driving seven hours from North Dakota, Aug. 2, 2015:
She doesn’t know me, but the night before my arrival, she writes “Welcome, Crystal” on the chalkboard by the stairs.
These words capture the theme of the next 18 hours I spend in her residence.
The house is ornate. Well-decorated. Elegant. Too well-kept for extended comfort, but homey enough for my liking. I knew the minute I stepped in that I would never remember specific details — except the dining room overlooked the garden, the kitchen was tucked in a corner, the delicious creations that it provided space to make hidden from view, and all the furniture was as beautiful as an old, cozy bed-and-breakfast in the Midwest countryside could be.
The garden is well-kept. Even the bugs that buzz around my head as I gaze upon it seem friendly; I had no mosquito bites while I was there. A mint plant provides the flavor for the tea she brews me immediately. The crisp flavor distracts me a bit as she tells me about her life. She wasn’t always as sharp-tongued and brisk. When she was in school she was “funny,” — “people say I’m not as funny anymore,” she tells me.
At age almost-70, Ms. Hudson grew up in an era where traveling cross-country wasn’t condoned. The freedom to be wander the world was not something she could’ve afforded in the ’60’s. She retired from the fast-paced East Coast upwards of 10 years ago to run this bed and breakfast in quiet Plattsmouth, Nebraska, which is a 20-minute drive from Omaha and takes you on a dark and twisty route down the highway.
I arrive at 10 p.m., after taking a nice spin around Old Town in Omaha with her. She had me meet her in Omaha earlier that evening, as a storm rolled in. “Baseball-sized hail” would have damaged my car if I’d driven the extra miles to her place. Instead, we share some cool cucumber soup and octopus in one of the fanciest restaurants in Old Town. A horse-drawn carriage gives us a quick look at the historic area of Omaha, and I get a picture of the World-Herald — “your future dream internship?” she asks me — as the sun sets on the perfect ending to a tiresome day of driving.
We lounge in the living room for a bit after I settle down for the evening. My bed is made, the shower is waiting — but I don’t want to say good night yet.
I don’t know if I’m fond of her yet, for she seems to have far more street-smarts and worldliness than I like to admit that I lack. But nonetheless I feel mothered. I feel taken care of. I have missed the feeling.
The TV we turn on has some generic detective show on. She complains for a second about Iowa Public Television broadcasting stuff of questionable quality. She asks me if I want to watch TV. I say not really. We turn the volume down.
She asks me if I want to go to bed. I say no.
Then she asks me what I’m doing out here on my own, at age barely-20.
I’ve always opened up easily. But this time, I don’t even know where to start. There are so many things I want to tell this stranger.
I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes, I say softly.
I want to tell her that I’m going back to school from my internship for 10 weeks in one of the most remote locations in the country. I want to tell her that internship had made me feel more appreciated, loved and valued than I ever had felt in my life. But I’m sad that the people in Grand Forks may understand me more than most people who’ve known me for years.
I want to tell her about the moments of pain I experienced last year that I’ll have to face when I go back. I want to tell her about how I dread leading another structured life, going back to how I was before I explored the northern Midwest the way I did this summer. I want to tell her about how much I wished I could have showed my intuitive best friend about the people from small towns that I met. I want to tell her how I think about the boy I met last year who seemed to understand my ideas more than most people. I want to tell her about the fears I have about messing up next year’s opportunity to have a perfect summer.
But I bite my tongue. For the first time, I’m self conscious around someone who probably will never give my life a second thought if I tell all.
Because I’ve changed.
But all I have to tell her is how I like traveling now because it lets me become a patchwork quilt of experiences. How every person in this world may know a different Crystal Duan. That feeling is lonely but freeing.
And then the rest flows out.
“Give yourself more credit,” she says.
Sure, I’m young. Sure, I don’t know anything, I think. But do I really not?
“You know you may be more found right now, than some people will ever be.”
And then we talked of more, and more, and more… into the night.
I leave the next day with breakfast in my belly. Her pancakes were delicious. I wish I could have made this kind of food, I say as I wolf down the fruit elaborately arranged on my plate. She tells me I’ll learn it all in time.
I drive away with an apple crisp, homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and directions on which highway to get on to avoid more storms, and how much to pay the toll bridge.
Ms. Hudson gets a part of my quilt.