I was born in a rural town in Montana. If you wanted to define rural, Townsend Montana would serve the word justice. Montana itself is an asymmetrical canvas; the Rocky Mountain front clustered on one end, giving way to millions of acres of flatland and resigning into badland through the center to the southeastern edge. With only a scarce artery system of two intersecting Interstate’s, the State highway system looks like a wide net cast over the map. It’s a place where 60 miles by car can almost always be accomplished in less than an hour. Small towns speckle the map; many of which wouldn’t have been given the designation ‘town’ elsewhere, but come on, who likes the dubbing ‘Village’? It just doesn’t sound…sanitary. Montana is certainly a fascinating State; dynamic, sprawling, vast. The sparsity of population, coupled with the extreme climate conditions and rigid topography infiltrates people’s psyche and except from the few university locales, the Territory still resists conformity or softening. Any modern chaos in the world still seems like a distant reality. It’s still a place where someone can own a lot of land; they can farm it or ranch it (or both), and still be below the poverty line. But most Montanans wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s why they either never left, or why they sacrificed thousands – sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in yearly salaries to return.
These elements give Montana a polarizing effect; it pushes one away with it’s cold, calloused winters and mentalities, then it beckons you back as the spring flowers unfold. Only the strong survive; or they find a way to tolerate. Toleration comes in different forms. One of the most prolific forms is substance consumption. The gathering of friends in a warm, lighted room (the antithesis to other side of the door), coupled with a pint or a drink to quell the inner angst caused by the frigid temperatures, short lived daylight, and long distances between each other can help appease the seasonal blues. Of course, as alcohol is an addictive, depressant substance – there is an inevitable tipping point; all too often drink is agency that hollows out the inner resilience and separates a soul from the rest of a person, leaving a shell. Of course, there are other culprits; meth has left many marks on the State. These scars don’t merely become old battle wounds; there’s no such glory. These are deep abrasions that never quite heal, they are always prone to breaking open again – festering all over for another generation. I don’t mean to paint a bleak picture, I do however want to paint a true one; as true as my limited capabilities will allow me to. In simple terms, Montana is a place where people have tread. Any place that has been imprinted by feet is like the binding of a book. Every pair of footprints is another tale that makes up the codex. Eventually all of these novellas make up a story of the Place. I would never claim to be able to tell the story called Montana. Rather, I want to give an account about Montana. I desire to zoom in and out of time and place to add more strokes to the Canvas of the State that I grew up in, and that I will always call home, regardless of where I may reside. If you and I could see a google maps history of all the places I have stepped or driven in the state (I’ve been around since ‘86 so no, it’s not possible…I hope), you’d probably think it’s pretty insignificant; but actually, this has to be the admission of most people, even if they have lived in the state their entire lives. Why? 94,109,440 acres, that’s why. Montana is massive, and there’s a lot of untamed territory out there. I say this to both drive home the point that I am not trying to give an encompassing picture of the state, and yet alternatively show how even one life lived in relative seclusion can still collect pigments from other brushstrokes, which create new shades and indeed, paint a unique and beautiful picture within the larger canvas.
So, my brushstrokes.
As I mentioned, I was born in 1986 in little Townsend. I was the only child out of seven to actually be born in Townsend. Doc Campbell, as the story goes, delivered me with his cow poop covered boots on. I came out blue and quiet, the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck thrice. Oops. The nurse immediately took me out of the room, only to bring back another child minutes later to replace me. Well, that’s the running joke at least. I’m pretty sure that my grandma, who happened to be the nurse, would have had a difficult time finding another baby in that tiny hospital, stealing said child, and somehow being so lucky as to finding a child that looks so much like his six siblings that he can’t go within a 30 mile radius without hearing “you must be a Geisser” by…anyone. Nope, I’m pretty sure my parents are full of it. Although sometimes I wonder…
I am the [insert adjective here] middle child. I’ll let you decide. ‘Weird’ is probably the most common and most appropriate adjective; though, I have had a polarizing relationship with the word. I am four years younger than my next older sibling, Sean; and five-and-a-half years older than my next younger, Hannah. So as far as middle’s go, I am pridefully more middle than most middles. This fact is more and more significant to me as I get older. My challenge, like anyone’s I suppose, is to consider the unique or colorful elements of my youth and not over or under appropriate special meaning or significance to them. The term ‘family of origin’ can illicit polarizing responses, depending on which side of healing you lie. In fact, there are two years separating those last two sentences because I wasn’t ready to go where this is going to go.