Learning in Spite of School: Define Goodbye
September 30, 2019
How do I say goodbye to someone that I have never had to say hello to? To someone that used to harass me with his toy swords until I agreed to play? To someone that jammed out to the oddest combinations of music before eight in the morning (no, really, songs ranging from “Careless Whisper” to anything by Yung Gravy pounded through the speakers routinely)? To someone that is a state champion wrestler yet melts over every dog he lays eyes on? To someone I admittedly yelled at too much? To someone that accidentally broke his windshield with my head? To the only person that could ever begin to understand where I come from?
Life seems to have an irritating habit of forcing unknown, mildly terrifying things down my throat every way that I run, even when I had run all the way to California to move my brother into college.
Yes- I found Stanford alluring, anyone with eyes would admire the rolling hills, gentle breeze, swaying palm trees and mesmerizing architecture. And yes- I know my brother will adore surrounding himself with brilliant minds and exceptional athletes. Yet something felt much more somber than any previous farewells we had shared.
Maybe the jealousy that my brother was turning a new page of a new book clouded my view. After all, I had a plane ticket back to Atlanta in all of its clumsy, humid grace. He did not. Maybe the fact that my brother would never be less than a five-hour flight out of my reach made me anxious. Or maybe I simply do not know how to say goodbye, not when it matters.
The idea haunted my waking mind as his move-in day drew near. I tried to be kinder than normal, but I caught myself snapping at him a few times anyway (To be fair, he did eat my bagel, okay?).
Once my family actually began our journey, I took my brother’s side on every issue, hoping to offer some relief- even though I may have just been irritating. I hung his clothes the way he wanted, convinced my parents to not embarrass him with a million pictures in front of his new friends and, my personal favorite, refrained from taking a video of him scrambling on the ground under his luggage at the top of an escalator. But had I done it? Did a few, simple actions count as ‘goodbye’?
As would become evident once I found myself in a fire-safety-hazardly packed dorm surrounded by bright-eyed, eager frosh and solemn families, they did not. ‘Goodbye’ continued to hang gravely over our heads, especially when the Resident Fellow warned of its imminence.
When the designated ‘goodbye-time’ arrived, I found myself slightly offended that the Resident Fellow had decided to designate a ‘goodbye-time’. How could someone just discovering all of life’s suffocatingly strict yet obnoxiously loose rules possibly collect their thoughts both well enough and long enough to form an appropriate, coherent goodbye? (Okay, I might be the someone I refer to, so what?)
Apparently, my frustration did not matter. My preparation, in all of its glorious absence, would have to do.
My brother gave me a hug and it was done, at least until our parents forced us to re-hug so that they could take a dozen pictures. Then, he let go and walked inside towards a beginning, leaving us to complete an end.
Tears sat hidden in my eyes, although they did not hide very well judging by the strange looks my family shot at me and my cherry-red nose that so readily exposed me. I found myself more shocked than anyone else- I do not identify as a crier, but the goodbye still trailing behind me like deadweight brought those tears to light.
And that was it. All of it. A hug and some unshed tears became my goodbye, whether I liked it or not. Life offers no do-overs. There is only now and there is only that hug and watery eyes, even when it matters.
Of course, that did not count as a permanent goodbye. I will see my brother again, argue over who deserves blame for our tardiness again, share loaves of Italian bread again, ask him how to deal with certain teachers again.
Next time a goodbye that matters comes, whether it belongs to my brother or not, I may find myself more prepared, or I may find myself even worse off. The good news is, I have a million more waiting and I am bound to eventually do something correctly, right?