Home is Where the Throw Pillows Are

I woke up excited one morning this week. The sky was blue, the leaves were wilting into gold, and for the first time this year, the air had that crisp bite that signaled the beginning of my favorite season. 

I love fall. I love the changing leaves and cozy afternoons in coffee shops, the sweaters and the boots and the scarves, the pumpkin muffins and the cider, hot or hard. Fall for me is the season of possibilities, when things start fresh and every smokey breeze whispers of new adventures. The crunch of leaves beneath my boots sounds like something beginning. It sounds comfortable, like cozy evenings with friends staying up way past our bedtimes, a tangle of limbs jumbled under a blanket on a hand-me-down couch. My life thus far has largely hummed along to academic rhythms: fresh start in fall, crescendo to the triple-threat festivities of December (Chanukah! Christmas! Birthday!), long dreary winter, and impatient spring bursting into languid summer.

new-york, fall, central-park
October in Central Park

This year things are different. For the first time since graduating high school, I didn’t pack any boxes this September. August rolled away without any moving trucks or bursting suitcases. As my time in New York crept from 10 months to 11 to 12, I started to realize something: this is the first room, aside from one I’ve inhabited since age 11, that has remained mine beyond the confines of an academic year.

I think that’s why I love fall so much, why I look forward to September all through the hot August afternoons. September is when the slate gets wiped clean, when a blank page flips open in a notebook just purchased at a Target sale. And so this year, when I found myself without a new destination come summer’s end, I expected to be antsy. It’s like there’s a timer in the back of my brain that goes off a few weeks before the solstice, signalling the moment to pack up and move it along: to school, to Paris, to New York, to who knows where.

This year I’m staying put, and I was surprised that the compulsion to throw all my possessions in a bag and find some new ground wasn’t stronger. As I’ve written before, I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with New York, not quite veering into antipathy but also falling far short of the rapturous adoration I’ve felt for some of my previous homes. My tongue stumbles every time I go to call New York home, and even after a year there’s still something that feels transient, temporary, about my apartment and life here.

Maybe it’s because, one year in, I have yet to settle into any sort of routine. I’m on my third job in the city so far, and while this one seems to be sticking, my schedule remains about as ordered as the frosted remnants of the cake I blew up my last day in Paris (a story for another time). Maybe it’s because I arrived with a large network of friends already in place—extensive but fractured, all stars that refused to align into any cohesive constellation—so even as I settled in, my life felt more like some sort of extended visit than a real home. And now, as I sail past the one year mark with a second seeming more and more likely, I find myself making a conscious effort to plant some tentative roots in between the sidewalk cracks.

zelda-and-scout, new-york, brooklyn, coffee
Home is where the coffee is.

Scout has a habit of rearranging her furniture. Every few weeks or so I’ll come over and the configuration of her room has shifted, like some form of domestic Tetris. “I think I like it this way,” she’ll say. “Maybe I’ll leave it like this. For real this time!” And then a few weeks later the itch comes back and I arrive to find the bed against the opposite wall, the desk at a new angle, the bookcase having made an exit altogether, relocating to the living room. (Scout is much like New York in this way: always changing, scenery shifting, trying something new. I think it’s why I feel so much more of an affinity for Paris: nobody’s done any major redecorating there in well over a century, and I take comfort in knowing that whether I go back in a few months or a few years, the buildings will be right where I left them, each stone wall and iron railing and sweeping boulevard intact.)

I, nester that I am, have elicited mockery from my roommates over the years for my penchant for unpacking, organizing, and decorating in one fell marathon of a day, insisting that I can’t sleep in my new bed until it “feels like my room.” I tack up posters, organize bookshelves, knowing that any box left unopened in that first push will sit, half-heartedly unpacked, for the next several months. But those decisions, made impulsively in a haze of caffeination and adrenaline, crystallize into permanence. Once the candle or picture frame or chair has found its place, there it stays: Anything else would look weird.

zelda-and-scout, brooklyn, nesting, wall-art
My bedroom wall, approximately 12 hours after moving into my Brooklyn apartment

But despite my mockery of Scout and her ever-changing nest, I’m starting to think that my physical nesting might be a getting in the way of my psychological one. By putting hooks on my walls and socks in my drawers, I tell myself I’m settled, that I’ve made the space my own. But nesting is more than décor, and making a home takes more than mugs and flatware. I like my Brooklyn apartment—the DVD’s stacked and alphabetized (yes, I am a nerd), the lamp I got to brighten up the living room, the throw pillows arranged just so—but my Brooklyn home, out beyond my curtained windows, still needs some work.

These past weeks also marked Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, and so in the festive spirit I’m making a resolution. This year, 2 A.N.Y. (After New York), it’s time to leave the nest, or at least expand it. Making my little corner of space homey is only a first step; there’s a big wide city out there still waiting for me to make my mark, find my spots, trace its streets on the back of my hand. So I’m making a promise (publicly, so I can be shamed into being held accountable), to take advantage of this fall weather, smelling of burnt leaves and opportunities. I will go out and explore, I will find new corners, and I will not be intimidated: I’m going to make this city my own, damn it! After all, it looks like I’m sticking around here for a spell. I should make it a home.


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