The first time I experienced unrequited love was 11 years ago. I was in 10th grade, self conscious and dealing with depression as I balanced the challenges of an IB school curriculum with the emotional torments of ballet. He was unattainable...and tall. I was speechless when his eyes caught mine nor could I think straight when he smiled at something I had said. I sometimes would purposely call him and when he answered, I would say that I meant to call another friend, but now that I had him...what did you think about today's bio quiz? It was embarrassing and immature, but it felt like love. Then he began to date someone else. Danielle was beautiful, smart, athletic, funny. We weren't friends, but I knew her to be pleasant and kind from a few of the classes we shared. It was hard to hate her, but the pangs of jealousy were even harder to handle when I heard them giggle behind me in Spanish class.
Early into the next school year, I found myself invited to a 17th birthday party for one of our mutual friends. They were both there. I sank into a corner with another friend as I tried not to make eye contact with either of them. Suddenly, Danielle came up behind me and began to contribute to our discussion of So You Think You Can Dance. At the time, one of the contestants had recently been involved in a performance at my own dance studio. When I mentioned this to Danielle, her eyes lit up. She enthusiastically began to ask about dance and my experience, and I was taken aback by her genuine interest. Through this access point, we found ourselves laughing at similar jokes, commiserating about school, and laying down the foundation of a lifelong friendship. I remember feeling sad leaving the party. Well I can see why he likes her.
11 years later, I found myself in Montana sitting in a hotel room with Danielle and her husband, Zack, trying to figure out the plans for the day. They had flown in to meet Nick and I in Bozeman for the 4th of July weekend. I was excited to be back in the area again since it had been a few months since our last venture up this way. Since meeting in college, Zack has grown into one of our very best friends. His sense of humor, love of Outback Steakhouse, and unrelenting sarcasm make him especially unique, but his kind-hearted and caring nature makes him a great friend. The four of us have gone on trips together in the past, but we have had especially poor experiences after convincing them to do more outdoors-oriented vacations. For example, the last time we all went camping, an unsuspecting small hole was present in the fly that flooded their tent (a tent we lent them) in the middle of the night. Nick and I were determined this time to show them that camping could be more enjoyable than being soaking wet and forced to sleep in a Honda Civic.
Our first day was dream-like. After 3 miles of hiking, we worked up just enough sweat to warrant a dip in Lava Lake, which seems like a misnomer as it took me 20 minutes to build up the courage to fully submerge myself in its ice cold water. Finally, I dove in and let the water flush my face and body. I took a few moments while floating on my back to glance upward at the clear, blue sky before letting myself sink under again. We hung out on the rocks convincing each other to get in while simultaneously swatting intermittent horse flies.
Finally, the time came to set up camp. Our site was tucked away about 3 miles from the main road connecting Bozeman to Big Sky. Tall spires of rock jutted up from the road as we began to follow a little creek toward our site. Once we pulled up, we immediately unloaded the car. I, determined to prove to myself I could still set up a tent, began to set ours up, while Nick assisted Zack and Danielle. I was just clicking in the poles when I heard a few choice expletives from the other side of the site.
"GODDAMNIT!" Nick yelled as he threw one of the stakes onto the ground.
We had recently lent our spare tent to a friend a few weeks before and didn't double check that all pieces were together when it was returned. The tent base was there, but no fly and incorrect poles which were much too large to make work. Nick offered to go back into town to purchase another tent, but Danielle quickly suggested sleeping in our CR-V. I couldn't believe this was happening again. Luckily, the site had a large bear box, so we were able to transfer most luggage and gear out of the car and into the box to create a little sleeping area for them. (I secretly think Danielle was glad to not have slept on the ground.) The CR-V seemed much more comfortable than my old Civic, but Nick and I still felt a little guilty. We sat around the fireless pit for hours after cooking dinner as we waited for the sun to finally set. (A fire ban was in effect for the area). There were periods of laughter as well as silence while I tried to break bits of cold charcoal off with a stick. That's the nice thing about old friends; there isn't much pressure to fill a void in conversation.
I woke up that night to the sound of rain tapping on our tent. I giggled to myself as I drifted back to sleep. Good thing the poles didn't fit the tent or else Zack and Danielle would have drowned for a second time.
We made it through the night without any other issues, and continued our journey down toward Yellowstone early in the morning. Even though the day was spent mostly pulling off the main road for shorter boardwalk-type hikes, I was thoroughly impressed by the spectacular colors and smells of the geysers and quickly was dubbed "Geyser Gal" by Danielle as I urged Nick to pull over at every potential spring or geyser. Perhaps the most impressive was the short descent down to Inspiration Point to see the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I hadn't done much research before walking out to the Brink of the Lower Falls, so I was entirely slack-jawed at the sight that lay before me.
We made it back to Bozeman where a charming Airbnb awaited us. We were all gathered on the couch before heading out to dinner when Zack gave a big sigh and said,
"Who would have thought we'd all be sitting here in Montana after all this time?"
I smiled and thought back to the days in 10th grade Spanish. No, I never did think I would have ended up befriending Danielle, nor rooming with her in college, crying on her shoulder when I didn't get the part I wanted in a performance, arguing with her over the electricity bill, or hearing her maid of honor speech at my wedding. In 10th grade, my life revolved around that boy, and I wasn't aware that there was much else to care about outside of his smile. But seeing Danielle's face 11 years later gaze up at the same mountains that I love so dearly is much, much better.