Magical Montana

As my trip quickly approaches, feelings start to set in. Anxiousness, doubt, concern, and second-guessing. “Did I jump the gun? Am I ready for this? Was this the right decision?” My mind starts spiraling. Thankfully I am better at managing my anxiety when I intercept each thought and say to myself, “yes, Briana. You are ready. You will be fine; this will be a massive step forward in starting to live your life again.” I didn’t know how to be spontaneous anymore. I was so unsure of myself and what I could handle that my mind would constantly get the best of me, and I could talk myself out of anything.

The day is finally here and while I am not jumping for joy, I can at least acknowledge how far I have come in three years and the progress I have made. Sitting on the plane, I reminisce on my last trip in 2017; Amsterdam, England, and Ireland. Most of the trip is foggy, with much of it removed from my memory. Little did I know then that that would be the last trip I would experience in that state of mind and the last time I would experience a trip as that version of myself.

I land in Montana and head straight to downtown Bozeman. I find a cute little coffee shop with the cutest outdoor structures to protect you from the harsh elements, yet still enjoy being outdoors and grab a quick brunch at a bustling restaurant before I head an hour to my Airbnb container home.  

I was so sure of my decision on the container home that I had not taken the time to research the towns around it to know what options I may or, in this case, may not have.  The container home is nestled between two small towns, Clyde Park and Wilsall, each with a population of approximately 250.  I am elated when I arrive at my container home after a stunning one-hour drive through the mountain terrain. 

This container home was built by an Architect out of Montana using two 10×45 shipping containers. They used art from local artists, salvaged wood from Washington, and honestly did an incredible job with the home.

My first 24 hours were mentally chaotic. I am here to unwind, experience the lifestyle and be still. I found it incredibly hard to settle my mind; I wanted to act and live this experience as the old me. Finally, once I relaxed, the trip went from good to great. I unintentionally chose the weekend to visit the same week as Clyde Park’s Settler’s Weekend, the anniversary of the town’s establishment. The downtown area consists of one block that is closed for weekend events. They have a car show, home goods from vendors, some food to purchase, and my favorite events – the lawn mower and bed races. The townspeople are extremely friendly; one gentleman saw me standing to watch the parade and returned to his truck to get me a chair so I could sit. Another woman I was talking with about molasses cookies, after learning I had never had one, went into the coffee shop and got me two to take with me as “her treat.” I cannot recall any trip thus far that I have had such incredible, sincere, and pleasant conversations with locals. I spend the next few days reading, writing, enjoying the view, cow staring, and settling into what I came here for – being still.

A common theme for this trip is having difficulty finding food in these smaller towns, especially with the events. The local shops and restaurants are not serving their usual menus or are completely closed when advertised as regular hours. It’s my last day, so I am already prepared for this to happen to me again for breakfast. If the coffee shop in Clyde Park is not serving breakfast, I found a funky breakfast spot in Livingston, which is 30 minutes away to treat myself to. I get to the coffee shop, and as I expected, they are not serving breakfast.

This restaurant in Livingston immediately caught my eye when I saw it online.  It is called Faye’s Café and has raving reviews online. Five stars on yelp, 4.7 on google, it’s on many “best of” list’s as written by bloggers, and when reviewing the menu, I am very intrigued.  This is not your typical menu.  The chef Sarah Faye has implemented a different kind of cooking called, Yumtwist.  Yumtwist is the art of spontaneity in the kitchen.  The menu is built with words on a colorful laminated sheet, and all you have to do is choose a few words or tell the server what you like or are craving, and she comes up with a dish made specifically for you. 

My choice of words is “meat, potatoes, minimal eggs, biscuits, and gravy.”  Out comes one of, if not the best, breakfast dish I have ever had—biscuit with homemade meat gravy, huckleberry bacon, cheesy potatoes, and eggs.  For anyone interested in learning more about the art of Yumtwist, Sarah has a cookbook available that you can purchase here.

As I devour my entire plate, a lovely gentleman comes to clear my plate. As he does, he sparks up a conversation on if I had heard that this restaurant was given the title of best breakfast spot in Montana from People magazine.  I hadn’t heard that, but I was not surprised to hear it.  He then asks me, “do you like table magic?” I am a little taken aback by this; however, again not surprised because this trip has been anything but boring in terms of meeting people and hanging with locals.  If you read my prior post, Fate vs. Force – Montana, you would know I was led on this trip through a sort of breadcrumb trail. Everything fit and worked out perfectly for me to be here for whatever reason the universe had in mind.  I say, “of course, I love me some magic!” He says, “Great; I’ll be right back!”. 

