I don’t want to say that I was influenced to move by a song, but maybe I was a little bit. Or maybe it was just meant to be the soundtrack of the next chapter and it started to give me hints a couple chapters before I got to that place in the story.
I am going to backtrack a few years before my move to Wyoming and talk about a day all Americans have a story about, and the days and weeks and months that followed.
The last time I had been in Australia for a few months was right after September 11th. I actually was in a small window of being able to rebook my ticket because I was scheduled to leave about 10 days after the attack and airlines had opened up the option to ticket holders going anywhere to change or cancel flights with no fees. I made a conscious decision not to cancel my trip, even though the world had been turned upside down and we didn’t know what was to come, especially as an American.
I had this grand plan to go on this exciting international adventure at the time. My ticket stopped in Dubai and Kuala Lumpur and then on to Sydney, and with stop overs in those locations I had planned to go even further from each of those locations. On the morning of September 11th I was getting vaccinations needed for these far away places I had planned to go to when the nurse giving the shots told me a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. I was living in Vermont but I had lived in New York City not long before this and my job had been in the World Financial Center attached to the World Trade Center. With that first plane I thought it didn’t sound like an accident and my thoughts immediately turned to hoping everyone I knew there was ok. As they finished with the vaccinations they said “you may not feel well later today and tomorrow”, and man, they were right. Between tears, nerves, disbelief, sadness or shots, it was hard to differentiate what was causing the uneasiness. As I made my way to the waiting area to sit for awhile to see how I felt the second plane hit and I gathered around a radio with strangers in the waiting room and listened in disbelief to the live coverage. At the very least of what I knew at that moment was that I was not going to be taking the trip I had planned.
In the next few days I had to make decisions. Again, I would be traveling solo and had many people telling me I could not go out there in this uncertainty by myself. However it was my mother who at this time, rather than tell me to not go, said, “just remember, most of the world is good”. Without hesitation I decided I would still go but I changed my ticket to fly in the other direction, out of Canada and thru Hawaii. I pushed back my departure date to early October, a few weeks later than I had planned. Thankfully everyone was flexible with me as I had already quit my job and given up my apartment.
I ended up moving out of my apartment by myself…literally. While I was attempting to move my mattress down the stairs by myself someone riding by on a bike stopped and helped me. He then said, “there must be a box spring that goes with this” and helped with that. You really never forget who helped you. To this day I am still grateful to this stranger and hope I have paid it forward at some point. From there I went home to my parents, put my things in storage, and spent a week at home, my sore muscles recovering from moving all that furniture alone.
It was this week that my father taught me to refinish a table I had that I had pulled out of a dumpster that was covered in several layers of brown paint. We spent the week scrubbing off all those layers to reveal quite a beautiful piece that red paint underneath it all had soaked into. It is still one of my favorite pieces of furniture and because of the time in my life it symbolizes I have grown to treasure it, and because of the amount of work it was vowed never to refinish another piece of furniture again! It was the peak of fall foliage and we also spent some time driving around looking at all the things people had painted with the American flag during this time, as well as the colorful fall foliage. At one point I jumped out of the car to take a picture of the colorful leaves and when I got back in President Bush was on the radio saying we had started bombing Afghanistan. What did this mean? I was leaving the next day.
As I checked in at the airport in Ottawa, Ontario and handed over my American passport the woman looked at me and handed me a fistful of Canadian flag pins and said, “put these on your backpack and clothes….just in case.” Years later when I look back on that moment I think it was one of the most thoughtful things for her to do for me, to help hide that I was American. I still have one of the pins as a reminder. At that moment, however, I walked away and burst into tears wondering what I was doing.
Once in Australia I was pretty sheltered, staying with friends. It was by no means the same backpacker life I had the first time, meeting travelers everywhere I went. By a strange twist of fate over the summer I had been at my hair salon in Vermont when I overheard a woman talking about going to Dubai. I turned and told her I would be there on the same dates. It turned out she worked for a company in NYC but worked from home in Vermont. I told her when I worked in NYC I had worked in that same building as her company. We started chatting and she gave me a contact at her office in Sydney. When I got there I called them and they had an opening and hired me. Trust me, I know that is a crazy way to get a job halfway around the world. She would call the office and I would answer and she would say, “Girl, you are so funny, I can’t believe you are there.”
The really great thing about this time around was I knew people already. I got to see my friends, the kids, Oscar the dog, live in a quiet little surf town in the Northern Beaches, turning into a bleach blonde at the beach every weekend, spending time with good friends from college who lived there going to sporting events in Melbourne and seeing the sites in Sydney when they came to visit.
It was a dramatic switch from my days as a backpacker. I was not complaining. I did have a doozy of a commute, though. First I had to walk to the bus stop from the Pittwater side to the Ocean side of the peninsula. It was like walking thru a steamy jungle in summer, even at 6 am when I left, with the sounds of the kookaburras laughing at me. I always told everyone they sounded like monkeys. Nothing had changed, though, forget that I was insisting there were monkeys in Australia the kids, now cheeky tweens, made fun of how I pronounced “kookaburra”. They always made fun of how I spoke since I met them. Apparently I was saying it wrong. The bus was at the end of the route and took about 2 hours, so between walking and riding, for about 5 hours a day I was commuting. I enjoyed the down time for awhile staring off at the ocean as we came thru “the bends” of the peninsula and the iconic sites of the city as we crossed Sydney Harbour Bridge every day. Once again it was surreal to be here. But I was starting to hear at the office how people were being laid off, and things like “the US gets a cold and the world gets the flu”. When I arrived everyone’s questions were about what it was like in the US when the attack happened and the eerily quiet days that followed, but as time went on I started to hear more of this anti-American sentiment. Not anti-American necessarily so much as a building frustration to the economic impact of what this attack had that was unfolding. Meanwhile I went on the computer every day when I got to work hopeful for some sort of bright light in the news. Every single day I looked for it. I was sure something was going to happen quickly and change the mood of the world. Instead I started to hear jokes making fun of Americans told on my bus, and often. They didn’t know I was there and I kept my mouth shut because I was feeling hypersensitive about it. To drown this out I listened to the Dixie Chicks on repeat every single day. I never listened to anything else for months. I don’t remember why the Dixie Chicks, that is just what it was. It comforted me thru this growing feeling of homesickness. When my job offered to extend my visa I didn’t even think about it, I immediately knew it was time to go home. I didn’t know what I was going home to, but I knew I just wanted to go home. But don’t get me wrong, I bawled my eyes out saying good bye once again. It was bittersweet.
I returned home, stopping in Hawaii for a second time to let all my sadness out about leaving and to get excited about returning. My flight to the US was virtually empty. I made new friends on the beach, went to an amazing Janet Jackson concert, finally learned to surf and felt good about going home. Still listening to the Dixie Chicks on repeat I went back to New York City and settled in once again.
About a year and a half after my return was when I discovered my love for Wyoming. The song “Wide Open Spaces” by, you guessed it, the Dixie Chicks, came to mind and really resonated with me. This was about me! I had never been somewhere that I couldn’t stop thinking about, I couldn’t stop picturing my life there. I’ve got this. I spent a year making sure it was the right move before finally going for it. I would spend almost 8 years living in Wyoming, and 14 years living in the west. It would be the second in my top three best decisions I ever made and a place I hold very dear to my heart to this day.
Who doesn’t know what I’m talking about
Who’s never left home, who’s never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone
Many precede and many will follow
A young girl’s dreams no longer hollow
It takes the shape of a place out west
But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the highest stakes