And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I’m in La Crosse, Wisconsin, visiting with a book club that has read all of my books and invited me in for a visit with each new publication. I love them. And I love La Crosse, even though today, it is treating me to rain, keeping me in my hotel room instead of allowing me out to visit my favorite sites. Tomorrow, I leave La Crosse and drive to Green Bay, where I am participating in the UntitledTown book festival.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a long time. I looked forward to being away, but being in a familiar place, visiting a favorite labyrinth (if it’s still there – it was supposed to be torn down), going to a favorite park, dipping my toes in the Mississippi. And I was looking forward to my hotel stay, in a place I’ve been before, many times, that has a lovely pool and hot tub.

I haven’t been in a hot tub since September 2018, when the surgical area left behind by breast cancer became infected. Whenever I asked my surgeon since if I could go in a hot tub, she reacted in horror. Now, I could sink in up to my neck again and lose myself in heat.

Traditionally, this hotel has been quiet during weekdays and I’ve had the hot tub and pool to myself, especially if I go after ten o’clock. I walked down the hall last night at ten-thirty and then felt dismayed when I heard hooting and splashing and loud music. I peeked in the doorway and saw a mixed crowd of young people. They were dancing to the music, leaping into the pool, singing, shrieking, and there were lots and lots of cups and bottles and cans.

Oh, no.

But I waited so long to sink into a hot tub. I have a jetted tub at home, but it’s not the same, it’s not deep enough to be completely immersed. So I steeled myself, rolled my inner introvert into a towel, and walked in. I told myself I could huddle in a corner of the hot tub and they would never notice me.

I stepped past the two girls sitting on the steps of the hot tub, found my way to the corner, and sank down. And sure enough, they just kept going. Dancing, singing. Shouting over the music. I was tempted to not stop at my neck, but slip below the surface entirely, but I got the feeling the noise would continue there too. So I just tried to focus on the heat cushioning my body, easing aches and pains, and trying to melt the awful winter away (it’s supposed to snow on Saturday).

Then the group got into an argument over whether to listen to Backstreet Boys or NSync. Really? They all started to belt out their favorite songs, and it was worse, because now they were all singing different songs terribly instead of singing one song together terribly. And then one turned to me and asked, as if I could be the tie-breaker, “What do you want to hear?”

“Neither of those groups,” I replied. Which brought laughter.

“Who do you like?” they asked.

“Right now, Imagine Dragons,” I said. “Linkin Park. Coldplay.”

“Whoa!” they said.

Yeah. But my favorite group remains the Moody Blues. Who they likely never heard of.

But then they all circled me and began to sing along with whatever came up on their songlist. One of them told me they were all 23 – 25 year old physical therapy students from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, in La Crosse for a conference. She asked why I was there and when I told her, she said, “You’re a writer? Whoa! That’s amazing!”

Damn straight, young’un.

And then a Smash Mouth song came on and I began to sing with them.

Well, the years start comin’ and they don’t stop comin’

Fed to the rules and I hit the ground runnin’

Didn’t make sense not to live for fun

Your brain gets smart, but your head gets dumb…

I sang and rocked with a bunch of twenty-somethings. I promised to send my meatloaf recipe to one of them. And when I returned to my room, after calling out goodnights and wishing them a good time at their conference, where they have to turn into young professionals in professional attire and speak in soft, confident voices and know what they’re talking about, I was smiling. Not as relaxed as I would have been, in the hot tub all by myself, maybe, but happy.

Sometimes, things that start out as irritants turn into gifts. (Maybe this rain will too.)

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

La Crosse. 2019.

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