Beautiful, mysterious, brilliant and dreamy. The name itself is different. It starts off eclectic and strange and ends romantic and soft. Geographically, Montana is a place far away from our moderate suburb of Philadelphia. The best way to describe Montana Rose was that she was easy to fall in love with. I fell so fiercely in love with her as a friend very quickly. I’ve watched countless others fall easily for her over the years, too. She made girls feel good about themselves and was inviting to talk to, creating instant friendships. Boys were overcome by her mysterious eyes and the way she could make them laugh, leaving them hoping she liked them back. She never took herself more seriously than she was taking everyone else in the room. Sometimes, just as the map shows how far the state of Montana is, I think the woman who grew into this name always felt far away, too. Montana the place is somewhere I have never been but Montana the person is right here with me.
Montana and I met in sixth grade as we entered middle school. We were both placed in the Enrichment program for gifted students. There was something about her that intrigued me immediately. She was cool but in a different way than other girls. Middle school was such a scary world where girls were starting to develop, lip gloss was suddenly important and boys were almost becoming awkward to be friends with. Cliques were forming and identifying yourself was necessary but almost impossible. I had no idea who I was. I knew that I wore a medium shirt when most girls wore an extra small. I noticed that the reaction to being in the gifted program wasn’t always a positive one. I knew that it was popular to like pop music and have blonde highlights. Yet, Montana’s darker appeal was more attractive to me than those things. She wore eyeliner and big, black parachute pants. She had band t-shirts and did whatever she wanted with her hair. She was unapologetically herself. And she wanted to be my friend.
We quickly bonded over the fact that we were born on the same February morning in 1992. We must be sisters separated at birth, we said. Our theory was backed up by the fact that each of us had the same foot that was half a size larger than the other. It was fate! We liked all the same music, we had many of the same problems and we both were very intelligent but not in the way our academic program wanted us to be. We were creative and strong but pulled B averages in our classes, at best. From day one we were a bit out-casted by our gifted instructors but we didn’t care. We took pride in the semesters where we studied things that were a little more creative and we moaned together when the subject was math or science related. I had found someone who truly understood me. More importantly, we had both found a friend who was willing to grow with us. We were willing to accept each others flaws, forgive each others mistakes and understand that sometimes things are hard. Montana forgave me for things she wouldn’t have thought twice about if it were someone else and I forgave her for things I wouldn’t let anyone else get away with. There was trust and love and a very specific safeness that our friendship harbored. That safeness carried on for the next 14 years of our relationship.
I probably could write a novel if I were to focus just on the inside jokes and fun times we had together. I don’t think there is enough paper in the world for me to sit down and recall every single thing. But what I really want to stress is how much Montana shaped my life overall. I want everyone to realize and be thankful for the people who were a big part of your life when you were navigating your young teen years. Middle school and early high school, though somewhat insignificant now, has so much to do with who you become. Some of the things that you do are really ugly and all you can do now is sit back and be thankful you learned from them and some things are really great and you can continue to strive to do those types of things in your life. Montana was my rock through navigating boys, clothes, parties, responsibilities, fun and all the bad stuff in between. The minutes we spent on the phone dissecting notes written to her in class from her crush could span an entire city block. The conversations at the park talking about body image and eating struggles are still fresh in my mind. I can smell the strawberry flavored cigarette we split on our 13th birthday as it sat lit for ten minutes before either one of us was brave enough to take a drag and blow it out of her bedroom window. We coughed and had tears in our eyes as we climbed out onto the roof to put it out in the snow, hoping to hide any evidence of our wrongdoing. It was all pretty innocent but it was us growing, together.
