By the time you read this I will be gone from the place that has been my haven for the last twenty-one months. The whimsical screen prints of the walrus and the pelican will no longer hang on the deep cornflower blue walls of my living room, where I used to sit at night and let the day wash away from me. My beloved cookbooks will no longer rest on the flimsy little shelf with the peeling yellow paint that I purchased for a few dollars at a flea market. The birds will still harmonize outside of the windows of my tiny bedroom, but they will now be singing to new ears that will hopefully appreciate the early morning refrains and nightly lullabies as much as I did. The long table in my dining room will be disassembled and stored – the friends and food that it supported remaining treasured memories of the best kind of evenings.
Nearly two years ago, I came to this tiny apartment in Chagrin Falls a ghost. My engagement had been called off a month prior, just after my thirtieth birthday at the end of October, ending a nearly four-year relationship. I moved out of our shared apartment and back in with my parents.
I don’t remember much from that November. The election happened – yes THAT one, which only felt like a bigger punch in the gut. Thanksgiving had me cooking and crying all day long. Most nights I crawled into bed in my parent’s guest room early – sometimes sinking into a dreamless sleep, others staying awake and connecting dots on a mindless game on my phone. I didn’t want to think. For a few weeks, I just existed.
My father finally suggested that I look for apartments – something I hadn’t planned on doing right away. Hell, I had just stopped planning in general. However, something in me stirred – just a bit, but enough – at his suggestion and I began to look at apartments nearby. This little place right off downtown Chagrin Falls stood out – perfect location, great price (and just the right shade of dark blue). I immediately went to see it and the rest just fell into place – it was rustic and charming and a little worn in all of the best ways. It made me smile for the first time in a while, which is when I knew it was right. I was home. I moved in shortly after.
That winter I cocooned myself into that apartment, creating a safe space to rest and recover. Gone were the bright colors with which I had previously been drawn to – instead I gravitated toward everything neutral and natural. I covered the space in shades of grey and dark blue. My life had changed and now I was allowing myself to change with it. I took my time in each room – adding new pieces of myself to that apartment as the seasons passed. Sometimes it was a new print with a favorite quote to be hung on the wall, other times a new cookbook that wouldn’t fit on the overburdened shelf in the kitchen and had to be delegated a little space elsewhere. Each piece made it a little more a home, even though that feeling was never missing from the moment I moved into that empty apartment to the moment I walked out the door the final time, taking all of my belongings with me.
It wasn’t just the apartment – the town was healing to me as well. Every time I drove down Bell Street and past the little white sign for Chagrin Falls Village I would breathe a sigh of relief – and honestly, I still do today. I felt protected by this little town. It had become my sanctuary.
Christmas in my new home was much better and although I chose to spend New Year’s alone, I was somehow no longer lonely. By the time January rolled around I was beginning to feel a bit more alive. I joined a local yoga studio and learned how pleasing it was to let the poses work out what my heart could not yet release. Tears would flow freely in shavasana – slowly letting go of the pain, like poison being drawn from a wound. Eventually the tears stopped, but the release remained.
I got into the habit of baking late at night in my apartment – probably more of a testament to procrastination than anything else, but I have to say that there was something magical about turning on the oven late at night, mixing together a few disparate ingredients and bringing something fragrant and warm to life while the stars were awake, but the town was sleeping.
I cannot forget the most important piece of this place – the people. My parents and brother and sister-in-law helped me move in and then out again and in between visited me, bribing family to my home. One cold January evening in 2017 was spent to with my two closest friends, getting way too drunk and eating Scandinavian food (I went through a serious (and ongoing) hygge phase during the healing process). On Sunday evenings once or twice a month I would have dinners with some of my favorite people and we would laugh and eat and just enjoy each other before the hustle and bustle of the work week. It was the original Long Table.
My neighbors were wonderful as well. Always helpful and kind. It was a true community and one I wouldn’t hesitate to return to again.
There is a thing about sanctuaries though – they are a place of rest and healing, but they are not a place that you stay. Once you’ve rested and you’ve healed something unexpected happens – you begin to get restless.
After I returned home from spending a few weeks last summer studying in Italy, I could feel a slight change in the air. Yes, I was glad to be home to both the people and the place that I loved. However, I was also better – much better. The longing was gone. I had healed. When I came back from another week in Italy visiting graduate schools in October, I knew that my days in this haven were coming to an end.
So instead of fighting it, I listened. I made the most out of my sanctuary while I had it and put into place my plans for the future under its protective roof. I would sit on my couch, laptop in hand and work on graduate school applications, both knowing that the move back to school was the right one and realizing that it would also lead me away from the people and place that I loved. Then on a day in July full of beautiful signs, I got into the program I wanted to attend in Italy. It was bittersweet in the best way.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to this place. It brought me back to life. It also told me when I was ready to go. I owe it more than I can ever pay it back. I owe an even bigger debt of gratitude to the people who helped me heal there – my family, my friends, a handsome man or two, my neighbors – even the dogs around town that let me pet them whenever I needed a smile.
I know I’ll be back eventually, though I’m not sure if it will be to visit or to stay. Until then, more thanks than I could ever give and arrivederci, which in Italian means ‘see you soon’.
To enjoy one of my favorite Chagrin Falls (and Italian) coffee drinks, please see my recipe here: Caffè Shakerato.