In April of 2019, I moved back to Prince Edward County for the final time.
That summer, I settled into the spare bedroom of my aunt’s apartment, which was filled with nothing but a mattress on the floor, a suitcase full of clothing I had yet to put into a closet, and a fake Christmas tree that was meant to supplement the lack of overhead lighting in the room.
The next day, I was ready to settle back into my typical County routine of working two serving jobs before heading back to Queen’s at the end of the summer.
By the time August finally rolled around, I was tired and ready to say my final goodbyes.
Returning home for the summer has always been lucrative for me, but this time I was met with the undue stress of navigating some very strained family relationships. The familiar space I inhibited was associated with the turbulence of my home life, which had long tainted my view of my hometown.
On the day I left, I took a wordless car-ride with my mom before she dropped me off on the porch of my new house. I was holding the same bags I brought with me just months earlier.
I waited to unlock the front door until I knew she had gone; I wanted this new space to be free of any tension between us. Upon turning the key in the lock, I made a conscious decision to not look back. I needed to cut the ties of toxic relationships, and in doing so, I elected to simultaneously say goodbye to the place I felt them
However, two years later, I find myself yearning to be in better touch with my hometown roots.
I hated my hometown growing up.
I was your typical angsty kid in high school, eager to carve my own path in the world. I thought I belonged roaming the streets of Montreal or Toronto, taking the Metro or TTC to and from the city centre.
Instead, I rode a big yellow school bus every day from Cherry Valley, the village where I lived, into Picton, the town where my high school was. I didn’t belong in the cycle of school, part-time jobs, and the same group of people who didn’t understand me.
I certainly didn’t feel like I belonged in my mom and step-dad’s house.
Bound to a strict, daily 10 p.m. curfew, I would return home to retreat to my basement bedroom, bumping my head on the low ceiling and maintaining my privacy only thanks to a curtain I had pinned over my bedroom doorframe.
The few nights I spent at home were tense.
Dinners were largely wordless, and my mom and step-dad spent most of their time confined to their office, far away from myself and my younger brother. Any positive stories I shared would be met with snide remarks, while shortcomings would be met with immense criticism.
As a high school student attempting to finance my own university education, I spent a lot of time working.
My step-dad loved to berate me by pointing to the delicate nature of my routine. He also loved to point to the burden I put on my mom by having these goals. Her consistent silence in these conversations signified, both to my step-dad and myself, solidarity with his ideas.
The more I languished in the loveless space I was thrust into, the more important it became for me to leave. I made it a habit to pick up as much work as I possibly could, maximize time with the few friends I had, and keep my head down at home as much as possible.
By the time I was in undergrad, leaving the County to come to Kingston was a breath of fresh air.
Despite only being an hour’s drive away, my world opened up. I felt I had the space necessary to cultivate an identity I would be proud to carry into adulthood.
In the time that followed my final departure from home, I created a beautiful life for myself.
I adopted two cats. I nurtured friendships. I flourished in school and extracurriculars, found an immense passion for writing and revelled at the thought of pursuing graduate studies. I took great pleasure in living in a more urban setting, though Kingston isn’t quite to scale with the cities I’d initially set my hopes on.
Even more impressive—to myself, anyway—I survived a global pandemic as a self-sufficient woman.
The separation I’d achieved allowed me to flourish in ways I didn’t know I could. I appreciated Kingston, felt a more comfortable grasp on my own independence, and could navigate the world around me without being completely constrained by discomfort.
Despite the separation I’ve so thankfully achieved, parts of me are nostalgic for what I’ve left behind.
My hometown provided me with a lot of trauma, but there are many parts of it that are deeply ingrained in me and that I love very much.
Every time I make use of any shortcuts I’ve learned when running late to a meeting, it reminds me of the ways my friends would navigate downtown Picton in the middle of summer, trying to avoid the congested traffic. When I hear early 2010’s country music, I’m nostalgic for my high school job at Sobey’s where I worked with one of my best friends.
This nostalgia initially came as a shock to me.
I spent so much time thinking about moving on from the County that when I came to miss certain aspects of my former home, I felt I was cheating on my desire to be free of the place.
When I was about to graduate from high school, one of my favourite teachers told me that no matter how far I made it away from home, I would feel a pull to come back. Though I laughed when she originally told me this, I understand it now.
Prince Edward County was a place where I felt lost, confused, and unloved, but I’ve come to terms with it also being the place that shaped a large part of my identity.
No matter where I move in the future, I think there will always be a little bit of the County with me, and that’s okay.
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