Commentary: The bittersweetness of leaving home

In her commentary, features editor Laura MacDonald, right, explains how bittersweet it is to leave home. (Submitted: Laura MacDonald)

I remember as a kid, I’d watch Rick Steves Europe with my dad and think, “Damn, Cape Breton kinda sucks.” While Steves travelled around Europe, I was in Sydney, Nova Scotia with no idea of what I was going to do with my life. The only thing I knew was I was getting the hell away from that tiny island. 

As a child, I didn’t understand the importance of jobs, the real world or how someone could move across the country until I became a teenager and thought, “I have to get the hell out of here.” I felt like there wasn’t enough room for me to grow as a person in Sydney.

I always thought I would go to St. Francis Xavier University, which is only 190 kilometres away from home. My dad got his degree there and my mom told me that when I was young I often said “if I go to STFX, you and dad will pick me up on weekends, right?” 

My obsession with STFX passed when I discovered National Geographic, Time, The New Yorker and learned about people like Hunter. S Thompson, who wrote Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, and David Attenborough, who reported and narrated on environmental topics for the BBC.   

I was consumed with the thought of being a journalist. This was my ticket out off of that island. I could land a job anywhere in the world.

I was in Grade 12 when universities visited my high school. I was set on King’s College until I saw the St. Thomas University booth. I had never heard of STU so I walked over and took a pamphlet to see what it was.

I read that it was 600 kilometres away in New Brunswick and had a journalism program. That’s all I needed to sway me because I realized I needed to get out of the province. King’s was too close.

When I got my acceptance letter it felt like I had gotten the golden ticket. 

It felt like I couldn’t get out of that province fast enough. When I came to N.B. I felt like I broke out of a shell. It was a feeling of relief that I desperately needed.  

But that feeling started to fade fast. I felt claustrophobic being so far from the ocean. Each year I would get bad news from home. Two of my childhood pets died while I was away and family either got sick or died which made me regret my decision to leave. I felt racked with guilt because I couldn’t be there to fix anything. 

Whenever I came home on a break I would force someone to watch the sun rise or set over the ocean with me. While I was away, I missed it so much I cried thinking about it. 

I even named my cat Blue after the Bluenose because I felt like she needed a Nova Scotian identity since I adopted her in Fredericton. 

After Christmas and summer breaks I often found myself holding back tears because every time I would be separated from my family, cats and dog, I would feel like I was abandoning them.  

While writing this commentary, I was looking at a job in the Yukon 7,000 kilometres away and also staying at my friend’s place in Shelburne because I couldn’t be bothered to go home for reading week. My 15-year-old dog, Maggie, was sick, but I didn’t know how badly. I made my dad drive to me in Truro so I could be by my dog’s side when she passed away. 

When Maggie left, I felt the last remnant of my childhood was gone. I felt like I no longer had any ties to Cape Breton and I could finally leave. 

Holy shit, was I ever wrong. I realized minutes after my dog died, I still have my family that I love and my friends who supported me through a brutal year. There’s no way in hell I’m letting them go that easily. There was never a problem with Cape Breton, it was me. I took all my frustrations out on that place because I’m too prideful to blame myself. 

Hours after I put my dog down, I was with my friend and everything felt right. I’m in my element when I’m around my rowdy friends and family that don’t give me the chance to be sad because they always have something funny to say, a hug to be given or a cider to be handed after a long day.

I have an amazing support system here in Fredericton and I love my friends to death. But when we graduate, we’ll be scattered throughout the country and I’m not ready to be that far from home.

My friends from back home and I have been looking at apartments and making Pinterest boards since moving back home isn’t an option for me when it comes to job opportunities. But as much as this makes me wince to say, I’ll always love Cape Breton and Halifax is only 400 kilometres away.