“I am trying to remember you and let you go at the same time.” -Nayyirah Waheed
In the early morning of November 15, 2005 my dad and I were shepherding my mother through the threshold of life into the unknown. Lisa’s breathing had become labored over the past few days, and in her final moments she was gasping for air around the strangling chokes of the cancerous fluid bubbling up from her lungs. It was not a gentle death. Her passing haunted my dreams for years.
During Lisa’s last breaths, I kept saying “It’s ok. We’ll be ok. You can go.” And even though I watched her die, I don’t feel like I got to say goodbye.
Fifteen years later, I am still struggling with goodbyes. This manifests as my regular, casual preparation for more of them — ranging from imagining the death of my children almost every time they’re not with me to assuming that each time a romantic partner walks out my door that it’s for the last time. I even regularly tell my friends how much I love and value them, just in case one of us dies suddenly.
My abandonment issues, as I recently learned they’re called, run deep. In quiet early-morning moments, I lay in bed and picture the inside of my body as a grand canyon — a sublime landscape forged by mundane trauma, full of deep cuts that will never heal but have taken on a particular kind of beautiful wonderment. The imaginary canyon closest to my heart is where an emotional glacier scraped most deeply and created permanent fault lines. I’m always poised for the next seismic shift.
Much like a tree that’s growing horizontally out of a canyon wall, I have learned new ways to grow and thrive. There’s a versatility in how I experience a spectrum loving relationships, and a non-traditional way that I approach building my life. In some ways, knowing that everything is fleeting and ephemeral is a gift, albeit a little scary.
My ongoing challenge is to find out how to embrace this knowing and not be crippled by the idea of being left. Selfishly, I want to leave first whether it’s a party or a relationship. And I don’t want to say goodbye, or even “see you later.” I just want to sneak away quietly. It’s silly.
I wonder how much of my life is subtly governed by waiting for the next goodbye, or my own goodbye. I’ve told you before, dear reader, that I’m always eulogizing something. I also, after going through a few loved ones’ belongings, want to own as little as possible in order to spare my children from deciding who will keep the Christmas dishes. And because I have such difficulty picturing living to an old age, I’ve avoided having a partner.
Most of the time endings bring about a reconfiguration. A change. A new understanding of how to find happiness. I am here. I am happy. So why am I still so afraid of goodbye?