Written July 2008; edited August 2009:
My hand gently quivers as it grips the cup, a nervous-type tick. The three-quarters gone beer washes back and forth against the walls like waves rolling up on a lake shore, gently. I'm drunk, again; I'm unable to control it. It's a nightly ritual, a daily holiday. Blue eyes lose in Babb, ten miles south of the Canadian border. It's a town of dirt and dust, skin tanned from birth, winters twice as long and three times harder than any you've ever known. It's a lawless town; it knows only two colors, snow-white and brown. There's a bar, Charlie’s, a general store, Thronson's, and a steak joint, the Cattle Baron. I'm foreign in Babb, especially on a Monday night when I'm in Charlie's, the only non-native patron. "I’m a little nervous," I tell the Native woman who's sat next to me at the bar and asked me what I do, "I’m the only blue-eyed person here." I tip well, my peace offering, yet I feel like I'm always last served at the bar. Charlie's is a windowless bar, a barn sheathed in tin-colored sheet metal. Most buildings are windowless here; the winters are too windy and harsh for glass. The bar stretches for half a football field. The carpet is bright-red, it's unnerving.
The fry cook in the back, that bleach-white-haired girl from Valier, a small plains town fifty miles east, population less than five hundred, has somehow made me feel like shit again. She's why I'm here, to reconcile. I'm doubtful. She's helped me accept, finally, at twenty-five, that to some degree, I'm bipolar. I don't need medication, though, it's just who I am. My feelings -- happiness vs. sadness -- will always be an up and down, in and out, always-swaying ocean. I'll never flatline emotionally.
About her, I've never said it before, and I hope I'll never say it again, but I think she just wanted sex. I'll never forget that night we spent together in the bed of her mid-eighties, Chevy pick-up somewhere out there on some dirt road in the moon shadow of Chief Mountain. We outfitted the thing with a twin mattress we'd stolen from the hotel storage closet and hung makeshift mosquito netting she'd bought at Thronson's. We sat on the tailgate, drinking wine like desperate water-drinking, desert-dwellers, and watched the sun sink into the western horizon. We were drunk, running our mouths, laughing, learning. The mosquitoes buzzed above us and around us, but they were blocked out, perfect. We had sex twice and passed out, naked. The clouds glowed eerily yellow as they blew by the moon. It was cold -- June nights here are like March nights there. I was the happiest I'd been in a long time, and I'd been happy for a few weeks. We were awoken at five a.m. by horrible noises; I'd never heard anything like it: a loud, guttural moaning, like a large man slowly, painfully dying, alone. I sat up slowly, half-too-scared to look: the truck was surrounded by free range cattle, at least fifty of them. They weren't cows, they were beasts. We'd learned as kids that dogs go woof, cats go meow, and cows go moo, but it wasn't true. What else did they lie about?
We'd spent a few more days together, and then she fell off. That's why I'm here, to find out why. But I know why ...
I finish my beer, not knowing whether she saw me sitting there or not, and go. I buy a beer-to-go, because it's Montana, because I can, because it's legal, because it's a nine-mile drive home and it's dark. It's much darker here than it is there.