It’s been a weekend of goodbyes. The same way most people would rather wake up at their destination, having skipped the travelling part altogether, I would be much happier if I could wake up having skipped the “arrivederci” part of any relationship.
As I watched my sister disappear amidst a throng of Korean children at LAX security lines, the familiar sense of emptiness, unease and sadness resurfaced, to destabilize me for a few hours.
The choices we make in our youth often don’t reveal their full impact until decades later. The afternoon I landed in London, with one suitcase and a vague promise from a friend I could stay at his parents’ house for a couple of days, didn’t foreshadow a permanent abandonment of “home”. I didn’t think my mother would need to develop a globe-trotting gene to keep up with her daughter, or that I wouldn’t see my dad for years on end. It was a wholly selfish decision I do not regret for an instant but one the consequences of which, not just for myself, I have to live with every day of my life. And I have it easy: phone, Skype, email, enough money to purchase airline tickets every now and then. It was not a decision borne of economic hardship or political persecution. Just a selfish 24-year-old looking for adventure. And now I am here, in the place I call home, 6,000 miles away from my original roots.
Saying goodbye implies an ending and I am much better at beginnings.
Last night, morosely sitting on the couch, a self-inflicted sad documentary on the telly, my mother asked me what was wrong.
“I miss Binney*” I answered.
“Oh, all good things come to an end. You will see her soon enough” she replied in her breezy and ever optimistic manner.
How I despise that “all good things must come to an end”. Rationally, I do understand the ebbs and flows of life, of course I do, but, in order to accept them, I had to learn to give myself space to mourn every single ending, every little loss. As much as I hate to say goodbye, I had to learn how to, especially since most were initiated by me and my decision not to stay put.
In fairness, I have made some progress. In my early 30s, I embarked on a slightly illicit trans-Atlantic affair with a man who lived in New York, while I was in Milan. My life was marked by steamy and passionate phone calls, by much too much time spent plotting the next assignation, much too much money spent on flights to and fro, just for a handful of long week-ends together. Invariably, the arrivederci part was heart-wrenching, with torrents of tears accompanying the end of our time together. I can still turn on that Italian dramatic gene on occasion but such occasions have become rarer. What those post-lust days filled with sadness and longing taught me was that, one morning soon enough, I would wake up full of purpose and excitement again, clouds dispelled. Coming home last night and choosing to watch the saddest documentary Netflix could afford me was not a coincidence – it was my choice to wallow in the sadness of the temporary loss for a little while longer, instead of distracting myself, so that this morning I would wake my usual cheerful self.
Sadness, melancholy, even nostalgia should not be avoided at all costs. Not every cloud will be a downpour. Until, and unless, the goodbye is a permanent one.
The other farewell that came my way last week-end was the one to my friend Harriette Smith who, at 94, passed away rather suddenly. Ours was a newly minted friendship of one year, one that gave us both much pleasure, the way that finding a kindred spirit always does. A few months ago we went shopping together and, at the check-out, the cashier asked me if the lady was my mother. At which the lady, a touch annoyed, replied “No, we are friends”.
Harriette was a dame like they don’t make them anymore, one that now can only be found in black and white movies from the 40s: always a witty retort on hand, she wouldn’t have dreamt to show herself in public without being immaculately groomed, made-up and with some bright costume jewelry around her neck. Fiercely independent, she didn’t suffer fools gladly. And I will miss her. In the short time we knew each other, she taught me much about how one should carry oneself.
“Frankly, I didn’t expect to live this long” she told me once. So, it’s not arrivederci but addio Harriette. She is leaving me with the reminder that friends can be found in the unlikeliest places and that it’s never too late for (fill in your blanks).
* Her real name is Maddalena, in case you are wondering.
Image of ship leaving the docks found in the public domain. Image of Harriette C&S