March 1, 2014 by The Citron Review
Tulsa to Minneapolis to Missoula to Seattle. My mother, a formidable woman of thrift, booked this flight for my birthday: a week with my best friend before he got married. This sounded great, albeit complicated. I was in love with Andrew; Andrew was in love with his fiancée, Laura, who, it became increasingly evident, was not in love with the idea of marriage. The three of us were twenty years old, that age when one’s life seems perched on a threshold, or a precipice. Thus, it was fitting my journey to Seattle was a complication of flights. The second leg, an unlikely layover in Missoula, Montana, especially so.
Montana is the fifth least populous of the fifty United States, and Missoula only its second largest city. Her airport, MSO, reflects this. This is not O’Hare, or DFW, or JFK, or even Charlotte International—airports accustomed to layovers. In all of 2011, roughly half a million people took off or landed on one of two small runways. In only two and a half days, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International will serve more customers. MSO boasts but one gift shop, one travel agency, and one real estate company in its rugged, western themed terminal. Mountings of elk, and deer, and moose heads line the halls; glistening black eyes reflected my own as I stopped to stare at a prime specimen, reflected a quiet type of fire that raged behind my thick-framed eyeglasses. At the end of the terminal squatted its single bar, Jedediah’s at the Airport, where I, underage but uncarded, foreign here, sat and drank three rum-and-diets in quick succession. Elixir for my apprehension, of the emotional journey which lay ahead, yes, but also the physical one: an Alaskan Airlines propeller plane bound for Seattle through the Rocky Mountains. In a thunderstorm. At night.
Above the bar hung a picture of fisherman on the nearby Clark Fork River. If I stared hard enough out the airport’s windows, I could see the river’s banks, just on the horizon line before the mountains take over. Or I thought I could see the river’s banks. But my thoughts—weary from travel; weary from a second, and then third drink; weary from the long sigh of a long summer—were elsewhere, back in Missouri, in the Ozarks, from where Andrew and I hail. When he came home in May, we slipped into old ways, the ways of childhood friends who tumble through their days like rambunctious brothers. We drove out of town, to the James River south of the high school we both attended, a place that already, with three years of college behind us, seemed at once distant and familiar.
We lay on the banks of that river as the day broke into night, during the golden hour when light is diffused, and softer, not unlike an ideal photograph. That night, too, a storm settled in; lightning flashed and thundered in the decreasing distance. Andrew told me he was afraid to be married, but that he loved Laura. I wanted to tell Andrew I loved him, and wonder now, all these years later, if I should have. In hindsight, perhaps my love was misguided. I loved him, yes, and needed him to love me—an admission we are not, as humans, and especially as men, apt to make. He was, he is, the only man I have held close who has not failed me.
Perhaps I needed him to love me, to not reject me, to not feel threatened when I said, “I’m gay.” But I didn’t say it. We stripped our clothes on the limestone gravel, waded into the water as warm rain began to pelt us. I remember his back to me, slick with rain and river, the very top of his buttocks just visible above the waterline. I remember his arms open and raised to the sky. He screamed, fully emptying his lungs. I remember how beautiful Andrew looked, how full of love, and hope.
Much later, I learned that for $30 more I could have taken a direct flight from Minneapolis to Seattle. I could have never been to Missoula’s airport, or stepped foot into that bar. I could have not missed a thing—not knowing there was anything to miss. But I am glad I was twenty once, flying to Seattle to be the best man to a groom whom I was in love with. I am glad my mother gave me this gift, that some fortuitous ticket agent landed me in Missoula, where I sat at the airport bar, the sun setting behind the Bitterroot Mountains, my breath catching as the thunderstorm settled in.
D. Gilson holds an MFA from Chatham University and is a PhD student in American Literature & Culture at The George Washington University. His work has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Indiana Review, and The Rumpus. His chapbooks include Catch & Release, winner of the 2011 Robin Becker Prize from Seven Kitchens Press and Brit Lit (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013). His forthcoming book Crush, with Will Stockton, comes out this April from Punctum Books. FindD. at dgilson.com.