Emporia, Kansas

Checking the visitor’s guide, if I stick around Emporia, I can catch the Flint Hills League basketball tournament or Bob Ross paint night at the public library but I won’t. This is a rest stop. It’s midnight at the edge of Kansas in a city of 25,000 smack in the middle of all major metros. Budget Host Inn sits in still fluorescents off the turnpike, a squat yellow structure hovering like a spaceship between black earth and sky. My car smells like Hardee’s chicken tenders and I roll toward the motel reluctantly, fearing it’s fugitive-infested.

A slender silver-toothed mom and her preteen daughter check me in. Es seguro este lugar? I ask. The preteen snorts, Yes, it's safe. While I’m handing over my ID, a fat baby squawks and waddles out. The mother, swift and birdlike, swoops her up and rests her on her hip just so, bouncing her up and down. It’s a sight unbearably tender.

My room is fine, heat works and the shower’s piping hot and gushing. It sends me back three years to when my friend Grace and I scrounged up four quarters to share a shower at the Salton Sea. Two girls browned by sunlight scrubbing off sweat and dirt in the desert. I envy that version of me, of us. Before we got older, we gave no shits and had no foresight. As the current thumps against my back, I start to loosen, relishing this crude refuge of mine 630 miles from home.