These past few days have been a challenge. It started with something vaguely resembling homesickness (I left my first home at 17 and never looked back). I left my old life behind to be happy, to be at peace, to define myself. Yet I woke up one morning feeling completely lost, with one question nagging at the bottom of my mind, where is home? For two days, I didn’t move, just stayed in my box and did nothing. On day three, I was sick of myself. How did someone who had the guts to give it all up suddenly surrender to an unknown force? So I left my apartment and ventured out to explore my new neighborhood.
When we hear of Paris, we hear about the City of Light and Love. In books and movies, it’s this magical place full of love, music, art, fashion, beauty and all the things we wish our mundane lives wherever we are can have. However, last night, I stumbled on a part of Paris, I have never heard of or imagined. One that is sure to haunt my thoughts for a while.
My neighborhood: Bastille is interesting. It seems that everything happens on the sidewalks. Granted, the roads are smaller than I am used to, but it’s the people crowding the sidewalk that make it interesting. The restaurants flood out into the streets as everyone wants to get a little bit of “sun” (I put that in quote because my last home was San Diego, and sun was abundant, here we have rogue rays). There are students from the Lycee standing out there, people trying to grab a meal and smoke a cigarette, bicycles navigating through this mess, cars parked partially on the sidewalks and on the street. It sounds awful but during the day it is glorious. As I walked through my neighborhood I hear American accents, African languages, Australian accents, French being spoken at different decibels. To me, it is beautiful and amazing but crowded and a little exhausting to navigate.
There is a bell that chimes every hour, half hour and some random hour (I’m still trying to figure this one out because sometimes it just goes crazy). It’s an experience that draws you out of yourself and makes you part of an organism that is fantastic.
However, as the sun sets, this neighborhood becomes a different kind of interesting, sad almost. I’m trying to write this through my confusion because this is new to me. Families set up blankets to sleep on the streets. It’s a new kind of homelessness I have never seen before.
While I was walking around, feeling sorry for myself and my new lost identity I saw this. It threw me off whatever self-pity orbit I was on. Families – with children lie out in corners for the night and just sleep on the street.
In my confusion, my eyes caught that of a teenage girl. A man I assume was her father was laying out a blanket in the corner in front of a closed store on Rue de la Roquette. He was doing his best to make it comfortable, even throwing a pillow on it, but she just sat there, arms wrapped around her knees and her face half hidden. For the time our eyes met, there were unspoken words. This is her home, every night and she is ashamed of it. She is a beautiful girl: In another place or time, she would be more, but in this moment, this is all she is, this is her home.
That makes you rethink your definition of home. I’m still trying to work through mine as I make sense of this sad feeling gnawing at my heart. She is in Paris, the city of fantastic and her home is on the corner of a crowded street. I’m ashamed of my earlier self-pity. They say home is where your heart is, what does that even mean?
I’m still thankful and I hope it is not at her expense.