Goodbyes are peculiar. They can be casual or serious, temporary or permanent. They can be filled with emotion. They can be over-thought.
I have a friend who likes to scream “Goodbye forever!” whenever she leaves the presence of anyone. Just in case. You could die, she could die, or maybe the continent is going to split in half between the two of you. I believe in preparing for the worst, and I’ve dabbled in cynicism, but the idea seems a bit extreme.
In the other direction, I have a friend who refuses to say goodbye when you’re going to be apart for a long time. Instead, she says “See you later” as if it will be tomorrow. The first time she did it to me, I laughed at her. But when I saw her a year later, and she did it again, it was comforting.
That’s probably why I never really said goodbye to Gainesville. For 6 months to a year, I was hanging around in that city trying desperately to get out and move to Chicago without success. When it finally happened, my presence lingered. There were goodbye parties for my friends and a last hurrah at the Poetry Jam (which was a fantastic performance, if I may say so), but I don’t think I ever felt like I was leaving.
The closest I got was saying goodbye to my oldest friend in town, who had helped me get the job and who I spent my Thanksgivings and Christmases with. It was easier to come to Gainesville in the first place because my college buddy was already there. She helped me find an apartment, get into kayaking, and stay sane for the duration of my stay.
When she left my going away party, I ignored everybody else I was with to walk to her car. I think she cried. I think I might have cried, too, while I hugged her goodbye on the sidewalk. When I returned red-eyed to the party, I noticed a text message as I walked up to the bar. She was apologizing. Sorry because she was happy I was moving to be with Jean, but couldn’t help being upset that I was leaving Florida to do it. I stared at my phone while the bartender mixed my gin and tonic, wishing I could give her another hug. I told her there was nothing to apologize for and that I might be offended if she wasn’t upset. And at that moment, if I’d been sober and fully packed, I could have left Gainesville.
But I wasn’t. So I had fun the rest of my evening out on the town and said goodbye to my coworkers as they departed in turn. I’m glad I did, but none of them felt like goodbye. My presence lingered.
The next day, I finished packing and helped my roommate and his family put boxes into a moving truck. Most of my belongings were already being shipped to Chicago, and the rest were in my car. All I had in my bedroom were the bed I was going to drop at a dumpster the next morning, the kayak I didn’t want to leave attached to my car overnight, and a change of clothes. I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered down to catch the end of The Word Is Spoken poetry show. I didn’t want to perform, I guess I just wanted to keep my routine. The host offered me a turn on the stage, but I declined. I had to say goodbye to some of my friends. Again.
“How can I miss you if you don’t ever leave?” one of them asked me. I promised I’d leave first thing in the morning. But all I ever really said to Gainesville was “See you later.” And I think I might like it that way.