Sometimes I write things with the clearest picture in my mind of who I am writing them for. It’s like I can see you. You, with the red lipstick that you just got confident enough to start wearing. You, the one who doesn’t really understand the unique thing that people see you to be. I can see you sitting there. Reading me. And I search the ground, sort of like an Easter egg hunt, for the things I think you’d want to read.
And then sometimes I write something just so that I can go back and read it. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I write the words for myself, pretending that someone else is writing them for me. I do this strategically. I do this so that I don’t have to feel like the one who is alone– her hands full of unanswered questions– in the middle of something I don’t fully understand.
Goodbye is one of those things.
One of those things I don’t fully understand yet. I’m no good at it. I’d rather not go there. I’d find it better to beeline the whole entire thing. I don’t want to miss people. I don’t want to know they are growing in my absence.
That’s the secret pain of goodbye: people still have the permission to grow into their own skin without you. And that feels very strange. And I’m tempted to just say, “No, you can’t. Please. Just don’t. Just stay as you are.” But that’s selfish. You don’t get to keep people, selfishly, just so you don’t have to be so fearful they’ll find a way to live without you.
The only thing I know for certain about this whole “goodbye” thing? You have to say it sometimes. You have to get real brave, and bite your bottom lip, and let people go sometimes. Fully, fully. Even when you don’t feel ready.
They always make the point of goodbye seem so romantic on the television.
Someone is always waiting by the terminal. Someone is always asking you to stay, hurdling suitcases so that they can clutch your face. I used watch Dawson’s Creek and imagine I’d get to have all the long, grueling departures one day, just like Joey Potter. I thought that would be the real golden duck of adulthood– when people found it terribly hard to release me.
It isn’t. And Joey Potter should have just been honest and told us all the truth, “Goodbyes suck. And there’s no eloquent way to say that. There is no poetic way to talk about ugly crying on someone’s nice shirt. There is nothing in the moment that makes walking away seem reasonable. It’s just hard.” And you awkwardly just sort of hope that someone will tell you not to go. Because maybe you would listen to them. Maybe a big white poster board with the letters “STAY” written in black Sharpie would convince you to do just that. Just stay. For little while longer.
Because goodbye is hard. Goodbye is the starting point you don’t see because the finish line is so piled high with tears and last words and fears that this– this thing you have right here– will never be the same. Don’t fear that. Don’t fear that because it’s already true. It won’t ever be the same. It could be over. It could be final. But it could be better than the two of you could ever predict. That could happen too.
And yes, it feels like something in the room is dead or dying or about to die. And the scary thing about that? That’s already true too.
Something is dying. We can’t even ignore it. It sounds so morbid but goodbye is really just admitting that something is dying. You two came together– for a month or for a year or for five of those years– and you built something. You breathed your whole little life into that thing. Your secrets. Your fears. Your laughter. All into that thing. That friendship thing, that “I’ve never really met someone like you” sort of thing. And then, out of nowhere, it feels like something comes along and lobs the whole thing into pieces. That’s what a goodbye will do.
Goodbye is the fear– temporary and real– that we’ve carried for years up until that one word– short & stout– made it all tip over and all pour out: I am afraid to leave. I am afraid to change. Can you just keep me here? Can we never move? I’m afraid you will forget me. I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten in a room full of people who always seem to be remembered.
When I stood at the door to say goodbye, I muddied up the whole thing.
I let the fear speak louder than the genuine thing inside of me that knew goodbye was the only road to take.
“I hate goodbyes,” I told her. “I’m sorry. I’m just so bad at them. I wish they didn’t exist. I want to be like an octupus who has 8 arms and can just hold onto everything always. I wish I could just go in the night.” It was all my fears and insecurities that I would never have it this good again, all mounted and stored up inside of that word.
She stopped me. “It’s goodbye,” she said. “And then you get over it.”
That’s all she said before she pulled me in for a hug. And then she let me go. And everything about her gesture of letting me go so quickly– nearly like a band-aid you rip off and pretend there is no sting– seemed to hum the truth:
You, I believe in you. That is why I am so quick to let you go. Trust me, trust me, the human thing inside of me wants to keep you right here. Right where I can see your eyes and I can hold your hand. But even if you can’t see it, I can see it and I can ignore it no longer: you are ready. It is time. If I held you back, I’d be the one doing a disservice to the parts of this world that so deserve the blessing of “you” for a little while.
So cry your tears. And say your last words. And when you are emptied out, let me go. Please let me go. Don’t live in your memories, making tents and tiny houses out of the way we used to be. Something really wonderful awaits you. I need you to step inside of it. Say goodbye because something new is about to start right here.
And me? Well I’ll carry the thought of you doing just fine. I’ll carry the thought of you meeting new people, and holding new pairs of hands, and clutching people closer than you ever clutched me. I’ll remember that when you came to me it was a blessing. A temporary blessing that we’ll one day see if we can make permanent. But for now, it’s you and all the little lives you’ve got to go out there and touch.
You’re ready. That’s why I’m letting you go. And everyone else? Everyone else who gets you for this next little “I’ll see you everyday” sort of while? They win. I don’t feel like much of a winner in this moment, but them? They absolutely win.