Looking up when you're way down
After two full days of driving, I arrived in Glendive in the early morning hours of July 2nd. One of the first things I noticed as I drove down Merrill looking for my apartment was the holy cross beaming from the hills of Makoshika Park.
I have never been a religious person and I’ve had this existential dilemma for years, but this cross caught my eye and gave me an eerie feeling deep in my bones.
Not even a month after I moved here from sunny South Carolina, my life would be changed forever. On August 17, I lost my best friend, Branch Ellis Beattie, to a drug overdose after years of xanax addiction.
Before I left South Carolina, shortly after my graduation, he was leaving for a outpatient rehab program in California and he wanted to see me one final time before I left for Montana.
I remember feeling so conflicted and I asked my father for advice as I usually do in these situations. My father said it would be better to see Branch after he came back from rehab and it wouldn’t help anyone if I were there to see him off.
About a week or two after arriving in Montana, I got a call from Branch, sounding full of life, saying he was back in South Carolina and had found himself a job in a coffeehouse in Summerville where we grew up.
A day or two later, he called again, saying the coffeehouse had let him go because he didn’t seem to have it together. I told him to keep his head and stay positive.
Maybe a day later, I got a message from him that I thought was going to be one of concern, but he had only sent a picture of a crewneck sweatshirt he had painted.
He told me how proud he was of me and that he had gone to my parent’s house to grab his old backpack of art supplies from them and my parents had given him a copy of the Ranger Review.
Several days later, I woke up early for work and turned over in my bed to check my phone. I had one message from a guy in Charleston I used to hang with, he told me I needed to call my friend Christian Kane immediately. This was the call I never wanted and wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Branch died in his sleep after a night out in Charleston. He passed out in some gross party house and everyone around him was asleep when he passed after what sounded like a seizure.
I didn’t know what to do with myself, I couldn’t go home, I had just started this career path and becoming the responsible person I never thought I could be. Just making here to Montana by myself and staking my claim in the newspaper business is further than I ever imagined I would make it in life.
I cried and cried and drank copious amounts of alcohol. I would walk my dog up and down through town during those dark, summer nights uncontrollably sobbing. I felt lost and hopeless. I even took a knee in front of the Catholic Church one night and let out a prayer. A prayer to who or what, I don’t know. I just needed some outlet or some faith in something.
My fixation with the cross on the hill grew more than my original thoughts of it. I continuously asked people in the office and around town. How long has that cross been there? Has it been there since you were a kid? Who put it there? The questions flowed, but with no real answers. People would say it’s been there since they can remember and they never gave it a second thought. It bewildered me. Somewhere like Glendive, Montana, in a largely conservative, religious area, why would this holy monolith never cross anyone’s minds?
Was my fascination with the cross a precursor or some sign for the things I would face? Did I have this natural attraction to this cross because some big guy in the sky was calling to me? I don’t know. It seemed to have faded in every Glendivian’s mind over the years.
Around the time of Branch’s death, I spoke to my landlord, who is a religious woman, and she said, “Kyle, that’s the thing about faith, if you have faith, you will see your friend again.”
Throughout the years, such statements or thoughts would make me cringe. “Heaven just needed another angel” and phrases like that plastering my Facebook timeline because someone I knew from high school died of a drug overdose or a car accident.
However, this time, and hearing this from a woman that didn’t know me on a personal level and had no obligation to console me, it helped. I did in fact feel something. I still can’t explain it, but my mind once again wandered to the cross.
No matter where or who I’m with, I look up at that cross every night and just think. I don’t know if I will ever be able to pinpoint why this mysterious cross on the hill speaks to me so, but I think it sparked some thinking within me that would of never happened without it.
This one goes out to the ones like myself, just searching, and finding inner peace with the world we live in. I want to thank everyone I’ve met in Glendive and how much the support means.
Maybe you’ll catch me walking the dog one night and we can gaze upon that big Montana sky and the cross on the hill. I am always open to talk about the meaning of life.
Reach Kyle Vuille at