The gentleman takes a seat at my table and introduces himself as Rob. He does a couple of tricks which I must admit were quite good, when I ask him, “How long have you been doing this? Have you been doing magic your whole life?” He smiles and slightly lowers his head, “Actually, I don’t work here. I volunteer here. I help bus tables, entertain kids and families with magic, and just enjoy being here.” He continues, “I have been doing magic for about 20 years. It’s a rather long story.” I say, “That’s great, I have time.” He smiles back at me, “I had a brain aneurysm in my communicating artery 20 years ago. During my recovery, my speech and physical therapists thought it would be a good idea for me to take up magic to work on my hand-eye coordination, and it just evolved from there.” My heart and jaw drop. I say, “I’m sorry. What?” I cannot believe what this man just said to me. He had the same aneurysm that my brother had, in the same artery, 20 years ago, and is sitting in front of me performing impressive magic tricks. Where am I? How did I get here? Is this happening? My eyes generally speak for me, which were beginning to welt at this point, and I am sure he saw the pure look of shock on my face with what he just said. I say, “Your recovery is remarkable! If you don’t mind me asking, how was the recovery? How was your condition post aneurysm?” He replies, “I wasn’t in any condition. I was in terrible shape, so I am grateful to be sitting here with you right now.” I say, “Wow, um. I apologize; I am a bit speechless.” I take a moment to gather my thoughts. “My brother suffered a massive brain aneurysm in his communicating artery five years ago, and this is my first big trip since.” His eyes change; something has happened inside of him at that moment. He asks me about his condition, how he is doing, and about his recovery. We both connect on things about aneurysms that the general population wouldn’t have the slightest idea about as we discuss how the journey was for him, my brother, and I.

Rob begins to tell me about an event that happened post-aneurysm. Rob was living in Clyde Park when he had his aneurysm and post-aneurysm had moved down to Livingston. During his recovery, one of his therapists approached him with a question. She told him that a gentleman, also named Rob, had purchased his house and had also suffered a brain aneurysm since buying his old home. She asked him if he would have any interest in meeting the other Rob to connect on their likeness of stories. Rob was not hesitant; he jumped at the opportunity to connect with him. Upon driving to his old house in Clyde Park, he saw that the house had been converted with wheelchair access to accommodate the recovery of the Rob he intended to meet. Overcome with emotion, Rob struggled to get out of the car and decided not to go inside at the last minute. Instead, Rob drove away and later learned that the Rob he was supposed to meet had passed away two years later.

Rob looks at me after telling me this story and says, “Can you put your hand on the table?” Unsure why he asks this; maybe more magic? I place my hand on the table. He puts his hand on top of mine, “I am so happy to have met you. I am so grateful to be sitting here having this conversation with you. I want you to know how much this encounter has meant to me. I wasn’t even coming to work today. I woke up and thought I didn’t feel like it today, but something inside me told me I needed to come. So I came, and I am so happy I did.” It clicks. This trip, this whole experience of being led to Montana, the events that got me here, the fate of being here and being led here by the universe. I always knew this trip was going to be for a reason. It was to meet Rob. This man is why I am here. This interaction is not even about me; I am simply the middle person between two individuals who suffered such tragedy at points in their lives. More importantly, I felt the regret and remorse in Rob’s voice while he told me the story of being unable to get out of the car. Having missed that opportunity to connect with someone over such an experience, he was now given a second chance to connect with someone who could understand. This trip wasn’t really about me at all. It was about giving Rob this other chance at connection, a chance at giving himself a bit of grace for not being able to get out of the car that day, and maybe even forgiveness for that day.

I responded to Rob’s comment by telling him that this entire interaction was fated. I explain how I got here, why I am here, and all the synchronicities that led me here. We both agree that this interaction was more than chance; we acknowledge that this meeting was meant for both of us. I spend the next hour with Rob taking a tour of the building that the café is in. It is an old-school building called the Shane Lanai Center for the Arts. A center that focuses on strengthening the community through arts that was started by a family who lost their son Shane in his 20s. We wrap up the tour when Rob and I say our goodbyes. I give him my website so he can follow along and read this story once it’s written, and we parted ways. I make it as far as my car when I pull out my phone to send a fraction of this interaction to my family and closest friends.

Overcome with emotions, the tears flow.  It’s hard for me to articulate the feeling of all of this.  To consider that this interaction would never have been possible if I wasn’t in recovery.  Had I chosen any other place to visit, or any other restaurant, it wouldn’t have happened, but it did.  It did happen. The entire thing comes full circle, and on the last day of Montana, I realize the true magic that was living within this trip, from start to finish. 


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