How to say goodbye
Fifteen months ago, when Chris was offered his new job and we made the decision to move to Austin, my first call was to Jamie, my roommate in college and my maid of honor. She’s lived in Austin for eight years. We both cried on the phone. Never had we thought it would be possible for our kids to be real friends.
Her son was born six weeks before August. When August was five weeks old and her little guy was eleven weeks, Jamie hopped on a plane by herself with the babe in tow and flew straight to Philadelphia for a weekend with me. No big deal, right? She was my hero.
We snuggled those boys in their sweet baby jammies, laid them out side by side and snapped a gazillion pictures of them. And since, they’ve known and loved each other from afar: over Christmas when our families were celebrating two hours apart we’d meet in the middle, play at some McDonald’s indoor playscape.
Then, we arrived in their town. And right away, the boys spoke the same language: little brains firing off facts about rockets and dinosaurs and Cars characters. They understood each other.
Two hours after my grandfather died this past summer, Jamie called me in tears. She knew Pawpaw. She knows what it is to love a grandfather. What I needed that day was an old friend, someone who knew me fifteen years ago. She came over with the kids. Our two older boys played while she helped me pack. No, you definitely cannot wear that dress to the funeral.
There were so many goodbyes this past month: goodbyes that stretched and lingered. Goodbyes from our house, goodbyes from church, a goodbye party before we left for Italy. I saved only Jamie for the last day, that gap day between our return from vacation and our moving.
And we said goodbye with take-out tacos from my favorite spot, in the chaos of her house, four kids between the two of us. We said goodbye with our husbands lost in conversation about Rome and Roman history, our toddlers throwing food on the ground and whining for attention. We said goodbye with little boys waving fishing nets through the backyard pond, running toward us with tiny wiggly silver slivers in their hands.
We said goodbye with bug spray faithfully (as it always must be in Austin) coating all our limbs. We said goodbye with a tree swing and little boy wrestling. And we stayed outside until the sun was almost gone. And in the light of dusk we said goodbye.
Of course, we know how to live apart. We always did. We mentioned Christmas plans and family trips together. We will see each other. We always do.
But it hurts. We had this taste of life together. We had a soccer season and our boys beside each other in team photo in their matching jerseys. But those tastes, for all their sweetness, are reminders of a home we long for, one that never demands goodbyes, a home that gathers all the people we love in every place we settled and holds them for us into a family, God’s family. A home where all the sad things come untrue.
I thought about that as got on the plane the next day. All those people boarding a plane from Austin to San Francisco, visiting friends, doing business, touring the city. How could all those strangers in the plane know this view from the window was our last, as my four-year-old and I pressed our foreheads to the plastic pane and he called out: “Goodbye Fire Austin! (Mama, I called it ‘Fire Austin’ because it’s so hot here.) Goodbye Ashlyn! Goodbye Science and Nature Center!”
Did they know this was our last moment over the land? That I grieved the loss for my son and I felt my chest braid itself tight as I looked from up above, like some angel ascending, hovering over Place as if were only a thing we can move through—into and out of–without being wounded forever.