By Wendy Hodge
I live in a hotel, I have a packed suitcase marked “Costa Rica or Bust” under my bed, and I just colored my hair a magnificent shade of midnight blue. The timer is set for thirty minutes before I need to rinse and wash – so let me catch you up.
I’m an Opelika girl, born and raised. With the exception of four years in Maryland (which I refer to as “the exile years”), Opelika has been where I live. I’ve owned houses and rented apartments here. And for a brief time, I moved back in my childhood home to help take care of my parents, and because life has a way of turning you around and pointing you back home where you started.
These days, I’m a hotel dweller. Not everybody gets my housing choice. I ran into an old co-worker the other day, and our conversation was not the first of its kind.
“Hey, Wendy! How’s it goin?”
“Hey! Things are good. How are you?”
“I’m getting’ by. Whereabouts are you living these days?”
“I live in a hotel.”
“Over by Tiger Town,” I add.
More silence and some rapid eye blinking. I feel the need to further explain:
“I’m not sure how much longer I plan to be in Opelika, so a hotel seemed…. simple.”
Head tilt, more blinking.
As if I haven’t explained enough, I feel compelled to add: “I’m not homeless or a hobo.”
Finally a response:
“You mean you’re like a tourist passin’ through, except you just….. stay?”
Yes. Exactly. I’m a tourist. In my hometown.
The more I think about his observation, the more I realize my friend was right. What is a tourist anyway? Someone who visits a place, unpacks a bag in a hotel, walks around seeing the local sights, taking lots of pictures, documenting the details of daily life on social media, marveling at the “everyday” which is somehow more charming because you’re a guest – just passing through. By that definition, I am the quintessential tourist. I’ve just been on a very long “visit.”
Don’t get me wrong, Opelika is my hometown. Always will be. But I know now that it’s not really my home. Home is an intricately woven tapestry, made up of all the memories of my days, the laughter shared with friends, the smiles from my children, the songs on the radio that have been the soundtrack of my life, the ever-present train whistle and the love – the boundless, earth-moving, life-changing love that has been showered on me. I wear my home like a sweater – it keeps me warm, it protects me, it is as indestructible as I am.
For an Opelika girl, I’ve been fortunate to travel great distances – as far north as Vermont, as far as south as the Caribbean, and across the pond to Europe on more than one occasion. I’ve stayed in a resort on a private beach, and I’ve spent a night in a hotel in Paris that had a red light above the entrance – literally. I’ve ridden in a limo and I’ve hiked across a mountain. I’ve travelled with a large group of strangers, an even larger group of family members and I’ve travelled alone.
Here’s something you should know: I felt at home in all those places. Because I was. Home goes with me – my invisible sweater.
And so my next big move will be to a place by the water – a place to write and learn and live. Costa Rica feels like the right place, and eventually it will be the right time.
I asked my friend, Scott, the other day if he thought a woman my age who lives in a hotel, wants to move to Costa Rica and dyes her hair blue is having a mid-life crisis. His answer? “Of course you’re not having a midlife crisis, Wendy. You’re just awake.” Scott never disappoints.
Five more minutes before the timer goes – just long enough to share a hometown moment from yesterday. It was lunch time, and I met a friend at the monkey park. He is NOT an Opelika native, so I filled him in on the reason we call it the monkey park, the story of the Rocky Brook Rocket, the history of the creek that borders the playground and the reason there are no longer any monkeys in the park (seems like I read something about that!). He listened and smiled, said all the right things. But…I could tell my words fell flat. They didn’t paint a picture anywhere near the vivid reality of the past. That’s a shame – I so wanted him to SEE what I saw.
I needed him to hear the kids’ laughter and smell the popcorn and the monkey poo. I wanted him to feel the sun on my childhood skin. But, like I said, home is an invisible thing. Only the one who wears the sweater can ever see home clearly.
Time is up. Ready to reveal a new color. Eager to move forward. Excited about the changes to come. I just hope midnight blue goes well with this invisible sweater of mine.
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.