I had a great, stable childhood until about eleven, when my parents split and all hell broke loose. Multiple moves, ducking county tax collectors, living in condemned houses, chasing off drunk suitors of my mother’s, and constantly being on the run from DYFS agents were the events that studded my life just prior to puberty. Add that to the fact that the vast majority of my sentimental belongings vanished in an uncanny trifecta of a robbery, major flood, and a storage unit catching on fire and you have one twitchy kid. In the ruckus, I mentally imbued the area around the house I grew up in with a mystical quality, a sort of transitory Avalonic Isle in the middle of the tiniest tip of southern New Jersey. It’s been ten years since I last set foot there, mostly because I’m terrified of the heartbreak that facing that change – and all the condo development that went with it – can bring. I have always sought out sanctuaries. It’s my first thought when travelling or setting down roots somewhere new; often I care less about the habitation itself and more that there must be a forest-like place nearby to abscond to if the walls feel a little too close.
About nine years ago, I met a guy on a personals site right around New Years. He ended up inviting me to his New Year’s party, I ended up going, and I ended up staying. His room was big, wide, and sparse, and so was the bed in it. A few metal band posters dotted the broad expanses of walls, and his bed had a lot of mismatched pillows. I was expecting he’d want to have sex, and I was alright with that, with protection in my purse at the ready. I was single and in between any real prospects, so a fling sounded like just the thing to kick off the new year with. We were absent, however, the lightning-charged franticness that usually accompanies pre-sex..instead there was a soft, comfortable feel of old friends that had been-there-done-that and had no real need to revisit. And so it was, with no real talking, we ended up stripping down to our underthings, crawling into bed together, and holding one another like he was getting deployed in the morning. Never before or since has a man held me through the night like that – an embrace born of absolutely nothing but wanting to give and receive comfort and companionship.
Perhaps unique but unremarkable as it’s own event, it actually became one that repeated throughout the months afterward, now and again. I’d call, he would pull up to my house in his beat-up Skylark and honk twice, and we’d go back to his place. We’d sometimes watch a Terminator movie with his friends before trudging upstairs with peaceful hearts, knowing we wouldn’t sleep without companionship tonight. His roommates elbowed and smirked when we were down in the living room, driven by social norms make the usual good-natured jokes, but we never bothered to correct them…we were literally sleeping together, and it was enough that we knew. It was a hard time in my life, a lonely time, and an unsure time…but I’d close my eyes and think about that wide bed in the wide, quiet room, and my nerves would settle.
I heard, years later, he was dating and infatuated with a girl named Summer, so told by his joking, jostling roommates. He was never mine, but I felt a little sadness, knowing settling into those mismatched pillows alongside him was no longer a possibility. Still, of all the things I felt when I’d heard he moved on after we drifted apart, the most powerful was gratitude. He gave me peace without expectation, love without lust, and most of all, he gave me sanctuary.