Homecoming Queen

Words by Sara Harowitz

Photography by Stephanie Russo

Years ago, when I was moving into my boyfriend’s house, he suggested I get rid of my cheese grater. He already owned the exact same one, after all, and one was enough. It seemed logical, but a thought slinked into my mind as I stared down at its shiny, boxy frame: what if this all goes sideways and I have to move out and I’ve already thrown mine away?

I shook off the fear like sand, let it fall at my feet. When you go in for love, you have to go all in.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it will work forever, and after nearly five years we bent and broke. It was just pure dark comedy that this happened right at the start of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Really? I thought, as my comfy little life started sawing itself in half. This is happening now? When the whole. fucking. world. is on lockdown? As the prime minister was telling us to stay home, I suddenly realized I no longer had one.

I have always appreciated my space. I like planting roots, cultivating a place that feels safe—a place that quiets my constantly running mind. So when all this happened, my first thought was: where am I going to live? My second thought: where do I even want to live? A few thoughts later: goddamnit, I need a new cheese grater.

Feeling instantly unsettled without a home base, I took the first apartment I viewed, which I managed to find in less than a week. Later that day, my mom asked me what colour the floors were. I had no idea; I think I blacked out. I knew there were walls and was pretty sure they were white.

Moving day was emotionally challenging, exacerbated by the fact that we were trying not to touch more than we had to. When my family left and I was alone among my scattered things, that echoing cheese-grater fear came somersaulting back. Only now it wasn’t fear. It was just my life.

In those first few days by myself, I wondered if I should make a sign to wear as I went shopping for groceries and supplies. “These sniffles are from tears,” it would say. “No COVID here, only sadness!”

For some weird reason, my breakup did become a badge of honour. I told anyone and everyone who even vaguely feigned interest in my well being, from publicists to former interns to brand-new neighbours (Greg! Colby! Camille! Sorry, you guys!). I started reaching out to people asking how they were, just so that they’d ask me in return and I’d get to share the news. I was deeply heartbroken, so I’m still not sure why I was so eager to blab my story. Maybe talking about it made it easier to swallow. Maybe I was just craving social attention because the whole. fucking. world. was still on lockdown.

Besides, I couldn’t go through the usual breakup motions; there could be no ego-boosting flirting at bars, no wine-filled movie nights with friends. Instead, all I could really do was sit and stew in my discomfort. Soon it was basically puree.

I was alone with myself for the first time in a long time, and that meant confronting everything. Thankfully I still had my job to break up the monotony of being stuck at home (a true privilege, I recognize), but beyond that, those first few weeks stretched on with a forceful stillness. It’s like I was at the window, watching a rainstorm: aware that life all around me was moving, evolving, washing away with the water—and all I could do was sit and stare.

But as I sat, I also uncovered something I’d buried for a long time: that the version of home I’d just left behind was never my end game. Forced isolation became my superpower; it helped me heal fast and furious. Like any ending, it became my beginning. And while I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to find deep love again, that’s not what this story is about. Not yet.

I’m happy where I am now. My apartment is small but it’s bright, and every time I look around I feel calm and good. I know I’ll always care about my home; I’ll always covet nice linens and scroll through pictures of fancy furniture. I’ll always enjoy returning to my little safe space after a long day out (remember long days out?). Still, I’ve realized that home is also a place within. The pandemic taught me that—it made me look inward for everything, and made me find it all surprisingly quickly. Even in those first few painful days, I had already begun the journey home to myself. I think I’m almost there.

The view from my new living room is incredible, and when I look out the window I no longer see a storm. Instead I see the expanse. Instead I open the door and let it all in.