This Is Not Goodbye
Help me tell the truth you see that’s all I’m trying to do is tell the truth it’s just in my head all I’ve left unsaid… I have seen the final curtain fall… Over The Rhine, “This Is Not Goodbye”
Loss was never something I’d ever really experienced growing up, though the knowledge of it was always there, hovering in the back of my mind like some kind of phantom, dispensing fear into my heart and whispering its inevitability. The rational side of me knew that it was a part of life, that everything is cyclical, but the older I got, the more that fear seemed to grow.
I knew what was coming; I knew it was only a matter of time, and so, soon, Time itself seemed to become my greatest enemy. I didn’t want to grow up, wanting, instead, to remain locked in a time of childhood innocence and fairytale narratives.
Growing up meant no more guarantee of happily ever afters; growing up meant change, and change meant I’d have to acknowledge that life was moving forward.
And if life was moving forward, then it meant that what had always seemed merely a concept might one day become a reality.
Growing up, goodbye had always meant goodbye for now, I’ll see you later, I’ll be back soon..
Until the day I learned that goodbye sometimes means forever.
They sat us down to tell us that she was too sick, too frail and that they didn’t want to see her suffer anymore, that she had lived a full life and she didn’t deserve that pain. They said that she would be chasing her tennis balls, running fast through tall blades of grass with other friends, that she wouldn’t be alone…
I was too young; I wasn’t allowed to go with my dad to take my early childhood dog to the vet, but standing on the cement step that led to the garage, looking at the empty driveway from where they had just pulled away, remembering the sadness and tears in my dad’s eyes — the first time I had ever seen him cry — I vowed to myself that I would do whatever I could to ease the pain of the people I loved.
It was then that I made up my young mind that no one — neither human or animal — should ever have to be alone.
It was the first time I began to understand the concept of permanence.
It was the first time I feared the thought of saying goodbye again.
Time passed, and slowly a previously unnamed, irrational fear began to grow, manifesting itself into an anxiety disorder from which I couldn‘t escape, afraid to leave the comfort of the people and place in which I felt safe. Afraid to leave home.
Afraid for them to leave me.
I wanted to keep them safe and happy, wrapped in an invisible, protective cocoon in which pain and hurt and loss didn‘t exist and could never touch them. I wanted to absorb the illnesses, the sadness, the hurt, the despair of everyone I loved just so that they wouldn’t have to experience it, not once understanding in all my naiveté how much a part of life all of it really is. I thought — I can handle it, I can take it. But they shouldn’t have to, and I foolishly, childishly, egotistically, managed to convince myself that as long as I was there, they never would.
I was afraid.
I was seventeen years old and on my way to school, my hands gripping the steering wheel as I made the right-hand turn I had made thousands upon thousand of times before. Unwelcome thoughts began to weave their way through my mind, spiraling until they reached that one thought: I had to go home. My chest grew heavy; tears stung my eyes. Dread filled up my heart with every passing moment, and I couldn’t focus on anything else but the place I had just left; I turned the car around a mile from the school, waking my mom up as I collapsed in tears into her arms.
I was afraid.
It was early, still dark outside, the alarm clock saying that it was too early for me to even think about being awake. But I could hear my dad getting ready for work down the hall. I tried taking deeper breaths, tried counting, tried thinking of anything else, but the feeling was too familiar. I walked down the hall to my parents’ room where my dad was pulling on his tie. He kissed my mom, said goodbye to me. I tried telling myself to just let him go to work, nothing would happen. I tried telling myself I was seventeen years old, too old for such silly fears. But as he headed towards the door, I burst into tears, begging him not to go, not to leave.
I was afraid.
I could hear my teacher’s voice, but the word weren’t connecting; I could see the print in front of me, but they were a blur through the sting of hot tears that threatened to spill to the page. Silently, having already discussed my anxiety with the school, I exited the classroom and walked out the front doors where I sat on a bench in the courtyard, where I breathed in the fresh air and allowed the tears to fall freely. I could feel the anxiety ebbing with each breath, the desperation and dread retreating as I wiped away the tears, repeating, “I’m ok. They’re ok. I’m here, and I’m ok.”
I was eighteen. I was afraid.
It was all ok.
After graduation, the anxiety attacks seemed fewer and far between as I began to realize that I couldn’t control Time anymore than I could control anyone else’s life — or the hurt and pain that might accompany it. All I could do was be there when they needed it.
All I could do was love them…And let go.
It was with that thought that I faced what I had always feared.
I’ve tried going into detail in this post, but the pain is somehow still too fresh, even after all these years, and it’s just not something I can write about again…At least, not in a public forum, not right now. The losses of my grandmother, my grandfather, and my three beloved dogs in succession has been the greatest heartache I’ve ever had to face, and I miss them every single day.
I lost my faith, I lost myself, and little by little, those old fears began to return. I couldn’t bear to lose anyone else I loved, but I imagined what else was coming, what seemed unavoidable to any life. And little by little, I felt myself begin to retreat again, to give into that fear.
Only, this time, I wouldn’t allow it.
These past few years have been both the hardest and rewarding of my life thus far for all that I’d experienced and all I had learned. As I’ve attempted to heal, I’ve realized that as much as I miss them, I have been blessed with the opportunity to have loved each and every one of them, to have been able to tell them this…
To have been able to say goodbye.
There are times, like tonight, that the scars reveal themselves and those old emotions return like a familiar friend. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to escape this fear, or if I just have to push through it, as I did when I went away to college, as I did when I went away to France, as I did so recently when I bought this house and left home for good.
But then I realize that while I may not be able to escape it, I can try to understand it, I can accept it. And I don’t have to live my life in its shadow. Life is far too precious for that, anyway.
Time, I have realized, can be an enemy to the weak or a gift to the strong — and while tonight I feel weak, I know that there’s a strength in realizing that every single moment you have with the people you love is a gift, and to fear what might come is to negate the value of that gift.
To find peace in loss, to forgive yourself, to hope, to love, to remember…
To let go.
To say goodbye…
I used to think that goodbye meant goodbye for now, see you later, I’ll be back soon…
Until the day I began to fear that goodbye meant forever.
Until I realized that goodbye still means goodbye, for now…