character creative non-fiction Essay

Where Are You From?

Asking Jess McHugh where she's from won't tell you what you need to know. She comes from the many moments she has lived through.

by Jess McHugh

When people ask me to tell them where I’m from, they want the town I was born in, as if that somehow tells them all they need to know. They want where my accent comes from, they want me to tell them that I am from rolling hills, a stony beach, a bedroom you can see the woods from.

But I always feel inclined to answer differently. Because to tell them where I’m from properly, those details aren’t the ones they need to hear. I’m not from the small talk fodder, and you can’t really pin me down to a location. I’m made from moments, hours, days and nights. I am from other people. I come from what has happened to me. Characters are created from the plots through which they live, and mine is certainly formed from stories large and small.

My scene is set with all the times my tiny family escaped to the countryside at the first stroke of a school holiday. I’m from those days on the Sussex Downs, and I’m from the ground we laughed and learned on. I’m from the sway of bluebells in the woods, the thud of pinecones on the ground. I’m from that old flint cottage, and the people inside it. I grew in the vegetable patch behind the greenhouse.

“I’m made from moments, hours, days and nights. I am from other people.”


Time for development. I am from the supporting roles I encountered in the years that followed, and what they taught me. I am from the music I discovered. I am from the nights I crushed my face to my pillow and wished only for the strained voice of a flame-haired man from 30 years ago to replace my thoughts. I am from the lunches I spent in halls with a girl I would later stand proudly behind as she got married. I am from the way these people understood my weirdness.

The twist. The plot line I never saw coming. The problem for which a solution is sought. However, there were no solutions in these moments. I am from the moment my loved one left life of their own accord. I am from the moment that the ground we laughed and learned on fell away from where I stood. I am from the moment we wept yards from that vegetable patch, when the birds had all taken flight, and we realised that he too had flown. I am from the grief that gripped us, and the flowers that bloomed in spite.  

I am from the aftermath. I am from the life we wove afterwards, from thread we thought we’d never have to use. I am from the jobs I hopped from, and the laughter I had to realise I deserved to enjoy. I am from the man who accepts where I’m from. I am from the night he listened.

Resolution. I am from the nights I dance and the conversations we get lost in. I am from the moments that I remember all those other moments. I am from the stories yet to be written.

Where am I from? Well, how long have you got?


Jess McHugh | @justjesswriting | Instagram: @justjesswriting

Jess works in digital marketing, and lives on the pretty Sussex coast. When she’s not working or writing, she loves to read, take half-decent iPhone photos, and walk her three dogs on the downs.

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