Category Archives: Friendship

25 years of goodbyes, and I still don’t get it

The first thing I learned about goodbyes I learned as a child, and it’s that no matter how conscious and prepared you feel, you’re never truly ready

“Missing” is the feeling we get from the projection onto the future of something that was and no longer is, or will soon no longer be. Goodbyes do not concern the present, the exchange of farewells, but the perceived or anticipated absence that follows.

I was 7 years old at the time of my first goodbye. I remember that evening as if it had been just yesterday night. Thinking back, my parents must have been trying to figure out how to best break the news to me. Yet, its weight fell on my shoulders as if propelled downwards by some newborn form of gravity: suddenly, my body was glued to the pavement. My best friend Carlo and I were born a handful of hours apart, some Friday in February 1985. In the same hospital room; an older friendship cannot exist. Now, he’d be moving abroad.
A child’s world is extremely simple, and simple things matter. Those Saturdays spent in the garden, bike-riding, playing, hiding from the little brothers, building wooden toy-trains, marked a simple but steady rhythm that was as old as the Earth itself. It was sacred, immutable and part of life as much as sunrise and nightfall were. It was not in the last Saturday spent together; my first goodbye was in the moment that rhythm was broken.

My next goodbye came soon after. Tranquillity after a decade of turbulent Argentinian politics, allowed my grandfather to invite my mother and us children over. It wasn’t in the months of preparations, suitcase making, ticket purchases and transatlantic phone calls, in a child’s excitement for such a trip. It was in the airport security.
I remember swallowing tears while hugging my father before walking past controls, holding on tight in the waiting hall, and giving up at take off. I remember the hostess bringing orange juice and telling me in a Spanish ridden accent that my dad wouldn’t want me to cry, that he’d surely want me to be happy and enjoy my trip.
They followed in quick succession. We’ve been to Bahia Blanca three or four times at the same time of the year for years in a row. I can’t recall traveling once with dry eyes.

***

The second thing I learned about goodbyes I learned as an adult, and it’s that it doesn’t become easier with time, nor with experience.

People come and go for a wealth of reasons; without much fuss or leaving a void which may or may not heal in time. Sometimes it is us leaving people, places, habits, lifestyles behind, permanently or temporarily. Goodbyes are not as simple as something that is missing. The psychological moment, the causes, the history of the ties that are being cut and how we perceive our future in their absence make each goodbye unique. Goodbyes are difficult to comprehend:  each can hardly prepare for the next.

Fast forward a handful of goodbyes to 2017. It started with a friends’ text, hey, she wrote, let’s meet on Tuesday afternoon! Sure thing.. But let’s make it not be sad, she added. She was leaving, for good, hubby and daughter and all. For good. Or not really, she’d be back at some point, but I would be gone for good by then, wife and daughter and all. Haven’t seen them since. Sure, we text and they check our mail. But they’re missing.
Twice it’s been like that, I’m going for the summer, hubby and daughter and all, but we’ll be back once you’re already gone. Twice without knowing whether it was me or them leaving. Hugging goodbye and fighting back a sense of suffocation because adults do that.
Then, I went myself. For good, wife and daughter and all. One last beer, one last wave of a hand. It wasn’t in the moving company taking my stuff abroad, in the bureaucracy, in handing the keys back, in packing and cleaning up and goodbye visits. It was in that last evening, when the visits are over but you’re still there and would want to hug goodbye again. It was in those unexpected hugs right before catching the taxi.

It ended with me sitting here, writing a post about goodbyes in a city I don’t belong to. Having a child is like carving your heart out of your chest and fitting it in a puppet to pump your own blood in the wrong body. You need that heart beating next to you, to feed your soul, because you realise you’re an empty shell now.
Knowledge that you’ll have to soon be far away for a short period that is far too long leave you thin and naked of your own skin. Every second is an anticipation of that one goodbye, over and over again each time your child is not with you. Each time someone takes her from you, they’re stealing your most precious instants.
Absence is a hole through which your soul leaked out the moment you turned around. Every second, every minute, a reminder of what you’re missing.
This goodbye was not in that last kiss before leaving, not in the hours spent holding her tight, and still I don’t know where it is.

