You asked if we could go for a walk because you had something to give me.
We were the last two standing in the living room. Whatever mascara left on my face was huddled in the corners of my eyelids, clutching to the last few lashes it could find. I didn’t even nod my head to tell you yes before we were walking out the door and charging down the street, as if we knew the directions we were going in.
“I hate goodbyes,” I told you.
“I hate them too,” you whispered back into the dark. “It’s like I wish I were a octupus and I could keep everyone all in one place.” I guess it doesn’t work that way. No, I guess it really doesn’t.
Originally it was going to be your life and my life, packed and tangled and sitting in two cars as we drove down the highway with our arms hanging out with the window, letting the wind pursue the gaps in our fingers. And then suddenly—swiftly— it was just my car getting packed. And just my life getting thrown into boxes. And it was just me, surrounded by all our best friends, as everyone told me goodbye. You watched from the corner with tears in your eyes and I almost wanted to point at you and announce to the whole room, “It rips us the most.” Everyone probably knew that already though; it’s just that no one said anything.
So on that last night, before life changed for good, we went walking down the street and we left our cars parked in the road. And we didn’t talk at all about the lesson life thrusted upon the both of us when we found out you would stay and I would go: there are no such things as hopeless places. People just don’t deep enough to find the hope surrounding them.
We stopped at a playground and you figured the gate would be locked. Lucky for us, it wasn’t. We toured the playground saying nothing and touched our hands to the spring rider ladybugs and slides and seesaws, looking for a place to sit and face one another. We chose a bench and you started to cry.
“Ever since we became friends, all this stuff is always coming out of my eyes,” you laughed. “It’s all your fault.”
I couldn’t argue with that. I am the hurricane and you are the rock. I cry over things that haven’t happened yet. Milk that hasn’t spilt yet. I always used to wonder what made you a rock. I still wonder that: what made you a rock? What made you so solid that you never tipped or wavered or acted like the world could hurt you until me?
“I think I’ve cried too much tonight,” I told you. “I don’t think there are anymore tears left for me.”
Just an hour earlier, I’d been heaving and huffing while people took turns to pray for me. And I wished I could reach up my hands and tell them to stop. I wish that would have been okay to say that when they placed their hands on my shoulders or my lap, like, “Please don’t touch me if you plan to let me go. Can’t you just tell me I need to stay here forever?”
If someone had told me that— that I couldn’t go anywhere, that I had to stay right here— I might have listened. I might have unpacked my car. I might have deleted the playlist that would take me 16 hours south. I might have just pretended that all of it had been crazy— the feeling I was supposed to leave, go, pick up, walk away, start over, rebuild, and all the like.
“It’s your card,” you told me. “But I am going to read it to you.”
You ripped the thing out from the envelope and suddenly I was wrong. I started crying. You cried more. It was in that moment, waiting for you to say something, that I realized suitcases were never about the lace you’d pack or the jeans you’d fold to fit inside. Suitcases were just a bad invention thought up by an inconsiderate inventor who probably never wondered how many people would try to find a way to wedge someone they loved inside of that small space with the latch on the side. I pictured closing you up in that suitcase and releasing you free when we got to where we were going, laughing at the world and saying, “Ha! Ha! Ha! You couldn’t keep us apart.”
Was it okay that I was mad at the world as you spoke? I was so freaking angry with the world, or life, or God, or whatever thing it is that lets two people meet and then pulls them apart. We were young. We didn’t get it yet. We didn’t know that life was just a series of letting go moments. And we wouldn’t learn, for at least another month, that sometimes letting someone go is the best present you can give them. The two of you don’t even know that you’re looking for a gift. The two of you don’t know that sometimes it’s the geography, the shift in the trees and the people, that will break a person out of the cocoon of their past and finally let the word “free” go out from their lungs. Sometimes maps are giant, colored permission slips to be someone you never allowed yourself to be.
You read the card out loud to me and you gave me a feather to hold in your hand. You’d found the feather just before. Long and skinny, it had once been very lucky to be tucked into the wings of such a pretty bird. And you didn’t know, because I didn’t tell you, but I’d written words in my diary earlier that made so much sense to me as I held that feather in my hands: I am ready to leave this place. I lost everything I needed to after that broken heart came sweeping through. It came right off of me like feathers fall off the wings of the birds that are finally flying southward bound for home. So yes, the feather meant something more to me, even if you only wanted to tell me that I was gonna fly.
As you read, you cried and thanked me. You thanked me for being something I never knew I was: someone who would always choose dreams over money, and freedom over fear. Someone who wanted the late night diner trips. And the lack of bedtime. And the good stories and the good people and the good church services that don’t make you feel scraped clean at the end of them, they make you feel alive and thankful that God made you with a fire that doesn’t dim so easily.
In that moment as you read to me, and I held that feather, I was suddenly the girl I always wanted to be: someone who had no interest any longer in being the girl on fire. She’d much rather set the world on fire with all the quiet and beautiful things she did.
In the last of your sentences, you told me to go. And this time, when you said it, the word looked nothing like “stay.” And I was suddenly so thankful you told me to go. Because no matter what you’ve ever told me, I have always listened and trusted you to be right.
We walked away from that night.
I didn’t look at you from the window of my car because I didn’t want to see you crying. God, I hate goodbyes and I hate reliving goodbyes after they’re gone. And I turned on the radio and did what I’d done since I was thirteen years old, pretending whatever song came on the radio would be like a fortune cookie– predicting what would happen next. I turned the dial. Closed my eyes. And Rihanna poured into car.
We found love in a hopeless place. We found love in a hope-less place.
The song was irrelevant. I turned off the radio and started to drive.
I whispered into the night the things I didn’t say to you when I had the chance, when you were right beside me on that bench: “I believe in you. I always have and I always will. You’re capable. You’re good enough. You said so yourself, you wanted to be a bird. So memorize the separating factor between birds and all the other things: they figure out how to fly and then they stop imagining what life looks like when you touch the ground.
So be a bird. Be a bird. Some of us are fit to fly. You told me that yourself. And some of us will harbor broken hearts for an entire lifetime all because we never gave those wings a chance. Don’t be that broken bird.”
The car kept turning down familiar roads and I laughed to myself. Just the next day I’d have to use a map to get anywhere. It would change just like that. I turned the radio back on and Rihanna was still there.
I laughed again. We found all the hope. This was never a hopeless place.