you today. She said my sister’s real pretty.”

I beamed, thinking how nice it was for Kirst to say that to a handsome stranger and I was starting to become a little taken aback with his smile. I cannot recall if it was that moment that I started to make the connection and asked him if he was a pilot or he offered that information up, but suddenly my mind latched onto the information at hand. This was the smiling pilot that had Kirst all twitterpated the night before. My initial reactions were:

Oh my, she was right!
And
Oh no, he probably likes Kirst already. And Kirst likes him.

Doomsday.

I tried not to think about that as I got a little busier with other tables. Still the pilot lingered and I would catch his smile as I passed and my stomach tightened. I brought out plates of dinner to a table, set them down and scurried away wanting more sneak peaks of the pilot. When I went back to check on my table, they told me I’d brought them the wrong food.

I realized I wasn’t paying a lick of attention to what I was doing. I was completely consumed by that smile of his.

There were a lot of hunters atop the mountain—including the pilot who wasn’t actually from Wyoming but Pennsylvania—looking for elk and big bucks and several were now in for dinner. One of them, sitting alone near the pilot had struck up a conversation with him and the pilot had joined him to visit. I went over to check how they were doing. The hunter, named, Bill asked me, “now when are you two getting hitched?” motioning to the pilot and I.

I will admit the question had delighted me. I thought, what a weird question to ask a waitress and some guy she was waiting on, but nonetheless, if anyone was going to assume I was getting hitched, I was deeply flattered that Bill thought I could land a dashing pilot with a smile to weaken the knees of girls for mountain miles.

Before I could think of a cheeky quip, the pilot answered, “Oh, I can’t hold her down, she keeps traveling all over the world,” and then he winked at me. At which point I wanted to faint onto his lap in my own heap of twitterpated glee. But instead I turned to Bill, with a hand on my hip and said, “Don’t let him fool you, he hasn’t asked.”

Bill’s response was to inform me that I should just forge the pilot’s name to a marriage certificate. I was indignant and told Bill as much.

“That’s not how I want to land any man! I want him to be wildly taken with me. I am not forging anything!”

Bill laughed and the pilot smiled. My heart lurched. I scampered away before I really did do something rash like propose to him.

The hunter and the pilot lingered all the way until closing time and as I sort of pretended to be busy at the front counter but mostly wanted to eyeball the dashing pilot, Bill came up to the counter and asked me when my next day off was. It was Monday and I told Bill that I had Wednesday off. He motioned his hand behind him to where the pilot sort of lingered in line waiting to pay and was smiling at me still. “I think this one wants to take you to dinner in town? Would you like to go to dinner with him?”

“Yeah, I’ll go to dinner with him,” I said, not believing for a moment that the pilot wanted to take me out, but hoping by some miracle it wasn’t just a meddling hunter trying to fix up a waitress; but that maybe… possibly…. that gorgeous man did want to take me out.

“Alright then, it’s all set,” Bill said. “Do I get a commission for fixing you guys up?”

“Only if we get hitched,” I laughed.

I went home in a vague fog of delight and instantly started gushing to my other sister Kia, the way Kirst had done to me the night prior. I even quoted that Casablanca quote to her. I felt something important was stirring in the universe and I didn’t yet know what, but I knew I fancied it, something like surprise warm chocolate chip cookies upon getting home from school after a particularly grueling bus ride home. Ask my best friend Emily for details on this.