I’d booked a room of my own for a week at a lodge on the outskirts of Cosby, Tennessee—a town too sleepy to care if you call it the middle of nowhere. Set just off a creek where horses grazed freely on miles of green meadow, the lodge I’d chosen had a wraparound deck, a library, and a proprietor named Janice. It was the natural inspiration one could want for starting a new creative endeavor. That’s what I had decided this week would be for: I was going to plant myself here and begin a new memoir.
Two years out from a brutal breakup, I was ready to birth something new in my life, and this trip was a part of that birthing. Following the bends in the road, I let my heart fill with anticipation.
A few miles further, I spotted a large gate on the right, with a latch I was to lift by hand, and the silhouette of the lodge. There were no horses in sight, but otherwise, everything was precisely as I had pictured it.
Pulling off the road and slipping my car into park, I let the engine idle while I took in the scene. Where were the other guests’ cars?
Then, barreling around the left of the lodge, three massive dogs, mutts of the boxer and Rottweiler varieties, descended upon my car. Not far behind them, a man with a bristled gray beard and oil-stained shirt threw up a hand in greeting.
I braced myself as I emerged from the car with a fresh question in my mind: Where was Janice?
“Well, hello there! You must be a guest. My name is Leroy.”
“Hi…” I attempted to warm the strain out of my voice and flashed a smile at Leroy. “I am a guest. I’ve been emailing back and forth with Janice; is she here?”
“Oh yeah, I mean, she’s not here right now, but she will be.”
My anxious mind drew a quick conclusion—Janice doesn’t exist.
“Well, c’mon let me show you around!”
Leroy turned towards the lodge, his left butt cheek peeping with discretion out through a modest hole that had torn its way through his Levis.
“So, how many other guests are staying with you this week?” I asked with an heroic attempt at cheeriness.
“It’s just you this week,” Leroy sent me a toothy grin as we reached the front door of the lodge. “Now, this here is the combination to enter the lodge,” he explained as he punched a set of numbers into the handlebar key code in front of us. “You have it, and I have it.”
Wonderful. I peered past the threshold and into the darkened lodge. It was then I decided that Leroy was going to murder me.
Walking ahead jovially, Leroy rushed to turn on a few lights and show off what was, yes, the lodge I had seen in photographs. However, it looked as if it had been folded up in a box, covered in mothballs, and stored in the attic for 25 years. Dust covered everything.
While Leroy busied himself with opening the blinds of the lodge, I confirmed two things in my mind: 1) I would not be staying here in the great big lodge with Leroy’s key code. 2) I needed to invent friends who were expecting me for dinner.
“Shall I fetch your bag to bring in?” Leroy asked, as he handed me the key to my personal suite.
As good a cue as any: “Oh, no! I’ll bring it in when I get back. I’m late to dinner with my friends in Cosby.”
“Oh, you’ve got friends here in Cosby?”
“So many friends. All expecting me,” I nodded vigorously.
“Well, alright,” Leroy said, “we’ll be here when you get back!”
“Thanks!” I hollered, moving with what I hoped looked like purpose, but not urgency, to my car. Unlatching the private gate and throwing my car in reverse, I committed to mail Leroy and “Janice” the key to my bedroom with my sincerest apologies that “an unforeseen emergency had come up.”
Once back on Route 321, I rolled down the windows and whooped for joy, tingling with energy.
My plan had been thrown out the window entirely. I had five days to myself and no destination.
Truthfully, it felt a bit exciting. Backtracking to I-40, I caught a sign to the east reading “Asheville: 60 miles.”
Later that night, after a bubble bath, I cracked a window in the sweet little condo in Asheville that was mine for the week. A peony-pink sky was shifting to purple, and the mountains were still visible in the distance. With a bird song I did not recognize piercing the air, I opened my laptop and began to write.
I knew the story I had to share. I was going to write about how badly I had wanted to be swept up in a truly great love story, how certain I was that I’d found that story, and then the deeper story of love I found waiting for me on the other side of a broken ever after. It was the detour I had never wanted, taking me to a different place and a more lovely self. Taking me here.
Katy (Johnson) Stafford dreams, writes, and occasionally podcasts in the messy middle of life. Newly married, Katy is spending her 30s embracing hope, longing, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called In Love, a memoir about loving your life beyond white picket fences. Katy shares more of her thoughts here, where she cultivates a community for writers and creatives.