We took a trip to my aunt and uncles house in Virginia Beach when we were in 8th grade. It was summer and my parents were letting us walk the boardwalk by ourselves. We were still in between being kids and being teenagers… torn between giggling and riding the rides or wearing skirts and hanging at the surf shop. We were so young and carefree. Montana asked to borrow one of my cute tops to wear – a teal blue tank top. I was really struggling with my body image at this point and although she did nothing wrong, I started to cry. Obviously being concerned, she probed me for what could possibly be wrong. I told her that there was no way it would fit her because she was way skinnier than me and that I felt embarrassed. I will never forget her telling me that she didn’t care if it was baggy, she just liked my style. She told me she thinks I am beautiful. I had been told before by family or boys that I was pretty but I don’t think I had ever been told that with such gusto. She said she felt lucky to have a friend everyone stared at. Granted, I’m sure she was trying to make me feel better but she was so sincere in her compliment. And it wasn’t delivered the way other friends would say it. Others would say “you wish you had my body, well I wish I had your face!” as if it was an equal trade. Montana convinced me, yeah, we have different bodies but we are both just fine the way we are. She just liked my shirt… she wasn’t worried about how it would fit her. She reminded me of what we always say, whats mine is yours. She insisted she wear “our” tank top that night. She wore it and looked great, even with a little extra material hanging. Even though we dressed up, we decided fun was more important. We rode all the rides and won stuffed animals deciding we were still kids for one more night. We fell asleep next to each other on an air mattress, laughing at the photos we had taken on “our” digital camera. Photos that I never knew would be so important to me years later. Photos of us growing together.
As we got older, a big part of our relationship was our first real romantic relationships. Montana could have had anyone she wanted. She was charming and pretty and loving. She had a special relationship with her first love. They were friends above all else, sharing a huge interest in music together. I was dating people on and off but nothing serious so I was learning things from her about boyfriends. And through that, I was learning to be a supportive friend to someone who had a boyfriend. It was a whole new world of jealousy, fights and tears but we worked through it together. Mistakes were made and they didn’t last but she loved him nonetheless. My turn came and I fell in love. We were 15 now and our boyfriends were so opposite each other. Really, Montana and I had grown to be quite different from each other yet still our souls were the same. Her and my boyfriend clashed, never quite liking each other or understanding my relationship with the other. But when the tears came, Montana was there every time. Every time I called, she answered. Every time my heart broke, she fixed it. And every time him and I worked it out, she supported it. He gets credit here, too. Every time Montana needed an escape, he picked her up at my instruction. If I needed to go there so her and I could talk – even if it was in the middle of us hanging out, he took me. Although he replaced her on trips to the mountains and her boyfriend replaced me at Friday night pizza, we were still growing, together.
Sixteen rolled around and we started rolling around, literally. We got our drivers license and to us, driving around listening to music and talking over a cup of coffee was everything. I actually have a really hard time getting into my little blue Mazda and turning up the radio now because I’m so overwhelmed with her presence in the front seat. It was “our” car. We drove too fast, drank too much coffee and tried to navigate this hard age. We were normal teenagers who were experimenting and struggling. If you take anything from this post, take into consideration the small things your friends struggle with. Listen closely to their fears, pay attention to the things they do. Be understanding and be overprotective. Sometimes experimenting is more than experimenting and sometimes small struggles aren’t really small. When you’re sixteen, the last people we tend to let into our lives are parents. Our biggest concern is our friends and social life. Just remember that later when life gets really real and you wake up to a text message that your best friend is going to leave this earth, those things won’t matter. Parents being mad or friends thinking other friends are overreacting won’t be the case. The truth will be that you will have to bury someone you love at the tender age of 25 and your 14 years of friendship will end. Your opportunity to continue to grow together will be over. You will be left writing down your thoughts when you’re overwhelmed with the loss of them and crying yourself to sleep knowing you won’t ever laugh with them again. The butterfly tattoo on your side that you picked off the wall on a whim on your 18th birthday is now the one you cherish most because it was put on your body while your best friend held your hand. You will sit up at night wondering what could have been different, what you could have done or how things got this way.
