I am playing Michelle Branch’s “Goodbye To You” on repeat, trying to conjure up a long-forgotten feeling.
I am barely fifteen. Sure that the world is ending; running from the only family who ever accepted me entirely without question. I look to my best friend in the world: a skinny 10-year-old girl with a whole life hiding behind her bloodshot eyes. She struggles to breathe and I pull her close, sure that I can bridge a five-year gap with one embrace. Sure that I can transfer years of knowledge to her.
It doesn’t work and my mother pulls me away.
This is what I wanted, I remind myself. I wanted to run away.
Cut to present day. Wednesday night. I drown out the deadlines and mental notes scrolling through my head. I’ve been on campus for more than 12 hours — just another normal day.
I run up the stairs to my bedroom with a huge smile plastered on my face.
“I’m sad,” I tell my roommate. I don’t feel sad.
But seconds later, I’m back in that birthday party room at the gym, the cold tile floor burning beneath my bare feet.
“It’s just not fair,” I begin, my breath growing ragged with each word falling carelessly at my feet. I look down, trying to compose myself. “I always have to say goodbye more than everyone else.”
My roommate tries to interject, but I ignore her.
“I feel like I just graduated high school,” I continue. “I have to do this every three years?”
And then, the one truth I hold deep inside slips out. The one I only ever hint at.
“It’s not fair because it takes me so long to make friends. And now they’re graduating.”
Since I began college, goodbye has been a word ushered far more than hello.
I’m standing in my best friend’s front yard as she drives away in a bright yellow Penske truck on a sunny August morning. Headed straight for Florida.
I’m sitting in the backseat of my dad’s car as my friends wave in my driveway at 7 a.m. Surrounded on all sides by dorm necessities that suffocate me.
Walking back to my dorm room as that silver Mitsubishi Eclipse crests a hill on a chilly Sunday morning in February. The wet tears already stinging my face as the rest of the freshman class rouses itself from bed.
I’m hugging myself tightly on my roommate’s bed as I struggle to breathe. About to reach for my phone and retract the decision to break up with my boyfriend.
And now, standing in that same doorway, angry with the way goodbye falls quietly upon the world. The way it rises up to meet the hello’s and trumps them like a wave that crashes on me when my back is turned.
There may never be any redeeming quality in the word goodbye. There is nothing good about goodbye. Perhaps it should be renamed ‘badbye.’ At least then, we might know what we’re getting into.
But now, as the weeks of the semester wind down, I am letting myself care about the people who leave me behind. Letting myself care about the friends I’ve made. I’m letting goodbye become a regularity. Because it is. Because there is no other option.
We can stand facing the vast ocean for a lifetime, but the minute we turn our backs might be the exact minute the wave builds, growing stronger as it smacks us full force. And then we’re on our knees, kissing the sand and drinking salt water.
Such is life. Years of preparation that take only seconds to be knocked down. The beauty, though, is the way we pull ourselves up so easily. Because sand tastes bitter and brushes against our sunburned lips, but it takes only a few seconds to right ourselves and face forward again, prepared for another wave.