At the Height of My Career, I Moved Back In with My Parents — And It Was the Best Decision I Could’ve Made

published Oct 20, 2022
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When I got the call confirming the final offer for my seven-figure book deal; I wasn’t on the rooftop of my Brooklyn apartment building or sitting in the Union Square coffee shop where I’d written my first novel or taking the A train uptown to meet a friend for brunch. I was in my childhood bedroom, which I’d recently moved back into, in the Indiana suburbs.

Years before, I’d fled to New York for grad school in hopes of becoming a real-life author, but really, I’d been searching for something much greater. I wanted to erase all traces of the person I’d been. I wanted to be swallowed up by a city that didn’t have any existing notions of me and, frankly, didn’t care to develop any. I wanted to explore my burgeoning queerness without any of the tethers that our hometowns so often produce. And for years, I did run.

Ran straight into my first queer romances, my first queer book deal, and ultimately, into a life I was proud of. But the fear and instability of the pandemic drove me back into the safety of home. I wondered if my return marked some sort of fundamental failure. It was hard to think of it any other way, really. Back in my childhood bedroom, I was being constantly confronted with the person I thought I’d outgrown. I was chafing — my new self and my former self at constant odds with one another. 

Credit: Leah Johnson

My bedroom was still painted the light, unobtrusive tan it’d been since I was seventeen. The walls boasted images of Team Jacob-era Taylor Lautner and first-season Glee” cast members; debate ribbons and scholar-athlete letter jacket pins; purity pledge certificates and vacation bible school snapshots. It was the bedroom of a girl trying desperately to cling to what was expected of her — to perform a version of self that was as squeaky clean as it was untrue.

No dark wall color because I didn’t want to be perceived as “too masculine.” No solo poster of Naya Rivera because I wouldn’t have been able to explain away why I felt comfortable watching a queer person on TV, let alone staring at their likeness up close and personal every day. My running had led me straight back into the lie that I’d tried to escape. 

I believe that a living space isn’t just a reflection of who we are, it’s a performance of aspirations. Our physical space can affirm us, if only to ourselves. I needed to be affirmed, and I didn’t want to run halfway across the country to do it. Not anymore.

Credit: Leah Johnson
Leah Johnson's desk

So, I tore it all down. I covered up the walls that I’d plastered with relics of my insecurities, my hidden secrets, and put evidence of my current life in their place: Framed queer art and moody blue paint and shelf after shelf full of banned queer books. Like so many, I’d left home to find something that I couldn’t name. But it wasn’t until I returned, until I reclaimed the room I’d hidden in and lied to myself, about myself, in, that I found the sense of fulfillment I was looking for. 

I recently purchased a 100-year-old house in my hometown, and I’m renovating it slowly but surely. Every inch of it — every feature — is being diligently selected and poured over. It’s a tedious process, but it’s one I refuse to take lightly. Because I’m not just building a home. I’m building a life. And I’ve worked too hard for either of them to be anything less than unapologetically me.