Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Leaving the Light On

As I pull into the long driveway that winds between a stand of spruce trees and the Bungalow, I see Abby T. Lab's head through the sheer curtains, up on the couch, looking down on the driveway as the main floor sits several feet atop the windows of the walkout basement. The windows in this house are old, 50 years?  A hundred?  It's hard to tell.  They're not the best for holding in heat but they do keep out the sound.

I ran a quick calculation and I've spent 13 solid years sleeping in a hotel room (or tent, vehicle or the back of a transport plane).  The last few years, I was able to be home a lot more, as I did less field work and more "manage the technology and people that do the field work". Now I'm I guess what you would call "The Director" if my life was NCIS.  I'm OK with that.  I'm to the point now, that as much as intellectually I miss full-time fieldwork, I'd rather sleep in my own bed at night, even if for two years, before I could get a promotion to take me closer to my husband, I had two homes, in completely different time zones and a three hundred mile drive to and from work on Monday and Friday's.
We've all had our stories of Motel Hell and some that were just fun.  My favorite was a 5-star hotel in the Nation's Capital some 16 years ago where I got $17 macaroni and cheese from the children's menu that was the best I'd ever had, then got to go in the bathroom and talk on the phone and watch TV, while in the bathroom.  No, I'm not cranked by technology, but I was like a little kid playing grown up, calling my Dad "Dad I'm calling you from a phone by the toilet!"  which totally made him laugh.

Then, there was the time I locked myself out of my hotel room in my underwear while grabbing the newspaper.  I had no phone.  I stole a towel off an abandoned housekeeping cart, draped it over my head (they can stare at my butt all day long, but no one will recognize me) and sauntered down to the front desk  "extra key for Dr. J. please".  The clerk is still probably traumatized.
Then there's jet lag. The jet lag is more than a myth, it's a sledgehammer of weariness that hits you as soon as the aircraft door opens up, no matter what time it is. You're lucky if you get a long layover, where you have a day to wander ancient streets in the quiet dawn, strolling among the mazes of alleyways and churchyards and cemeteries of a small village, breathing in air laden with woodsmoke that smells of history. You're lucky if you have time to finally fall asleep in the long hot afternoons, a white sheet wrapped around you like a shroud, pretending to sleep as if it's your own bed and there's more on the wall than a dusty picture of people dead hundreds of years.

There is night after night of sameness. The bed looks like any bed in any hotel.  Dinner is Ramen Noodles cooked in the coffee pot, not because there is no room service or restaurant but because you've had all the interaction with the world you can stand for the day, and you just want something hot to eat all alone.  The mini bar beckons, but you don't go there either, not for the tiny little mortgage you pay with each clink of the little bottle that will only briefly relax your sapless limbs.  The room is quiet, but in your head are the words of hundreds that cannot be stilled, the voices that called you here, to this city, this week, where what little sleep you get will only be when the sodden match that is your brain, has nothing left with which it can spark.

There are the mornings you wake, not knowing what time it is, or what country you are in, and for a moment you pause in your hotel room, breathing heavy with fear as you orient yourself to your surroundings. You look outside, not really knowing what you will see, having arrived in total darkness. A lovely village full of sight and sound, and cobbled steps, or the war-ravaged industrial town, a visage of smoke and ash, gaunt staring rubble rising out from sand, dirt, and weeds with an air of profound desolation that needs no further words. On such mornings I don't need caffiene, just the terror of waking in total darkness in an unfamiliar place will jolt me into my day.
It's a life of constant motion and travel, phone calls, and emails home or abroad from loved ones living the same kind of life,  including one in which you are told "I can't do this anymore", as you sit helpless and shaking 2000 miles away. You don't argue, your only response as the proverbial dial tone growls in your ear is the flinging of a shoe that strikes the wall with a single, shattering blow. The remaining nights you simply sit, as if listening to something very far away or so close as to be contained within you. The phone lays silent, but you do not. You call someone you trust, who also lives on the road, to let it out, and then go on living. Certain types of lives demand sacrifices, but you can no more change that than you can change what is essential to you. You continue with your duty, for it, and order is the only constant that you know.

It's simply part of who we are, traveling where our skills are needed, not because your friends and family mean any less, but because responsibility carries with its own honor. It's a life of many hotels, and meals probably best eaten in low light. It's memories, transparent and weightless, that scatter around you like leaves, blown without destination by winds that forever change.
But tonight, the sounds of my own house are all around, the wind in the eaves, the soft thump of freshly washed towels dancing in the dryer downstairs, the tap of a branch against the porch railing. From the basement early this morning comes the season's first rumble of heat, the house sighs, as do I. From the futon a grey-muzzled rescue dog snores in the contentment which is finding a loving home after years of only being a puppy factory, sent to a high kill shelter when she got sick.  I look at her, her paws gently twitching as she chases silent rabbits on invisible grass, giving out a soft "woof" in her sleep and can't help but smile.

There is comfort in those sounds.  It's like listening to a monk chanting in a language which you do not need to even understand to know. So many sounds, the creaks, the murmurs, whispers of earth and sky and people, quiet tears in a hotel room, laughter and the clink of glasses, sounds evocative of life and death and struggle, things we've been aware of all our lives but never really understood until now. Sounds and words like faded letters on a road sign, not pointing us to where we need to be, but letting us know we were on the right path.
There is no room service, there is no big TV - there are journals and books and more books, tools left about mid function as a mind takes yet another bend in solving the puzzle of the day.  There is dog hair and dust and an ancient refrigerator that operates on sheer will  And there is a stained glass window, as old as I, that replaced what was once a mundane view of a yard,  a window alive with colors that glow when all color everywhere has failed the sky.

For no matter how dark things have been, there will always be that light that awaits you, biting into shadow. It is home, a small dwelling guarded by a sleeping dog and the one that never abandoned me, no many how many nights we were apart.  As for that person I trusted who also lived on the road whom I called on that fateful night so long ago, he is now my husband of five years. He waits for me inside with the light on. There is nowhere I'd rather be.


  1. AMEN!!!! Nothing quite like home sweet home. Could this be part of a book to come?

    Woos - Lightning, Misty, and Timber

  2. I touched on this subject already in either the Barkley book or Saving Grace, but book #5 will be on the adventure of flight and travel (not specially a memoir as to what flying jobs I had - just the joy and beauty (and challenges) of flight and travel.

  3. wonderful!!! I hope for all that there is a light of home... like Belinda Carlisle said it in her song...

  4. Momma says she loves to travel and stay in hotels, but she loves coming home to me more!

  5. "There is no place like home." Blessed are those who can say that with conviction. Through both sadness and joy, your life has been unusual and interesting (both understatements) and one worth living.


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