No matter where I am currently living, every 6 months or so I am required to travel back to Colorado for a haircut. Finding someone that you trust with your tresses is delicate, vulnerable work. For that reason I am unflinchingly loyal to my stylist, even though it means a $200 haircut quickly spirals into a much more expensive undertaking including hotels and logistics and green juice from the press around the corner.
I had left Wisconsin early and driven 13+ hours, fueled by carefully curated snacks in an insulated lunchbox and a handpicked rotation of podcasts. I’ve made this drive many times before, and typically I take a decent chunk out of Nebraska then settle in to a decent chain hotel for the night, wear I drape my sleeping bag over the probably-fine duvet and tuck in to Netflix until hitting the road again at sunrise.
This time, I had flown through the great Nebraskan expanse and was feeling pretty damn good about my progress. I had plenty of sunlight, beef jerky and podcasts left, so I blew past the last stop for decent lodging with Odyssean hubris and hurtled headlong into the horizon.
I had no sooner passed the Welcome to Colorful Colorado sign when my car was engulfed in a roiling spring storm that obscured the lane lines with blowing snow and choked my windshield wipers with frozen fog.
Shit. My knuckles blanched on the steering wheel.
Long past the homogenous but familiar comfort of La Quinta, I pulled in to the Platte Valley Budget Host, where for $70 I received one-night-only access to a perfectly fine bed, buzzing mini fridge and my own personal flyswatter hung as the sole adornment on the cinderblock walls. I’ve stayed in much murder-ier places, and can confidently recommend this place in a pinch. Added bonus: the motel butts up against the Colorado Welcome Center, so each room enjoys a view of steel buffalo and tee-pee silhouettes which is un-ironically pretty cool.
In the morning the storm had subsided to a misty but navigable day and I knocked off the remaining 3 hours to Boulder and checked in to my favorite hotel of all time – the Boulderado – for a few nights of antique luxury in the heart of a town that is crawling with ghosts of my past lives.
Days later I relocated into my long-term accommodations: an AirBnb in a neighborhood tucked behind the first foothill, which gave it a woodsy, mountain vibe despite being <5 minutes from town. As I settled in to the sunny space, I began to feel a familiar gnawing at my gut. A sense that something wasn’t quite right. Homesickness.
Something about the mountain air or the smell of pine needles had triggered my brain into a regression. In a manic clamor for familiarity, I asked what the hell am I doing? Why am I in this random house when I could just hop on the freeway, pass the stinky Purina plant, wave to City Park as it passes on the left, pull in to the garage of my apartment complex and unlock my door where Koda will be so happy to see me that his wagging tail will knock over the candles on the coffee table?
This wasn’t just homesickness for a place, but for a time that no longer existed. I’d left the apartment – my beautiful beige prison – in a fit of anger when Denver rents skyrocketed. Koda had never recovered from a surgical procedure to remove a carcinoma from his throat, and I’d lost him on Christmas Eve over a year ago.
This gnawing was a longing for a ghost. To shift it, I said a small prayer of gratitude for my history and for the opportunity to step in and out of these physical and emotional spaces at will. To distract, I unwrapped the cord of the salt lamp I had packed to help me feel at home in an unfamiliar place, and as I plugged it in I rooted into the experience of the present. Sunlight streamed through the windows and magpies chattered a welcome from the pines. I was home, for now.