On Friday, Riley sent me to a hotel in Salt Lake City. Just me, a laptop to write and an enormous credit for room service. When I pulled up to The Hotel Monaco, I was nervous. As I valeted my car full of crumbs and car seats, I felt certain that the man that gave me my ticket and pulled away onto the street knew I didn’t belong there. I pushed the hair behind my ears and kept my back straight as I waited to check in. I know it’s silly, I know it doesn’t make sense, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the fresh faced boy behind the counter had taken one look at me and told me that it just wouldn’t work out. Really, ma’am, what had you been thinking? I have the valet waiting outside with your car. Please, just go home.
But instead he took my credit card, asked if I had any questions and then told me to have a lovely evening.
It is an odd thing for a mother, this going to a hotel room all alone business. Even when I am home without the kids, the walls are full of their breath, their laughter and their toys. They are still there. But that room, with its deep red carpet and velvet chairs, was a world that no other part of my life had ever touched. And, just for a night, I got to fill it with what I wanted.
Photo courtesy of hotel monaco
And what I wanted was to write and to eat.
The eating came first. I ordered in a house ground burger with aged white cheddar and caramelized onions. Herbed fries and ketchup in a fancy bottle. The Diet Coke came with limes and there was a card on the tray that said, “Crave the Journey”. On a different day, in a different place, I would have mocked the sentiment. Crave the journey? What the hell does that mean in the context of a platter of hamburger? But that night I just nodded my head at the card with tears in my eyes. Crave the journey, ah! Hamburger platter, you just get it. YOU JUST GET IT. I spent the next half hour sitting in the middle of the bed, eating that freshly ground cow and perfectly grilled onion one slow bite at a time.
And then I got to work. I wrote on the desk, on the bed, in the bath and curled up on the blue velvet chair. I talked to the girls before bed, kissed at Riley over the phone and then wrote some more. And when it was time to sleep, I missed the man that belonged beside me and the children that were dreaming without me. But I knew I would see them soon and that this room was a world almost gone, so I wrote some more.
As I got dressed that morning, it occurred to me that the nervousness of the day before was gone. I felt that I belonged. Not in that room with its white lamps and ten dollar organic toothpaste. No, it was something deeper than that. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I belonged in the places I hope to go. Riley had told me to stay away the next day as long as I could, so I took his suggestion and ran with it.
I spent the morning at Eva’s Boulangerie, a bakery that would make even the most skeptical Parisian lean back and sigh, “Ah, Oui.” I ordered five dollar’s worth of French Onion soup. After the bowl was mopped clean and I had written for an hour, I asked the waitress if I should leave. I didn’t want to waste the table space. She smiled and refilled my water,
“We’ve got room. Stay. You should try something sweet.”
So I stayed and I tried something sweet and wrote some more. I was in that white tile and baked bread sanctuary for three hours before I emerged into a day with new light.
The rest of my time away was spent in the Salt Lake City Library, a place with crisp book covers and frayed chairs. It was a fitting change. The hotel and Eva’s had been dreamlike, places where I could indulge that place where fantasy meets reality. The library was filled with people who had sought refuge from the heat of the day because they had nowhere else to go. Men and women in clothes that needed to be washed with babies that needed to be fed. The plate glass windows looked out onto a park where people slept under a sky full of a gathering storm. It was a place full of both need and enlightenment. There was just as much to be learned from the people congregated in its corners as the books that filled its shelves. I sat in the middle of it and wrote and hoped to capture the words the place would have me find.
The storm rolls in over the mountains and the library
As I went about my work and glanced at the lives moving around me, I found myself determined to be deserving of the things I had come to take and generous with things I learn to give.
Life is more work than glory. I can’t escape to fresh linen and room service every time I want to accomplish something. I can’t dive into blue doored café’s every time I feel adrift, every time I feel unsure. I know that. But Riley gave me something more than a night away when he surprised me with that hotel room. He gave me a moment to catch my breath, a space to find myself and remember what I want and who I am. And through it all I was reminded once again of how damn blessed I am and how bloody much I need to do for those around me.
When I drove up to the house, the girls were waiting for me. They screamed and giggled around me while Riley pulled me in and kissed my forehead. And that girl, the one that wrote in velvet chairs and dreamed in cafés and city streets, was glad to be home.