Phantom Stops

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By Wendy Hodge

If you’ve read anything I’ve written thus far, you are aware that I am not good with directions, monkeys, or change in general. Thankfully, monkeys don’t cross my path very often. But lately, in Opelika, directions and change go hand in hand. The road work seems endless, and for a hometown girl who’s driven these streets for decades without ever paying attention to street names and other such details, it has been a difficult transition.
I don’t know the name of the street where this story begins, but I know exactly where it is and how to get there. It takes you from Tiger Town to downtown Opelika and runs in front of the cemetery where I go to talk to my sister. It has morphed over the last few months from a winding country road to a city street with a roundabout and several lanes.
Just beyond the cemetery the road branches in several directions. I stopped there yesterday morning.
Pulled right up to the four-way stop. Except now there is no four-way stop. In fact, there is no stop at all.
People were kind as I sat there absorbing this new change in a long series of changes. An older man waved as he passed by in his pick-up truck, like we tend to do here in the South. It was a full-handed wave…. a greeting as if I was sitting on my front porch.
I’d like to say that I didn’t repeat my mistake this morning. But you know I did. Out of reflex born from literally thousands of stops at that very spot, my foot automatically came to rest on the brake. Again, traffic passed me by. No one honked or looked at me like I was crazy. Maybe by now my car is known for stops at phantom traffic signs?
And as I drove away from the corner, I had to wonder how many times I’ve stopped when there was no reason to…. Not just in my car, but on this crazy, winding, ever-changing life we all travel.
I like to think I’ve mastered the art of living to the fullest, that I move forward without fear. When there’s a roadside produce stand, I will stop and eat the biggest piece of watermelon, just to feel the juice run down my chin. When there’s a spectacular view of a tattered old barn, I will drive that extra twenty miles to stand in a field under a cloud-filled sky and get the perfect picture. When there’s a sunset about to happen, I will listen to the tree frogs and cricket chorus and wait to take in every last drop of sunlight. When either of my children calls me, no matter the hour, I will be there… no questions asked. When there’s a chance to spend time with my best friend, I will bend my schedule and rearrange the galaxy if need be to have some hours together.
Not much stops me from the things I love. But life isn’t all sunsets and watermelon. There are regrets and fears and choices. And, no, I have not mastered the art of pushing forward when things are tough.
On the seat of my car is a letter from an old friend… an actual letter, written by hand on lovely stationery… we haven’t spoken in ages, and she wants to reconnect. There were some words spoken that we both regret, and feelings were hurt. Over the last few years, I have picked up my phone and started to message her, but something stopped me. On my desk is a flyer from Auburn University. “It’s never too late to come back,” it shouts at me.
Since the day life intervened and I left college, I have dreamed of going back.
More than once, I have picked up a course catalog and marked off the classes I would like to take. But I have never registered.
Something stopped me.
Sitting next to me is a man who is easy to be with, funny, sexy, and completely adorable. He laughs often, and his smile is one of my favorite things to see.
He is the kind of man you can hand your heart to and know it is safe. He is my best friend. He cares for me very much.
His life is more than full, but he makes time for me every day. He shows me his heart in so many small ways… and in big ways too. He is, if I have any luck at all, my future.
But I haven’t let myself believe any of that. Something has stopped me.
I think it’s time to remove those phantom stop signs.
Time to channel my inner Wonder Woman and move forward. So right now, this very minute, I will buy a slice of watermelon and watch the sunset over the water.
Because tomorrow, I have a letter to answer and a course catalog to look over and a heart to open up to all the possibilities of life with fewer stop signs.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.

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