By Sven Larsen
What is Home? Second Place Winner
As a kid, I always wanted aliens to visit me in Queens but my mom said they only go to places like Kansas since they need somewhere quiet to explore. Our neighborhood, Corona, has never been quiet, with its blasting car speakers and old women yelling. Younger me hoped aliens would like that noise in the same way I do.
What could be in Kansas that Corona didn’t have? There are cows for them to abduct at the Queen’s Zoo and Flushing Meadows Corona Park had ample room for crop circles. This alien absence plus my discovery of The Wizard of Oz made me think Kansas was somehow better than my home, but even then, I knew that felt sinfully wrong.
My first boyfriend, who also grew up in Corona, had a big ass head and kind of looked like a retro alien. He was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and would go around our neighborhood ringing doorbells as soon as he could walk. I remember once our apartment was rung by the missionaries and I like to think that was my future extraterrestrial boyfriend crash landing into my life before we even knew we were gay.
Corona has another worldly sense of flow like that, twisting time and chance to do what it wishes.
I once found a catfish plopped in a puddle by the bus stop with eyes wide open like it saw a new name for God in my 12-year-old face. There’s a faded blue light that hovers over LeFrak, too far from Citi Stadium and any club to be man-made. My neighbors sometimes fall off the Tower of Babel and speak a Spanish that even my mom, who’s fluent in Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chilean, and Guatemalan, can’t understand.
Corona is in its own galaxy of weirdness revolving around itself. It’s a stellar home that is also star-crossed.
11368 was the No.1 spot for positive COVID-19 cases for months, refusing to ditch the top of the charts like she was Katy Perry in the mid 2000s. Corona dealing with the Corona was an irony not lost on journalists looking for a lazy headline and chance to diversify their portfolio by covering an overwhelmingly Latino, Black, and immigrant part of the city they consider themselves lucky to not live in. Their coverage always stripped Corona bare to demographics and disregarded my best friends and neighbors who watched me grow up and who I now watch grow tired from it all.
I read obituaries for my home every day that year. It’s impossible to mourn when the dead formaldehyde-petrified body is being paraded around like a newly discovered mummy.
It wasn’t surprising. Queens is just New York’s cafeteria for gentrifiers, a mythical land for NYU kids, and a free horror film they can watch on the news. Corona, when it’s not a punchline, is a photo-op backdrop. You’re not a NYC photographer if you haven’t shot the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
That huge, hollow, steely globe — it’s a symbol to the world that Queens is a magnet for all their tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free but only if they can wait long enough for a ventilator.
I used to walk under that globe almost every day. It airs out the mind to just move in circles like a spell. My ritual stopped when the pandemic began and I felt so far away from the world that was in my backyard. With that distance, I felt no earth should bother spinning anymore.
In my childhood search in the skies for UFOs, I’d see the occasional star. People claim we city dwellers suffer by not being able to see the stars unsuffocated by our bright lights. I never knew suffering, inhaling every star’s breath as they peeked through. It was always just a sole star, but I imagined it a part of a larger mythical constellation. A giant crab or fish-tailed goat or a chained princess. We draw stars together even with the hundreds of miles of distance between them.
My family’s home in Guatemala shines too far from Corona which is lightyears away from my father’s motherland in Chile. I’m in a different galaxy from my lover but our gravities pull and twist until we’re a meteoring helix making out under sheets. My best friends in Kew Gardens, Jamaica, across the street and in heaven were all so far away, but space travel is thankfully evolving.
Stars die the brightest death, so I know Corona isn’t fully gone. It’s been too dark and we’d never go out that way, not without shining. Death’s distance is shorter than it should be but home is always a bit closer.