I grew up in a small town and, for as long as I can remember, I always wanted to leave it and live in a big city. As a kid I had no idea what that meant other than bright lights and places actually open on a Sunday… but I liked the picture of it in my head. I grew up thinking that my family was against that, that they always wanted me to stay – so I was every kind of pleasantly surprised when my dad told me last year that he always knew I was meant for more than that town had to offer.

I don’t have anything bad to say about where I grew up, nor the people that live there – it’s just not for me. A lot of people will say that city living isn’t for them, and that’s okay too.

Generally speaking, I used to go back to that small town to visit once or twice a year. I visit with family, see the few friends that still live there, and for those days, time seems to slow down and I relax a bit in my perceived “quaintness” of it all. Every once in three blue moons, I’ll feel a bit nostalgic and wonder how the old town is doing. I’ll stream the local radio station for a little while and check out the websites or social feeds of the local media companies. The itch is scratched within minutes as usually I find not much is changed, and I file it away in my brain as all is okay back there.

At the beginning of December, my dad had a stroke, and I flew back right away to see him. I packed enough clothing for a little over a week, not knowing how long I would be there. I wound up being there for almost 3 months.

One of the hardest things for me was being back in my dad’s house, and knowing that he wasn’t there. The stress of everything had me unable to sleep for more than an hour at a time, so I would wake up throughout the night hearing a noise upstairs, thinking for a moment that it was my dad, then remembering he was in the hospital and knowing it was his pets roaming around. For several weeks after I turned the lights off and went to bed, his dog would walk down the hallway to dad’s bedroom and cry out. It broke my heart every single time.

I went from living my regular life, building my company, working out and moving towards my goals to … in my mind, at that moment, being trapped in the town I grew up in. I couldn’t work and barely work out as the lion’s share of my days were dedicated to looking after my family and my dad’s affairs. One morning, I made the mistake of telling my grandma, who thinks that her small town is paradise on earth and the most pristine centre of innocence, goodness and wholesomeness (except for “the druggies”) that it wasn’t home for me and hadn’t been for a long, long time. She looked at me as if I’d said I was going to carpet bomb the one block of main street that is “downtown” with napalm.

I thought of this a lot over the last few months.

Dad’s house is only that, now. It’s not home. Yes, it’s where I grew up, but I moved out long ago and went to school, then carried on with my career and life. Sure, dad lives there and a lot of my stuff is (thankfully) still there, but it’s not home. I was staying in what was once my old bedroom, but it wasn’t my bed. They weren’t my pillows nor my blankets. When I took dad’s dog for walks in the forested areas behind his house, the trails that my childhood friends and I had played on were all grown over and forgotten. As I shovelled dad’s driveway a hundred times, or stood in the living room of the house I grew up in I kept thinking, over and over, that this was an important place to me, but it wasn’t and never again would be home. I felt the small town that I’d spent every moment of my early years trying to escape pressing against me. Dad’s friends would see me around the town and say how great it was that I’d come back, and ask if I was staying. Grandma had planned breakfasts and dinners for weeks in advance, wanting me to be there. It was well-meant and terrifying. I felt the life I’d spent my entire existence building quickly slipping away. I was alone, trapped and abandoned.

Places and things that had used to be temporary visits of calm had became prisons of everything I didn’t want. I would go to bed and wake up feeling hopeless and trapped. It was only when I reminded myself that I am now much stronger than I was when I first left that I finally began to feel confident and hopeful again.

I started wondering, where really is home for me now? Does a city of a million strangers make a home? No. But I know where home is for me. It’s driving my dream cars. It’s attending client meetings in a suit and tie one day, and in flip flops and shorts the next. It’s my gym. It’s sitting in a cafe or craft brewery with a sketchbook and a free hour to daydream. And there – there it was. Home for me is where I feel like I’m achieving my dreams. Those dreams outgrew that town a long time ago, and while I wish it and all of its people the absolute best, I’ve left it behind. I can’t achieve my dreams there, but I’m happy for those that can.

It was a strange feeling, looking around the house I grew up in and recognizing it wasn’t home. Now that I’ve left, it’s time for me to get back to building my home again.