In my Upper East Side apartment, boxes are stacked high. The living area, a small, narrow rectangle, is practically unlivable with barely any space to turn around. I tried to keep the square cardboard containers that hold my things organized by piling them as close to the walls as I could. But slowly they creeped out, forming a long and narrow pathway through the 700-square-foot space with tiny off-ramps to the kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. I need a GPS to navigate it, let alone figure out which box holds my bathroom towel or olive oil or laptop charger.
Two weeks ago, I walked into this empty space alone and fell in love. The blue and white backsplash in the kitchen, the giant arched window that led out onto the street, and the slightly creaking wooden floors all gave the place character, made it all feel a little more homey. The 10-foot tall ceilings were an open sky I could breathe into and as a six-foot-tall woman, I appreciated that. The closet space felt massive and deep, like maybe in some universe the children of Narnia might be tucked away in the back, exploring the corners of Archenland.
But now, all moved in, the ceiling feels so close, with box after box encroaching on what once felt like a room full of possibilities. The closet no longer held fantasy dreams, but instead was cramped with more boxes I had shoved away, collecting dust unused. The floorboards that went on forever only complained more with the extra weight they held. And the light that used to flood in from the beautiful pre-war window was blocked by my suffocating belongings. I couldn’t see the backsplash I fell in love with. The kitchen felt too small, too cramped to cook in. This place has somehow lost its homey character when filled with things that once made my home.
And so I closed my eyes and went home. Well, at least to my childhood home. And when I did, one recurring memory came to mind.
It’s a Sunday, normally in the fall or winter. School is tomorrow so I’m trying to enjoy the last few hours of free time. Football is on the TV, but I’m not really paying attention. I can distantly hear the blows of whistles, screams of the crowd and the dun, dun, dun of the NFL theme music. But the one thing that really transports me home is the smell of my mom’s meatballs. Slowly simmering all day in a huge pot, the mix of meat, spices, cheese, and breadcrumbs are pure nostalgia. I can see the splatter of red sauce on the stove, deep, red and burnt onto the surface. I sneak a half of a meatball as a pre-dinner snack, eating it with an open mouth as steam comes off of it. Although it burns, the tender and juicy flavor of the peppery, saucy meat make it worth it.
I open my eyes, returning to my current home with a craving for those meatballs. A small tinge of hope bubbles inside me. Maybe meatballs could turn this strange space, far away from what I knew, into a home.

I dash off to the store and grab all the ingredients from memory: ground veal, pork, and beef, parmesan cheese, dried oregano, fresh parsley, Italian breadcrumbs, eggs, salt, and pepper. I mix everything together, of course without measurements (do any Italian family recipes have measurements?) and start rolling the balls.
As a kid when my mom needed us to help her with this part, it was so annoying. The sticky mixture would get between all of my fingers and I couldn’t even lick the bowl, like I could (and would!) when helping with brownies. But now I find it therapeutic, a repetitive activity making identical spheres until the big pile of meat turns into dozens of little balls.
I pop them all into the oven, and 20 minutes later, I slide them out with a whoosh of heat. I know I did it right as some of the fat from the meat had leaked out. Perfect, I thought, just how mom does it. I plop them into the sauce I made cooking in the red hand-me-down Dutch oven and let them simmer away. I scrape in all the drippings too.

As big bubbles blubble up from the bottom of the pot, pockets of steam puff out into the air. It travels from the kitchen and cloaks the rest of the apartment. It wafts in between the boxes, up to the ceilings, around my furniture. It floats underneath the floorboards, around the blue backsplash, and into the closets. It coats the arched window, the bedroom, my clothes and towels. Soon, the smell disappears as I grow used to it, it almost becomes one with the rest of the space.
I pluck out a little meatball from the pot and put it into a tiny bowl. This time around I don’t have to breath-eat it, hoping my mom doesn’t come around the corner to see me ruining my supper while scathing my mouth. Because this time, I’m the cook, but I’m also responsible for the splatter of sauce on the counter, which I will later clean up when I locate the paper towels and cleaning spray.
I close my eyes and take a small bite and go right back to those football Sundays. That feeling of enjoyment and relaxation. That feeling of safety and comfortability. I open my eyes, looking around at the place I currently am living, boxes stacked high, belongings out of sorts, closets overflowing, and I know that I am home.


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