Mario Villalobos

10 Years

  • Journal

Ten years ago today I moved to Montana, and the only thing I have been able to think about is how soon I can leave it. Ten years is a long time to live in a place, but I’m ready to move on. All I’ve been dreaming about for the past few years, and most strongly the past few months, is leaving this state and embarking on another adventure somewhere else. But I feel stuck, like if Montana is a giant sinkhole that traps everyone that sets foot in it. When I first boarded that plane ten years ago, I didn’t imagine I would have lived in Montana for an entire decade. It’s ten years later and I still can’t believe I’ve lived here for that long. Montana is a beautiful state. I’ve met some incredible people here, and I’ve made some wonderful memories, but I can’t call Montana home. Those words simply can’t form in my mind no matter how hard I try. I wish they could—they would make my life so much easier. Instead, I’m writing this with so much anxiety in my chest because I don’t know what comes next.

Why can’t I call Montana home? I think it began when COVID-19 shut the world down two years ago. Back when Trump and his supporters infected everyone’s psyche with their idiocy and illogical thinking. Back when a virus that didn’t care about ideology killed everyone it could, from the rich and the poor, to the old and the young. But if I’m being honest with myself, I think it began before that.

It began the moment I landed in Missoula. It began the moment I grabbed my two bags and loaded them into my sister’s car. This trip was supposed to be temporary. A year, two at most. That’s what I told people; that’s what I told myself. But then I started to make friends. I started to go on dates. I started to get some weird attention. I moved into my first (and so far only) apartment without any roommates or family to live with. I became a firefighter. A licensed EMT. An IT Director. I made more friends. Made more memories. Started taking photography seriously. Started to learn the guitar. Became vegan. I paid off my debts, and before I knew it, an entire decade had passed. I went to bed yesterday in my mid-20s; I woke up this morning in my mid-30s. I woke up to a greying beard and an aching back. Where did all that time go!?

It went into building up these experiences, into preparing myself for whatever comes next. By paying off my debt, I fulfilled one of the original goals for coming to Montana, and with that goal accomplished, what does Montana mean to me now? More than anything, a lost opportunity, I think. I’m not where I thought I’d be personally or professionally. I wish I was married. I wish I had kids. I wish I had written at least one good story, something I know I’m capable of but haven’t quite achieved. It’s so easy to focus on the things I don’t have instead of the things I do. What about my health? My good friends? All my experiences from living in Montana for a decade? The friends I made and lost, all the fires I fought, the knowledge I’ve accumulated? Did I ever think I’d be a firefighter or a licensed EMT? Did I ever think I would actually learn German? So why do I want to leave Montana?

Because, even after all that, Montana still doesn’t feel like home. It still feels like I’m passing through. Like I’m a tourist. Like I’m at a crossroads. Returning to California feels like I’m regressing, like I’m going back to my past when all I want to do is move forward. So, to the east? To Chicago? Or New York? Or Boston? What I miss most about California is the diversity. What I didn’t realize until I moved out of California is how rare it is for people here in Montana to be fluent in more than one language and how much I would miss listening to Spanish every day. I’ve thought about going to Europe just to be around all types of cultures and languages, and I’m still dreaming about one day going there. So, Europe? Spain? France? Germany? I don’t know.

At work, I have this map pinned to the bulletin board inside the main office. I randomly tacked five pins to the map and created a route of places to visit for a road trip I wish to take soon. My wanderlust is real and it hurts. But if there’s one thing I know I’ve gained from living in Montana these past ten years, it is courage. And for that, I am truly grateful. Montana may not be my home for much longer, but I did grow into the man I am today by living here, and for that, I am forever grateful. What will the next ten years bring? I don’t know, but I’m hopeful it begins with a road trip and ends with one last great adventure.

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