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  • Stark Differences

June 01, 2024




"Montana is beautiful." "Montana has tons of horses." "You'll love Montana."

I lost track of how many times I heard these comments. So much so that I began to block them out. I wouldn't acknowledge them. My dad went to Montana for a summer while my mom, my sister, and I stayed home. He went to work and earn money. We were missionaries and it was nice to have a bit of extra money from that. My dad can get a job pretty much anywhere, so he took up the offer of doing a short-term contract. That summer, we visited him, and I got to see what my future would be, although I didn't know it at the time.

I had the window seat on the flight there. I almost always got the window seat because I liked listening to my music and looking out the window, creating imaginary scenarios in my head. My sister also liked the window seat but was still a bit too young to get it all the time. The first question out of my mouth when the plane landed was "where are the trees?" As far as my eye could see, it was all brown, dry, flat land. Mountains could be seen far in the distance, but there were no trees. There was nothing. I couldn't see any evidence of civilization from my window. I started to question why we were here, but I was too tired to put up a fight. Plus, we wouldn't be here long. Just a quick visit to see my dad. What could come of that?

I slept the entire hour and a half drive from Great Falls to Chester. I'm really glad I did. I don't think I would have been able to process the stark desolation of Montana. My mom woke me when we reached Chester, saying that we were going into the clinic to say hi to my dad. I was awkward. There were people I didn't know, but of course they knew of me. They knew who my dad was. I was the daughter of Darren Young. People tried to greet me, but I was still waking up from my nap and chose to cling to my dad instead of interacting.

When we left the clinic to go to the house we were staying at, I got my first real look at Chester. I was appalled at how small it was. From the top of the town, you could easily see the other side easily. My mom informed me that the town had about 1000 people living in it. It was miniscule compared to anywhere else I had been, even being as well traveled as I was. Most of the town was situated on one side of the train track that ran across the entire U.S. The first few days, every time a train would run over the rickety tracks and blare its horn, I would startle. I didn't sleep well the entire time we were there because of the stupid train.

Chester was so big for a Montana town that it had not one, but two grain towers right next to the train tracks. These towers gave the town height and ego. People were proud of what they had accomplished. I didn't understand why. I still don't understand why. When you live in the middle of nowhere though, there is little to determine success.
While the town was situated on one side of the tracks, the other side contained dirt roads and just a few houses. Beyond that were the fields. The fields that I refused to believe ever looked pretty. Everything was monotoned. The only plants that survived this far north were wheat, lentils, and chickpeas. Fields and fields of these plants stretched around the town. And that was all there was. There was no civilization and no trees. There weren't even rocks. It was just fields of brown that stretched to the horizon where brown was met with a Toy Story blue sky. I understood why Montana was known as big sky country. There was nothing in the way of the sky. There was so little around to block the sky that if you focused and looked straight up, you could see the curvature of the ozone above you. This wasn't seen during my first trip to Chester though. Wildfires blazed that summer and tinted the air with red smoke. The fires were hundreds of miles away, but with nothing in between the mountains and Chester, the tiny town was overwhelmed by the haze almost every summer.

The town itself was connected to two highways. One ran parallel with the train tracks going east and west. The other was a tiny highway that led to Great Falls in the south. The town was so small that there were no creative street names. Streets going east to west were named after presidents. With the exception of Main Street, streets going north to south were labeled with numbers.

I didn't understand how Chester could be considered a town. But it had the necessities. It had two places to get gas and a small grocery that was a part of one of the gas stations that insisted on bumping the prices of everything up a couple dollars. The main part of town had two restaurants, a couple banks, a library, the courthouse and sheriff's office, post office, and a random store or two that were never open. Chester was the location of a school, which contained elementary, middle, and high school all in one building. This school was for two other nearby towns as well. And by nearby, I mean at least 20 miles away. Chester had a variety of churches scattered around town. In the center of town was a small park, about a block wide and long. It had a small playground and a picnic area. It was more of a park than what was in the Dominican Republic, but by that point, I had outgrown parks.

Chester's big claim to fame was its critical access hospital. It was started by someone from Chester and is where my dad worked that summer, and where he now works. The ER, although essential, only had two beds. Attached to the ER was the nursing home, which was also small. My guess is that they had about 15 residents. The clinic was a tad bigger and there was a dentist office on the other side of the clinic. It wasn't a big town, so they didn't need much.

Visiting my dad was fun. I knew I didn't have to stay in that obsolete place. We went on adventures to Canada and Glacier National Park. It was fun. I got to go home after a week. I got to go see my dog, my friends, the beach, the tropical paradise I was fortunate enough to call home. But a short two years later, I was forced into calling Chester home. It wasn't home. It wasn't pretty. It was atrocious in my mind.

