Sometimes I wonder if there’s anyone out there that’s never had a hard goodbye. No sobbing in the airport security line. No slamming the trunk of your car and saying, “I guess that’s all of it.” No handing over of sweatshirts and keys. No searching a pair of closed eyes, puffy and still, waiting for the machines to stop beeping and a heart to stop.
If this is you, someone that has avoided goodbyes, can you tell me what it’s like? Are you dodging your goodbyes like softballs and rain? Or are you hiding yourself away from having someone or something to say goodbye to? I want to know how you did it. How you’ve done it. How you’ve never taken one last look and left the room.
What was your hardest goodbye? When I think about it, it’s not all movie-making moments. I can remember saying goodbye to my mother after a particularly difficult morning. I was in elementary school and it was raining that day. My sisters had already left to walk to school and I was late out the door. I held a warm Pop-Tart wrapped in a paper towel in one hand and my umbrella in the other. I was mad at my mother and I yelled goodbye as I headed out the door. I could hear my staggered breath, amplified under my umbrella, and I walked and cried. “Does she even care about me?” I wondered. She did and I knew that. I bit into my Pop-Tart and let the hot cherry paste burn the roof of my mouth. That’s all I remember. It’s probably the first memory that comes up when I think of the word “goodbye”.
Then I think of my grandmother, swollen from water, pain meds, and lying too still for too many days. I think of my red 1991 Firebird, packed to the gills with things I thought I needed to start a new life in the South West, like a new, itchy comforter from Big Lots, an old green trunk full of every note ever passed to me in high school, and a bunch of cut-off shorts. The essentials, really.
I think of drunken hugs and blurred mascara. I think of tapping my toe on the thin-carpeted floor of a funeral home and hesitating to approach my grandfather’s casket. I dry heaved into the toilet minutes afterwards. His skin was ice cold when I kissed his cheek. And not knowing if he would or could read the note I slipped into the silk lining of his new home made me panic. Grandpa, I hope you read it.
I also think of good byes. As in great byes. Giving the finger to a pizza joint I used to work at as I peeled out of the gravel parking lot. I think of being kicked off of a bus in Chicago for smacking a racist man with my umbrella. Maybe I’m confusing good byes with good riddance’s.
People avoid goodbyes. They say “see you next time”, “see you later”, and “until we meet again.” I’m not sure if it’s because as human we can’t handle finality or if it’s that we like lying to ourselves too much.
Yesterday was the last day of my job.
Job job job.
What a weird word. If I could call it something else I’d call it my life-purpose-obligation-family-professional-unprofessional-paycheck-health insurance providing-too many meetings — stress bucket — growing- idea sprouting — Monday to Friday- occupation. Is that what a career is? I don’t want to look up the meaning.
No one can ever nail a goodbye and they’re never what you think they’re going to be. But in most cases, they have to be done. Yesterday, while on an awkward Zoom call with about 35 people, I held my breath to keep myself from crying and twisted an old tube of Carmex until the plastic started to warp and melt in my hands. I wasn’t dying. I knew that. It was the fact that so many people were seeing me all at the same time and knowing that they were likely all reflecting on our time together over the years. And I could feel it. I could physically feel it. My whole body itched and it took everything in me to stay poised and smile.
After about 30 minutes I waltzed through a final barrage of goodbye buzz words. “Keep in touch!” “Don’t be a stranger!” “Keep working hard!” “Be yourselves!” None of it made sense, but I stumbled my way through it, biding farewell to many people that I would likely text in a few days. But it was goodbye as that particular family.
None of it matters, though. Does it? Are there really endings besides death? And is death really a goodbye at all? A lot of me thinks goodbyes and endings are things humans made up to cope, but it’s actually far more complicated than we can comprehend.
But nevertheless, I said goodbye yesterday. And I felt an internal revolution I haven’t felt in a long, long time.
You’ll hear more about that tomorrow, though. Because today isn’t goodbye. It’s day 99. There’s still plenty of time.
Or maybe just enough.