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About friendship, and about distance

It’s been a while since we moved abroad; or at least since we’ve been abroad on a stable basis. It won’t come as a surprise for anyone who has spent time in a different country to read that life changes radically once you take that step. No, I’m not talking about different languages, habits, culture, climate etc. that naturally come with moving. Rather, looking back over these past years it seems obvious how our lives with friends have acquired a more peculiar character. Again, I’m not talking about the different way we keep in touch with friends back in Italy (texts, social networks, etc). It’s more that the “texture” of our friendship-life has changed. How best can I describe it? Well..in some sense it’s a matter of connecting dots across a map. No trace of the continuity and reassuringly certain character of Wednesdays nights out. Nor that of large cooking gatherings over the weekends (my place?), or the stability of old faces going back for ages. All of that was a nice straight line from A to B to C to.. etc. Truth is that the past up to the present’s doorstep can no longer reveal anything about the future, even from one week to the next, so that what comes after C is uncertain. For instance, where that future will take place.. But especially, it reveals virtually nothing of who will be there. What you’d consider as sure takes unexpected turns and turns out to be very different from what expected. People that shouldn’t have been there in that particular place and time, are there for some reason. Those that should have, might not be. Or, you might find yourself in some place and time that you would have never imagined to find yourself in..with someone you wouldn’t have ever guessed. In the end, it happens that what was expected to be routine turns out not to be, ever so slightly deviating towards randomness. Taking a step back and going through pictures and memories truly is like connecting dots on the map of your life, with nothing of the linear, good old straight road ahead. Locations, faces, and pieces of that grand puzzle your life has turned into trying to fit into each other. Sometimes, some of the pieces are out of reach. Very well in sight, but out of reach. Sometimes, they are completely lost.

Friend

Roots

(to Carlo, Mancho, Kim and Miky – my roots and my perimeter)

Sure, stuff changes, and it changes a lot.. But there are things that apparently don’t. Call those roots.. Call them the keystones in the architecture you’ve been building since the day you were born. Call them “no fun dull stuff” as well, if you like. But they are there whether you like it or not. It’s sometimes annoying to think that in reality there’s not much that is truly original or unique in yourself. You are, like it or not, very much like your mother and father, and grandmothers and grandfathers. A lot like your brothers and sisters, and sometimes like your cousins and aunts and uncles too. There is a tiny bit of that friend of yours back in primary school, and of that twat bullying you around and calling you names in junior high. There’s a bit of all those people you called family as a kid when visiting on the other side of the planet.
Especially, there’s a lot of those friends who dreamed you up to make you the person you happen to be. They’re like the perimeter of everything you are, the bulwarks preventing you from going astray and loosing yourself. They all do their bit in keeping you there and making sure that you remain who they want you to be, the person they created: a bit of a tug on one side when you take off the wrong way, a bit of a push in the right direction once you get stuck and don’t know where to go. In the end, they all are there to show you the way back to the essence of yourself, to the important places of being “you” and the centre of things. Curiously, each time they nudge or hold you back, you are also pushing or pulling them a bit, in turn, in the opposite direction. So it happens that the centre towards which they bring you back each time ever so slightly shifts position in the meanwhile. You end up dragging those roots along, little by little, so that step by step you and those bulwarks end up moving in a slow and imperceptible journey across all of your lives, together.

Roots

Bridges

It’s hard to realise how “local” (in its strongest of meanings) we are when we stand still. Roots are strong: they tie us firmly to the centre of things and keep us from harm. All we need is around us, providing safety, but also blocking our view of what’s beyond. It’s hard to build up the will to move when you don’t feel the need of going anywhere, and you have no idea what lies just beyond reach, out of sight. It only takes just one step aside (or in any other direction) to open up new perspectives; to expand the horizon without a limit. Incredibly, that single step allows you to reach out much farther than it allows you to move, enabling you to form connections straight across the globe. Sometimes, it’s a bridge with you at one end and someone else at the other. Some other times, you are at the end of the bridge for two people with nothing else in common, suddenly building a bridge between each other. Watching those bridges take shape is the most beautiful thing that can happen!

 

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