I was in a trance between asleep and awake. It was another world there, a magical land where all of my fears and desires seemed to participate in a flash mob of sorts, dancing through my mind. I saw faceless beings. Blackholes where facial features should be. The world was limitless in the best and worst ways. It was filled with possibility. That possibility clashed with events that broke me open over and over again. Sometimes in my dreams, I would fall endlessly. Other times, I’d fly. I was in a purgatory of sorts. A mirror into the unspoken reflection of my psyche.
As I left my lucid dream there was a moment of confusion. Then a millisecond of panic. Where am I? I asked myself. Like waking up in someone else’s bed after a night of heavy drinking. I surveyed my surroundings and reached for Nollie, my 13lb Yorkie-Mix, to see if he was nearby. He was. Then I remembered. I am on the road. This is the motel I checked into last night.
I’d start to feel the spring-filled mattress under my body. The smell of must and old cigarettes. The A/C wall unit kicked back on making a noise that sounded like someone was typing a scathing email to their co-worker, which most certainly included the line, “per my last email.” My eyes landed on the worn furniture with its scrapes, dents, and discoloration. Each piece harbored its own war-torn story. I wondered how many people fucked on the desk to my right. I shuddered and immediately removed that thought from my mind.
I’d spent more nights in cheap motel than any one person should boast about. Sometimes I wondered if I should find a new side hustle that paid me to stay in those 2-star rest stops. When I thought about what that would entail, forking over $100 myself seemed like the better option.
The guaranteed dirt and stains in those rooms didn’t seem to phase me anymore. I’d grown accustomed to the honorary dead bug in the bathroom, the questionable ability of the shower to produce hot water, and the triple-checking of the locks on my door before going to sleep. Oh, and of course, my least favorite game, “Am I itchy because the air is dry or because I had a ménage à trois with bed bugs last night?”
When Nollie was with me I felt better. He was my loyal guard dog, a small but mighty. I knew he’d fuck anyone up that walked into the room, or at minimum give us a head start from an intruder’s pending attack. Nollie’s disdain towards motel rooms seemed to be even stronger than mine. After hours of driving or hiking, all he could muster his body to do was jump on the bed and fall asleep, avoiding the dirt and dust bunnies on the carpet. Sometimes I’d have to force him to eat and drink, hand-feeding him meat and snacks. Treats he was never given at home.
Saying “at home” made me laugh. Like I was referencing some other place that existed. Home for me was no longer a place, it was more a moment in time. For most of my life, I had a home, a place where my things lived, a space that was just mine. Somewhere that I’d come back to, over and over again.
In 2021, home had become a cheap motel room, a bed that hundreds of other travelers had slept in. Home was the dead bug, which I had eventually named Frank, and refused to pick up because he felt more like a roommate than a shitty cleaning job. On other days home was my car, Miss Frizzle, a sunshine-orange Subaru. She was consistent and safe, carrying my things from place to place. I’d spend hours sitting and sleeping inside her warmth and shelter.
But where I felt most at home was on a trail, on top of a mountain, or next to a river or lake. All those places had become home to me. Where I was at any given moment had become home. Home is where I wander. I thought to myself as if reading a cheesy home decor item at TJMaxx.
I grabbed my phone to see what the outside world was up to. No service. That was a bit annoying because I had service when I arrived the night before. I wasn’t quite sure how cell service ebbs and flows so easily based on the time of the day. I looked up the wifi. Password protected. I searched around the room for the password. Not on the dilapidated dresser. Hm. Not on the back of the room key. Not on the door that warned me what to do if there was a fire. I grabbed the room phone holding it 6-inches away from my face as I dialed the front desk.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
The familiar busy tone from my childhood. See? Feeling more and more like home, Jenell.
But fuck. I still need wifi. Focus.
I knew I could walk to the front office. I hated doing that. Not because I was lazy or I hated walking. No, being outside my room in a cheap motel was a liability. It exposed me and blew my cover. While I would go unnoticed in an upscale bar in LA (trust me, someone asked me if I worked at the gas station a few days prior), at a roadside motel, I was an 11. Despite my intentionally oversized, frumpy clothing and my hair hidden in a beanie, people still noticed. A young, solo, female traveler. Leaving my room to parade myself to the office and back. Well, it had its risks.
My friends would ask me if I was afraid when I hiked alone in the woods. The answer was, yes, sometimes I was. But that’s not where I was most concerned. The real danger to me was back in civilization. On the road, to stay hidden in plain sight was to stay safe. I’d spent most of my life hiding who I was. It was well within my comfort zone. But the reason I was at that shitty motel was because I wanted to be seen, understood, and to experience the intimacy that came with people knowing me, the real me.
So I would continue showering in lukewarm water looking at the hairs near the drain, many shades darker than mine, to be able to build that intimacy with myself. To know and connect to my own soul. To learn what I was capable of. I may have been hiding in that motel room, but I wasn’t hiding from myself anymore.