I still remember the sheer excitement and adrenaline that ran through my veins as my plane made the sharp decent into the small Jackson Hole airport in the fall of 1997. My palms were sweaty and giddiness drew the sides of my mouth upwards into a silly grin. As beautiful as the view of the sharp jagged Tetons were out of my window, my stomach flipped and my heart was pounding for another reason all together. It would be the first time I saw Sean in over 100 days.
In July of that same year, I had taken some time off after college before starting a lifetime career in government service in Washington DC to visit my friends, Sean and Jared in Yellowstone National Park. Sean had picked me up from the airport that time as well but the airport was Bozeman and we were just friends. I remember the playfulness in his voice and lift in his spirit as we sped down the long straight road from Livingston, Montana to the entrance of the park in Gardiner. He told me stories about the park and his role as the recreation director at Roosevelt Lodge, our destination for the evening. Once arriving to Roosevelt, we sat on the front porch of the recreation cabin alternating sips between a pint of Jim Beam and a luke warm can of Coca-Cola. I felt at peace as if coming home to something I had missed deep in my soul.
I spent two weeks in Yellowstone camping and whitewater rafting with Jared and hiking and sight seeing with Sean, and the more I opened myself up to exploration and contentment in the wild, the more something in me began to stir. It caught me off guard at first but like the first night when I arrived, this feeling that was shifting and growing had a certain familiarity to it as if the reasoning for my trip out west was becoming quite clear. I can remember it as if it were yesterday – I was playing pool in the employee bar with some of Jared’s friends waiting for Jared and Sean to get off of work. We were all going to meet up and spend the evening at Canyon Lodge that night where Jared was stationed. Sean and I were going to stay in one of the employee transient cabins or figure out something so we didn’t have to make the trek back north to Roosevelt. Once they had arrived and settled into the space with a few much needed beers after a long day at work, I found myself staring across the pool table at Sean. He didn’t seem to notice, deep in the middle of sharing a story with those around him, but I couldn’t stop staring. At first I thought, wait, how many beers have I had and then I laughed, trying to play it off. But the feeling wouldn’t go away. I spent the evening trying to push it aside, this silly school girl crush sensation that overcame me. That is until later when I swore I caught him glancing in my direction as well. A few flirty phrases were exchanged but nothing to be taken serious. We had been friends for a while and could get away with a little friendly jeering. But this continued for the next few days and it got to the point that I was pleasantly uncomfortable around him and unpleasantly uncomfortable when he wasn’t around. How could it be that I was falling for my good friend?
And then it all came to a head in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on the final days of my summer vacation when we both decided to open up and express what we were feeling. We both felt an attraction so strong and so right that it took us by surprise and yet felt like it was meant to happen all along. We spent as much time as we could together in Jackson, back in the park and in the town of Gardiner as we knew my departure was eminent, and when it came, I was sick. I couldn’t leave. This wasn’t a fling. There was something here, something shifted, something was shifting. And so I made a vow to come back, to rethink this plan for me to follow in my parents’ footsteps and become a surbanite with a great government job in my field.
I spent the next 100 days in a powerful state of transition when every day I looked upon my dear friend with new eyes. How could it be that I had known him so well for the last two years and never once saw what my eyes now see. And see so clearly! He was halfway across the country and I was back east with a line of interviews waiting for me to tend to. I took a waitressing job I hated to make money quick and turned down jobs in DC with agencies looking to paying someone well for life. We spent every day on the phone making plans for my move out west. I wrote letters every day and he wrote me in return. It was a love I had never experienced, a love that shook me to my core and every moment of the transition was unbearable with anticipation.
And now the moment had arrived as my small twin-prop jet taxied up to the Jackson Hole airport. They rolled a set of stairs up to the jet’s door and took, what seemed like an eternity, to make their final announcements and prepare the door for arrival. I impatiently waited for those in front of me to pull their heavy bags and luggage down the aisle. What would he be wearing? Would he like what I was wearing? Would we even care? As I stepped down the stairs out onto the runway I could feel his eyes staring at me through the window of the entrance even though I could not see through the glare of the sun. And then, he was there. And I was there. We were there together. And two friends became life partners.
Not a day goes by that I don’t look at my husband, Sean, and remember that amazing transition. It’s one I replay over and over again when I need to remember the importance of transitions.