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In Photos: A very COVID homecoming

On nostalgia, uncertainty, and being uprooted from residence
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This is a photo of my dorm room taken just as I was beginning to pack up. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY
This is a photo of my dorm room taken just as I was beginning to pack up. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

This is a photo of my dorm room taken just as I was beginning to pack up. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

I cried every day of my last week on campus. I cried while saying goodbye to friends, while picking up food from the dining hall, and while photographing my dorm room.

After classes were cancelled, and I found out that exams would be online, I felt lost. All of my plans were falling to pieces before my eyes, and I had no idea how to pick them up.

My dorm room after I moved everything out. A shell of my room, stripped of the things that made it mine. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

I had less than 48 hours to say goodbye. After days of assuring me that the residence would stay open, I got an email Wednesday morning telling me to be out by Thursday night. I had a dorm room full of stuff and no idea where it — or I — was going to go. I grew as a person in that room. I made good memories and bad decisions there.

To me, it was home; to leave it, knowing that I would never see it again, was heartbreaking. It was even worse to see it empty. It felt like my first year had never happened, like it was September again, and I was seeing it for the first time.

This is the view from my dorm room, from the southern end of Victoria College looking at the St. Michael’s College quadrangle. I took this picture the day I moved out. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

Before I left, I took a photo of the St. Michael’s College quadrangle — the view from my window. When I look at that photo now, I’m reminded of the way campus felt on March 20 when I left, squished into the back of a family friend’s truck with all of my belongings.

It was a stormy day, which felt fitting. The campus was eerie; I didn’t see another person the entire time I was moving out. I had already said my goodbyes to friends who had already returned home, and after taking a snapshot of my view, I said goodbye to campus, too.

Port Hope’s deserted East Beach at sunset, looking out across Lake Ontario. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

My stuff and I ended up in Port Hope, at my grandparents’ house. I’m from Vancouver, but I left residence so suddenly that I didn’t even have a flight booked when I returned my key. I spent the weekend in my grandparents’ basement, terrified of giving them COVID-19.

Days passed slowly as I stared out at a backyard that I remembered from summers gone by; the absence of green grass and daisies in the yard this year made it feel foreign. When I could no longer reconcile my memories with reality, I went for a walk. 

It was cold, and I relished in the feeling of sucking in the freezing air. I walked from the north end of town to the downtown core, heading south toward Lake Ontario. Nobody else was out that night, not even in their cars, making the “Best Preserved Main Street in Ontario” feel like it was right out of a ghost town.

I reached East Beach just in time for the sunset and stood there, contemplating where I had been and where I was going next. 

This was my gate at Toronto Pearson airport. There are three people in this image, and all of them are Air Canada employees. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

I took my economics midterm on Monday morning before heading to the airport. There, I was the only person at security and one of very few at my gate.

Questions remained: how long was I going home for? Was I right for packing my jean shorts, or would I be back in Toronto in two weeks? I boarded an empty plane. I had a dozen rows to myself.

Lookout number one of the Diez Vistas trail in Coquitlam, BC. This viewpoint is over Indian Arm, showing Vancouver and most of its suburbs. KATE HABERL/THE VARSITY

I arrived home to two weeks of self-isolation and parents who waved from six feet away. That was 12 weeks ago. Since then, I have been coping. I procrastinate; I hike; I bake, and I miss my friends. The questions persist, but they are different now; I wait to hear what my life will be like in September.

I wait, and I hope — that’s all I can do right now.