Through countless memories and hardships, Montana and I stayed strong through graduation. With her guidance, I got through the breakup I thought was the end of the world and actually started dating again. Montana and I became friendly with an acquaintance in our math class and with the help of a few other friends, they set him and I up. Now 8 years into our relationship, coming up on 3 years of marriage and our sons 2nd birthday, we owe it to Montana. She convinced me what I was worth and that Brandon would treat me how I deserve to be treated, even if I couldn’t see it. I am thankful to her for all of that.
We left school and Montana started to get lost. I went away to college and we kept in touch on video chats and the phone but out of sight out of mind happens. We didn’t know the ins and outs of each other’s lives anymore. I didn’t check on her as much as I should have. I didn’t worry that she wasn’t checking on me. If you love someone, don’t let them go and hope they’ll come back. Just love them and keep them close. Eventually, I moved back and settled down in my new house with my new husband and baby on the way. She finally confided in me that things weren’t going well for her. She was moving back home and we planned to get together and chat. She didn’t show up a few times and then didn’t show up to my sons first birthday and yet I brushed it off, desperately not wanting to argue, just wanting our relationship back. The safe space in our relationship never left though. We finally met up in November and she spelled out all of her struggles for me. We cried together, hugged, apologized for distance and declared our love and need for each other. She brought me into the depths of her sadness and I held her trying to transfer the worth I saw in her into her mind before it was too late. She didn’t know she was beautiful, mysterious, brilliant and dreamy. She was clouded. She was sick. The safe space between us that was once occupied by talking about fights with our boyfriends, admitting the mistake of drinking too much at a party or telling something embarrassing we could only talk to each other about was gone. Our new safe space became a scary place where my best friend was teetering between this world and another and it was almost completely out of her control. Our exchange of messages coming up in my memory section on Facebook from years ago filled with movie quotes, missing each other after one day apart and humor only we would understand shifted to the last messages we ever had, which were a very different story. One of the last messages I ever sent my best friend, my soul sister, my birthday twin was,
“I just always want you safe and more importantly I always want you ALIVE! You’re still so important to me.”
I could have shouted it to the sky, to her face, to everyone I passed on the street that I want her to live and it wouldn’t matter. Sometimes, love isn’t enough. If love was enough, Montana would have lived forever. She was loved inside and out by all who knew her. She was adored by her siblings, she made her parents proud. Her friends were happy to have her. She touched lives everywhere she turned. I have no idea what my life would have been like without her and I feel lucky not only to have known her but to have been loved by her and to have had the chance to love her.
I was grateful to have had the opportunity for us to grow together.
Our last memory was made less than two months after our 25th birthday. The safe space between us was still there. Although she couldn’t reciprocate; I cried, hugged, apologized for the distance and declared my love and need for her. I now saw the depths of her sadness and I held her trying to transfer the worth I saw in her into her mind but it was too late. My mind scrambled and I had everything to say but hardly anything came out. It was almost too hard to even breathe. I was so fiercely in love with Montana that knowing this was the last time I would ever see her was gut-wrenching. I know she felt my presence. I know she heard my words. I hope she felt my love. I left the hospital and headed to her house. I took care of a few things and then visited her bedroom. A room that had heard so many of my secrets. A room we had filled with laughter so many times. A room we grew in, together.
I now have to continue to grow, without her.
Montana Rose was beautiful, mysterious, brilliant and dreamy. She was my best friend. She was a daughter, a sister and an aunt. She was loved hard and she loved hard. She was lost but now she is found. She is peace. She is resting. She is free.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please do not hesitate. Jump into action. Do not enable them. Do not stay quiet. Love is not enough. Take action. Find a way to free them so they can enjoy life the way it is meant to be enjoyed. Help them find peace here on earth. They are lost but they can be found. Let Montana’s story be heard and let her life be laid down for someone else’s to be saved.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, we have resources that can help. Please don’t wait to reach out, we are here with love, compassion and understanding. Katie@amothersaddictionjourney.com
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