Have you experienced life-changing hospitality? Hospitality that accepted you into a space that became home because someone said “Make yourself at home!” and proceeded to do all the work to make that possible? A toothbrush is one of those things that every traveler knows to bring with them if they may end up staying somewhere other than home. If you can go somewhere and not worry about whether or not you brought a toothbrush, you’re probably at home or plan to be home later that day. Maybe that's why the toothbrush is such a big deal in relationships... if you feel comfortable leaving your toothbrush at your SO's place, you know things are getting serious.
There's a whole drama that led me to the point when a toothbrush did me in, but that's a different story which I will briefly reference. Enter stage left: me, without transportation, trying to pick up as many shifts as I could at my job one town east of where I live. Some of these shifts meant that I had to work past the last bus route. Usually it wasn't a big deal. My guy usually had my back. I'd either stay with him or he would give me a ride to the closest Metrolink station. Or he wouldn't and I'd be stuck in town with my pride and my backpack, making terrible decisions. And then we'd break up and my support in this town would dissolve. (Something to note, if your support system is one person, fix that) It would be 7 pm on a Tuesday, and I'd be working up the nerve to ask the store manager if she could give me a ride. She had a few times before, but that was an hour of driving for her. I didn’t feel right asking her for that every week. It seemed like too much.
That evening, as we were closing the store together, she ended up asking me if I needed a ride before I was okay enough to ask her. I answered hesitantly... “yeah... if you are able, I would appreciate it…” She answered quickly, "It's no problem, honey! I don't mind driving you home!" After a few minutes of thought, she added, "What would you say to sleeping over at my house? I have a couch you can sleep on. I am sure I can get some pajamies for you to wear. I open tomorrow, so there won't be any problems getting you to work on time. We can work out the rest. What do you think?" I immediately began to break down this idea in my head. I ran through what it would cost for me to spend the night. Food, space, a little extra weight in her car… but I wouldn’t be eating up an hour of her life that she usually spent at home prepping for the next day. Sure, it might be an inconvenience, but in this case I could at least try to pay her back by doing the dishes or laundry or both. It didn't take long for me to answer, "Yeah, I think that would work."
"Alriiight!" she responded enthusiastically, "You'll get to meet my brother-in-law Roy. He's a trip. The house is a wreck. I’m sorry about that, but shit happens, right? We’ll get some food going and pour a couple cocktails when we get there. I am ready to kick back after today."
"Sounds good! I'm used to a mess. It doesn't bother me. I'm just thankful you're giving me a place to stay!"
"Oh sweetie, It's okay. I’m happy to have you." And it was okay... I don’t remember what else we talked about on our way to her house. I was a little apprehensive entering her space. We got out there, and I was struck with the beauty of her old farm house. It was like all the old houses I had visited when I was younger. Duke, their chocolate lab mix, met us at the door. He was excited to see us. The mess was a familiar mess. Random odds and ends piled onto the kitchen table, laundry in baskets in the hallway. We settled in and she poured us a cocktail- rum and diet cherry coke. We sat for a while and relaxed, talking about everything: the store, our families, town gossip. Some of it went over my head, but it was good to share that time just listening. I don't remember what we had for supper that night. Chances are, it was something leftover or thrown together at the last minute.
The entire time, I still felt a little off... It was homey enough, but it was someone else's home. I felt like an odd piece of furniture that you kinda want, but you're not sure where it's supposed to fit into the scheme of your home. I've felt like that a lot of places, so it wasn't an unfamiliar feeling. As we were getting ready for bed, Sue pulled out a pillow and some blankets and some old pajamas. They were falling off of me, but I made them work. She called out from the bathroom, "Hey, I've got you a toothbrush in here. I've put it in a baggie so that you can leave it here with our toothbrushes. There's a towel right here in the bathroom and a washcloth in the basket here. You can use my shampoo and bodywash when you take a shower in the morning. Let me know if you need anything."
She planned to keep doing this. She gave me a toothbrush to keep with theirs. We hadn’t discussed me coming over in the future yet. This was a convenient thing for tonight, but she had already started thinking about next week… any week in the future. That night, I brushed my teeth in her bathroom... I don't always brush my teeth. It's something I always hated doing as a kid, and I don't enjoy it much as an adult. With as chaotic as my life had been, I hadn't gotten the chance to brush my teeth regularly. But here I was... Any time I was here, I would be able to do this basic routine that had ceased to be basic for me. As I laid down that night, I felt strange. It was incredibly peaceful out here. I'm not a country girl by any means, but something about this contrast to my life captured my attention. Duke wandered over, sniffed my face, and plopped himself in front of the couch by my head. I had just been adopted, and things were going to be okay.
I woke up early and refreshed. Well, as refreshed as I could after having several cocktails and staying up close to midnight. I am a lightweight for real. The living room was chilly. The door had been propped open all night since we had been experiencing warmer weather. After a while, I got up and showered. I ate breakfast and brushed my teeth. I had wondered about a lot of things the previous night before nodding off to sleep. This family didn’t know much about me. About my relationship with people in town. But they decided to take me into their home and give me a place to rest. I hadn’t experienced this kind of generosity in a long time. I ended up washing dishes that night, not because it was expected of me but because I had to do them for my own sense of self.
When we got to the store that morning, we took a look at the schedule. I was working every Tuesday evening for a while. "How about you plan on staying at my house when you work late. Does that sound good?" I agreed. I mean, heck, I already had a toothbrush there.
*brought to you by toothbrush induced reflection aka I stayed at my Mascoutah Parents’ house last night.