Goodbye

It’s not the end of the world. It isn’t something completely permanent or anything truly coming to an end. It was never supposed to be something I thought about every single day and worried over almost constantly. It was only a momentary parting. A simple thing to tide the two of us over until we could meet again. It was a word spoken with a shaking voice. A hug held with desperate arms. A tear that I had to keep from falling and a smile that accompanied it and tied it all together. It was beautiful, no one could deny that. I figure that the sincerity and vulnerability made it that way. So, yeah, it was beautiful, but only the saddest, most tragic, heartbreaking kind of beauty. It was like that kind of poem that brings you to sobs, but that you can’t stop reading and reciting over and over again. The kind of thing that stays sharper than anything else in your mind forever, or at least until you’re reunited. Goodbye has that chokehold grip on you from some point before it’s even said. Goodbye begins the moment you realize it’s coming.

And as time goes on, that chokehold is supposed to loosen. After a few months, or maybe even years, it isn’t supposed to hold you back anymore. It shouldn’t remain at the front of your mind after so many nights have passed. So what do you do when it does? What happens if that goodbye continues to keep its hold on you, perhaps even tightening its grip once in a while? How is it fair that an old goodbye can keep you from new hellos? None of that should happen. Life is meant to go on, despite goodbyes. They say that time doesn’t stop for anyone, and that is true. However, I think that a goodbye is one of the few things that can really put a life on hold. Somehow, it changes everything by making sure that nothing changes. A goodbye is something that manages to freeze a person and trick you into thinking that nothing has changed. I think that because goodbye leaves something to be desired, we cling to those memories, even if they do get contorted with time. Eventually that hope is all we have left, and some days even that doesn’t seem to be enough to keep me holding on.

But then, what if suddenly, that reunion happens? That tiny thread of hope somehow stood through the storm of separation and carried you back to hello again. The spell of goodbye is broken as your eyes latch on to his for the first time in ages. How do you handle such a thing? Is that the point where all the feelings rush back, or does someone have to speak first in order for that to happen? Do you react differently if he’s alone than you would if he had company? What if this meeting was taking place thirty years after you parted ways, or maybe it feels that way after five years. How do you find the words? Or do you even try? I think it’s sort of poetic to just stand there, staring at each other, rendered speechless by the surprise and overwhelming excitement of it all. Words mean so very much to me, but that also means I appreciate silence more than most people. So don’t worry if it takes a minute to squeeze out that first word or two. They’ll come when you’re both ready.

So as you catch up, things quickly begin to fall back into place. It almost feels the same way it used to, as if nothing had changed and no one had ever walked away. The conversation flows just like water. Both of you are laughing, wondering how you finally came to meet again after so much time has gone. And time? No, time became irrelevant long, long ago. You don’t know how long you’ve been talking, but none of that matters. It only matters that you’re together again.

At some point, one of you asks that question. You know, the one that’s terrifying because you know all too well that his answer can crush you. But it’s something that has to come up this time because it didn’t before, and both of you know that it can’t go unanswered again. So someone asks. Someone finally gets gutsy enough to ask. Maybe it’s straightforward, maybe it’s not. Either way, it comes down to “So, you have someone special in your life?” And that moment between question and answer becomes an eternity. I know that hearts are racing and that minds are spinning out of control. Maybe you’re feeling sick to your stomach, maybe you notice that you’re holding your breath. Before anyone says anything, you look into his eyes and try desperately to read into them so that you can brace yourself, either for what he’s about to say or how he’s going to react to what you tell him.

This is where all the complications surface. So many different ways it can go. It can be a surprise to one of you, or even both of you. What you say at a time like that may shock you as it leaves your own tongue. If you’d been keeping your hopes up, this very moment could be more disappointment than you’ve ever experienced in your life. On the other hand, if you’d spent all those years telling yourself he was better off with someone else, only to learn that he didn’t think so, well, that’s going to be wonderful. At least, if you’re still willing to work for it. And let’s face it, you are. If you were holding it against him once, you’ve forgiven him. You forgave him a very long time ago. Love like that can’t hold a grudge.

But for the sake of the more common reality, things don’t end that way. You ask, he disappoints you with his answer. But it’s been so long, you know you shouldn’t be disappointed or surprised. After all, that goodbye was years ago. The moving on and healing and finding someone new should have already happened. Of course, it didn’t for you, but you let on like you’re fine. You really are happy for him because you can tell he’s happy. It’s pretty obvious in his eyes and his voice when he talks about her to you. Things would be different if you could tell he was unhappy or dissatisfied. But he isn’t. Again, that’s just you.

He then asks you about your own love life. Do you have a husband, fiance, boyfriend, anything? If you do, of course, you tell him the truth. It becomes happy chatter about the kids or the wedding plans or even just the last date you had. But then what if you don’t have someone? How do you go about that? Well, you could lie, I suppose. Never something I would recommend doing to someone who means so much to you, but an option is an option. You could be truthful, but subtle. Change the subject before he gets to looking too sympathetic. Or you tell him everything. After all, if it goes unsaid again, living inside of you forever, it will hollow you out and weaken you until there’s nothing left. So that’s kind of what you have to do. Here’s how it goes.

“Well, no. I’m not married, actually. No boyfriend either. What? Are you really surprised? No, no, it’s okay. I didn’t used to ever talk about it, and I still really don’t too much. But you were always someone who I could talk to, really talk to. That was great about us. No matter what there was or wasn’t left to talk about, it all came easy. Both the words and the silence, I mean. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve really missed that. It’s not every day you stumble across somebody who gets you like that. To tell you the truth, I haven’t at all since you. I know this is probably going to be the last thing you want to hear, but I really need to let it out this time. I held my tongue before because I thought I could get you back even if I did step away and let you leave me for her. I thought I was being the bigger person. I could’ve put up a fight, but that would’ve ruined everything. So I just waited and waited for you two to break up so that I could finally get my chance. And then you didn’t, and now look at you. I never ever thought I’d be the kind of person who would pull something like this. I mean, this is the kind of thing that tears couples apart and ruins them. I don’t want to do that. Look at you, you’re happy. I love that you’re happy. It’s just that ever since we said goodbye, I’ve been waiting for this day. For today. I spent years hoping that I would run into you somewhere and find you missing me, wanting me. And now we’re here, but that’s not how things are. I know that I’ve already gone too far. I crossed a line a long time ago. However, there’s something that I never really got to say to you. …I just, I love you. I have loved you all this time, and I’ve just been sitting around like an idiot thinking maybe, just maybe, you love me too. There, I said it. But I have to stop now. I know you know now, and I hope that brings me some peace of mind. I’m so sorry. It was wonderful to see you here. Goodbye.”

And just like that, goodbye happens again. Maybe he stops you before you can leave. If miracles exist, maybe he tells you that he loves you too and that he thinks about how things might have been. Maybe you both swear to keep in touch this time. You don’t remind him that he walked away. You don’t point out that he said goodbye the first time. You just let him say those words to you and you take them all in. They go straight to your heart. If you’re lucky, no one cries their eyes out in public and you’ll get one last hug before you leave. Just a little something to sweeten the tragic knowledge that you’re about to lose him again. I know how it feels the second time around. I also know what it’s like to be a part of those lucky few. But even the lucky ones have to say goodbye.

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