Words by Ellen Mqueen
When I lived in New York I used to have the feeling of memories building visibly, piling on top of each other at all of the street corners where I’d sobbed through that phone call, or met a friend for lunch, or stumbled home at three in the morning one hot August night after drinking gin and tonic and losing an iPhone 4 in the subway.
Concrete blocks of memories accumulating tall and measurable, heavy and significant, the pieces of the puzzle of “who I was” stacked clearly on the sidewalks before me like Lego bricks, travelling through time as I once again crossed the intersection of Lafayette and Prince or descended the subway stairs at Delancey or bought a Starbucks at 86th and 1st.
There was a comfort in being kept company during commutes by recollections. There was the definition, in these memories that laced this city and multiplied over five years’ time, of “who I was.”
Turning the key in the door at the apartment on Graham Avenue.
Buying orange juice at Agata & Valentina.
Countless times with countless people sitting in the Ramble on the first warm day in spring or the last day of Thanksgiving break or the morning before I took a flight to Mexico.
New York was a temporary home that is hard now, now that I no longer call it home, to visit, for these memories exist like ghosts on every corner and lurch me back to moments I try to forget or am desperate to remember. Home to me during those five years was the sensation of stepping into a freezing air-conditioned subway car from the unbearable humidity of a hundred degree July day, the frozen sweat of bare arms pushing into each other to claim space on the 6 train during rush hour. Home was the same small wooden bookshelf I’d had since childhood that was packed and unpacked into a moving van from Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side to Brooklyn. Home was complaining about a shut-down L train or the blizzard passing through or for one reason or another being forced to walk through Times Square.
I think when we are younger and do not have so many examples of home we cling to place very powerfully as a mechanism by which we can define ourselves. It is not until we’ve made the first significant move, the one after college, the one you make for someone else or for your career or for reasons no one else can seem to comprehend, that we understand the definition of home to be beyond a location filled to the brim with memory.
Home being the sensation of feeling oneself.
Home being the voice of someone you love.
Home being a quiet, still moment in any quiet, still park under a sun you suddenly recognise is the same sun everywhere, next to daffodils that used to grow in your mother’s garden.
As we grow and move for love or jobs or reasons that are hard to explain home becomes something that you can take with you. Small, packable things; the angel figurine Mother gave you when you moved for the summer to Germany, a fringing copy of The Great Gatsby, the cell phone that thankfully nowadays can hold however many GB you’re willing to pay for of photographs. Invisible, personal things; svasana after a really great yoga class, a passion for quality coffee, a phone plan that allows you to call whoever you need to call whenever you need to call them.
Home is not stagnant, it is not secluded to the place where you’ve collected the most memories or knew the most people or felt the most functional.
Home is the place you carry with you and build along the way.
Ellen is an American writer and yoga instructor currently living in Paris. In 2015 she graduated from New York University with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and since has had the opportunity to pursue her passion for traveling. She hopes to continue teaching yoga to the local and ex-pat community of Paris, and you can stay updated on her class schedule at mcqueenyoga.com or follow her on Instagram @mcqueenyoga.