It had to be the worst day of my life. Getting on that plane and leaving my home. I stopped in my tracks and stared at the flight attendants. I couldn't leave. I turned to my dad. His face was grim. It was too late. I forced my feet to move and step onto that plane. I think that is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Throughout that day, people expected me to be OK. I wasn't. I was angry and for once I didn't try to hide it. I snapped at everyone and everything. I refused to talk. I sank into the feeling of anger and let it control me for that day. Until I was yelled at by my mom for my attitude. That ruined my anger. Instead, I disassociated. I drew into myself and refused to come out. Smiling and laughing quickly became foreign. I threw up a mask. One that quickly became too familiar.

We didn't start the journey west for a few weeks, instead visiting friends and family. The mask was essential during this time. When people asked me how it felt to be "home." The word made me shudder each time and each time I would have to say that this wasn't my home. They would correct themselves and ask me if I was excited to move to Montana. I may have created a mask, but it only worked so well. I couldn't hide my disgust and anguish forever. No, I wasn't excited. I didn't care that Montana had horses. It didn't have the horses I knew. It didn't have anything I knew.

The drive was a killer. We took our time traveling west in our new car. The Mall of America was on the way. I bought a book. It was one I had read before but didn't own. I decided that I needed to own it. It was a book from my favorite series at the time. That series made me feel like I belonged. Like I had a place in a make believe world since I couldn't bring myself to care about the real world anymore.

Once we passed Minneapolis, everything looked the same. It was the same brown color. There were no trees. I still couldn't wrap my mind around it. How were there no trees? I had hoped that it was only near Chester that there were no trees, but I guess its most of the northwestern U.S. Our stops became few and far between. Not because we didn't need to stop, but because there were literally no places to stop. It was desolate. Minnesota, North Dakota, and finally Montana. It was all the same. Nothing was familiar and nothing was normal.

I watched "Little Women" on the drive. In hindsight, that wasn't my smartest choice. I should've been working on schoolwork. I may have been homeschooled, but it didn't matter that my life was taken from me, I still had to get everything done by June. I cried watching Little Women. And I disguised it like I had been for the past month. Every time I glanced up from my movie and out the window, the view was the same. Brown flatlands. Occasionally an antelope herd would be seen. Apparently, they were super dumb and liked to jump in front of cars going 80 mph. Other than the occasional excitement of an antelope spotting, I stuck to my movie and wished myself away from my present state.

The day we got to Chester, Montana it was overcast and 40 degrees. In April. That was such a foreign concept to me. I was used to the lowest temperatures being in the 70s. Apparently, it didn't rain much in Chester. When it did, it wasn't for a long time, just spurts of showers. The Caribbean rains that brought greenery and delightful smells was something I would crave for years following our move.

The house we lived in for the first 9 months of our time in Chester was small. I shared a tiny bedroom with my sister. And by tiny, I mean that there was enough room for our twin beds and a small dresser that we had to share. Gone was my hideaway, my safe space. I couldn't escape. This was my life now. Stuck in the endless nothing with nowhere to go.

Because of how small a town Chester was, we ended up building our own house on the foundation of one we tore down. It was the cheaper alternative to buying a house we didn't really love and would have to fix up. Besides, my parents drilled into my head, Chester was our home now and we needed our own house to settle down in.

By October, I was still a masked faction of my former self and I think my parents were starting to worry about me. I had done all the right things. I had made friends. I volunteered at our church. I babysat. I even took drivers ed. But I was still not myself and was still hurting. They decided that a dog would make everything better.

We got Glacier from Canada. The town we got him from was only about four hours away and we had friends who knew the breeder. They had three of Glacier's siblings. Each puppy was calm and sweet. Somehow, we ended up with the biggest puppy of the litter who hated snuggles. But he did make me feel better. I remembered how to smile and laugh, especially when he was a silly growing puppy.

My favorite story of Glacier Bear was when he was entering his teenage years. He was long and lanky and so uncoordinated. He was also huge. When we brought him home at 8 weeks, he was already 19 pounds. I guess that's what happens when you mix a Great Pyrenees and a Malamute. This specific day, I was eating dry cereal on the couch of the first house we lived in. I was watching TV with my mom and sister. Out of nowhere, Glacier decided he wanted to join me on the couch. From the other side of the room, he came barreling towards the couch in a blur. Leaping over the arm, puppy landed in my lap with limbs and cereal flying. I might have screeched. Excited puppy was eating as much cereal as he could before any of us could react. It was hysterical and unexpected. We now call this incident, Super Puppy.

There is a lot more I could say about my time in Chester, Montana. I never grew to like it. I did have a decent community, but never once did I feel like I belonged. At all times, I couldn't wait to get out. To start my own journey. One where I was in control. I started over in Kentucky and have made my life into something I'm proud of. I haven't loved every moment of it, but for once in my life, I know I'm where I belong.