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.