Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Brandon and the Roaches' Den

“Dad, watch out for the cigarette burns!” Sawyer exclaimed with a giggle.

I looked down at my feet at the underside of a yellowish-white bed comforter that was spread out on the floor of the nastiest motel I have ever voluntarily stayed. It was 3:30 in the morning. We had been driving through the night. It was raining. And we were stuck sleeping in the only hotel in the state of Virginia that had a room. I looked at the burns in the comforter and tried to laugh it off.

“Oh well,” I said in defeat.

The rain was coming down steadily outside, as I shook my head in an exhausted frustration. I dropped my wet backpack onto the grimy green carpet. The room smelled of must and mold; as if there hadn’t been a guest in years. I walked into the bathroom to brush my teeth and try to put behind me the eventful night on the road. As I splashed warm water on my face, I reminded myself that it was only one night, and that I should be thankful for a place to lay my head. That was when I heard the scream.

“Brandon… there is a bug crawling up the wall!” my wife yelled from the bed.

I took in a deep breath, dried my face, and went into the room to address the issue. There, just above an old wooden-framed picture (that looked as if was stolen from my Grandma’s house) was a sizable cockroach. He quickly darted behind the picture.

“I think I startled him,” I said, trying to make light of the situation, “He’s probably lived here alone in this room for thirty years.”

No one else found my joke very funny.

“Just kill whatever it is. I do not want to see it or think about it,” Patience ordered.

I replied, “It’s just a little…” 

“Do not tell me what it is. Just kill it, and let’s not talk about it.”

I laughed to myself as I squished the bug against the wall with my wet shoe. Flushing the remains down the toilet, I too tried to not think of all the things that were lurking in the shadows of this seedy motel. My skin crawled as I reentered the room and found my place on the floor next to my two boys. I forgot to mention that the room had only one king size bed, and there were 6 of us. You do the math. Somebody’s sleeping on the floor. Those somebodies would be us boys. Patience, my daughter JulieAnna, and our dear friend Nichole claimed the bed. So to the stained and cigarette burnt comforter I went, trying my best to remind myself to sleep with my mouth closed.

As we cut the lights out, everybody just laughed together at the situation. But after the chuckles ended my mind raced with thoughts of roaches and Dateline Specials where the host examines hotel rooms with a black light. I was spiraling fast, and my body was itching just at the thought of it all. At least the quarter of an inch carpet on the concrete made for a comfortable place to find rest. 

The longer I laid there on the floor, the angrier I became. I was mad at the travel website that double-booked our other room, and left us with no options. I was mad at myself for deciding on a whim to leave a night early from vacation, drive halfway home, and just "find a hotel on the way." I was mad that a motel so nasty could even be in business. (Seriously, if you were going by the star rating for hotels this one was a black hole.) I was even mad at the citizens of Virginia. Never in a million years would I have thought that from Baltimore to Bristol there would not be an available hotel room. Come to find out, some big college football games, a Comic-Con Convention, and the peak of tourist season for fall festivals left us completely out of luck. I was so mad at it all I couldn’t sleep. 

I forced my eyes closed, and tried to calm myself down. In my head I prayed that God would let us all somehow sleep through and survive the night and that none of us would contract any major diseases from our stay in such a dump. I prayed that the Lord would send angels on our behalf to fight off the throngs of cockroaches and bed bugs that waited to destroy us. It was almost like the Old Testament story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Except that we weren’t necessarily thrown into our motel room by force, and cockroaches are not hardly as deadly as lions, and technically our lives were never in any real danger. Actually, it was really nothing like that story; beside the fact that both Daniel and I lived to see the light of the next morning. To be honest, I just liked the sound of Brandon and the Roaches’ Den. 

Have you ever noticed how no one ever says, “Remember that vacation that went perfectly?” 

No, they usually tell you about that time they got locked out of their hotel room or that one trip where mom lost her top in the ocean. It seems that the stories we gravitate to the most are usually the ones born from frustration and failure. The most nightmarish vacation you ever had somehow becomes one of the funniest tales you love to share. Just let that coworker mention the word "Florida" and you will jump into the conversation chomping at the bit to tell the --now hilarious-- account of the time you were sun burnt and food poisoned in Panama City. It's amazing how some of our so-called bad luck manages to produce the most memorable stories that get told every Thanksgiving when your uncle is in town.

Thinking back on stories from my own family, most of them involve mishaps, mistakes, or downright unfortunate events. Some of my favorites include: The story of my Dad and his brothers jumping off their roof with an umbrella while playing Mary Poppins. Or what my Mom refers to as “The Camping Trip from You-Know-Where” when our tire blew out on the way, it rained so hard we ended up sleeping in the back of a station wagon, and I almost drowned in the rapids of the river. There’s also the time our middle son Sawyer somehow projectile pooped out of his diaper and all over a Wal-Mart floor. And then, one of my favorites was when my Uncle found a long hair in his McDonald’s hamburger… after he had already half way eaten it. All of these things at the time were not pleasant in the least. My Dad ended up in major trouble. I nearly drowned. We had to akwardly explain to a Wal-Mart employee that there was feces all over aisle 8. And my Uncle, well, let’s just say he had a physical reaction to the infamous hair he halfway consumed. Yet, every time I hear anyone tell these stories it is always accompanied by smiles and laughter. Time seems to make even hairs in your hamburger more funny than disturbing. (Though it still disturbs my uncle!)

We spent a week camping in beautiful Maryland in the fall. We visited Washington DC, New York City, Baltimore, and Annapolis. But do you want to guess the first story I told every person after getting home? Yep, it was the story of how the state of Virginia had no hotels and I slept in the floor of a roach-infested ran-down motel. And every time I told it, the reaction was the same… laughter. And usually the person I was telling would then tell me about a time they had a similar experience.

The reason I bring this all up is because a lot of us find ourselves in regrettable situations. I am not talking about truly tragic occasions, but all the little things that seem to go wrong. I guess what I am learning is that the most memorable adventures are the ones you never plan for; the adventures where everything falls apart and nothing seems to work out like you hoped for. It’s hard to see it while you’re in it, but if you could fast forward a year, you might actually be laughing about the very situation you are in right now. I know it stinks, and you’d prefer for things to go your way, but learn to embrace your circumstances, no matter how aggravating they might be, and try to make the most of them. 

If you’re having a bad day. If you locked yourself out your car in the rain and were late to work. If you butt dialed a friend and they heard you passionately singing your heart out to Justin Bieber on the radio. No matter how embarrassing, frustrating, or stupid the situation may be, you can take comfort in knowing that somehow time turns most of these moments into comedy. 

There’s no need to lie on the floor of the hotel so angry you cannot sleep. 

Accept it. Deal with it. Go ahead and laugh about it. 

Because you know you are probably going to be laughing about it when you tell your coworkers what happened the next day at work. Or when you call up your best friend to give them all the details. Or when you make your uncle laugh so hard he shoots sweet tea out of his nose this year at Thanksgiving.

Isn't that the beautiful thing about life? That even some of our worst moments can, in time, be redeemed.

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