My unexpected refuge

This is the view from what might be my truest home, one to which I’ve been returning — lovingly welcomed in good times and bad, whether I was lonely-and-single, freshly-divorced or happily-remarried — for more than 20 years.

It’s in Toronto, the home of a friend I met when I was just starting out in journalism, a woman 11 years my senior, a witty, fun, worldly publicist.

Through our work, and with her, I had some of my best adventures, both personal and professional, like one of my first-ever visits to New York where I (yes) performed eight shows of The Sleeping Beauty with the National Ballet of Canada (as an extra.) She took me to see “Sweeney Todd” on Broadway and loaned me money when mine was stolen.

As I spent my 20s in Toronto, forever single but professionally doing well, she saw me through some mighty tempestuous affairs, one with a local legend, an eccentric/talented guy we still talk about and recall with some fondness. My own parents never met or even heard of some of  my ex-es, even the Big Deals, but she remembers them all.

Like me, she’s had plenty of dishy beaux and never had kids. Living alone suits her.

What she so generously offers, to me and many others, is a place of refuge.

I once stayed with her for three weeks as I recovered from being victimized by a con artist in New York in 1998, an experience that left me so terrified and traumatized I seriously considered — for the first time since leaving Canada in 1988 — returning to Toronto for good. I needed time and a safe place to heal far, far away from the fear and, even worse, my local police and DA who dismissed his six felonies, and my experience, with a laugh.

In all my subsequent visits over the years, M and I rarely hang out or have long heart-to-hearts. She’s always super-busy, but gives me a key and we bump into one another in the kitchen for a few minutes or chat as she’s getting ready to go out to another meeting or event. But the full-to-bursting fridge is mine to raid, the teetering stacks of newspapers and magazines everywhere there for the pillaging.

Most important of all, though, her home is a place I feel safe and loved. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my 50th, inviting 10 of my oldest friends. Here, she helped me throw a birthday party for my husband’s 50th as well, only a few months later.

She is, it has taken me a long time to fully understand, true family.

I left my father’s house for good when I was 19. He sold it weeks later and went to Europe to live on a boat for a few years. My mother was traveling the world alone. My home, then, was a tiny studio apartment. I had no aunts or uncles or cousins nearby, no siblings and no family support.

My parents never told me it was OK to come home again, not after my divorce, not after losing a few jobs and trying to weather the recession. My troubled mother lived a six-hour flight away and my father had a new family with little tolerance for me hanging around.

M’s house — I finally, gratefully realized after all these years as I sat alone one morning this week with a cup of tea in the darkened kitchen — really is home, if home is the place you are always greeted with love and kindness.

I finally told her that this week, even though both of us are uncomfortable expressing so much emotion. (We WASPs just don’t do feelings!) 

Do you have an unexpected refuge?

Or have you offered one?

12 thoughts on “My unexpected refuge

  1. Having been the beneficiary of an unexpected refugee for much of my childhood, I strive to provide one to people in need. So far, I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, but the willingness is there.

  2. What a beautiful post. We should all be so lucky to have a place that always makes us feel like we’re ‘coming home’. I hope when my 5-year-old is grown up, she’ll still feel that way about wherever I may be living then!

  3. …I have a friend whose house I go to everytime I need to “be alone” for whatever reason. Funny thing is – he always seems to know when “I don’t want to talk about it”.
    Cheers to all the shoulder we get to lean on…

  4. Cait, this is a beautiful post – such warmth and appreciation and ongoing longing.

    My refuge no longer exists: it’s a mountain cottage my family used to rent and I spent most of my holidays growing up there. It was the most peaceful, amazing place, and much of what I do with the current house I live in I do to replicate (always dangerous!) that which I experienced in the mountain house. After two decades I returned to the mountain house last year and it’s been replaced with a stark architectural creation. Back home, I found the photos of the original cottage and have stuck them up in my writing room. In those photos is my refuge. I’ll never forget that place.

    1. Thanks, Nigel! I’m so sorry your cottage is gone. That’s horrible. My husband cannot return to his childhood home (a rectory) as it was removed to become (!) The Georgia O’Keefe Museum…I am so lucky to have these touchstones still.

      I totally get the desire to re-create it. On this trip to my Dad’s, I am really seeing how much he and I share tastes in design.

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