There are a couple of different levels to the whole “saying goodbye” thing. The older you get, the closer you come to the realization that you’re going to spend your life saying goodbye to people, whether temporarily or permanently.
The first round of goodbyes came when I graduated high school. Realizing that everyone is going their separate ways, but still be grounded in the fact that you’re from the same hometown. To all of you, “coming home” will always mean coming back to the place where you all grew up together. So you say goodbye, but you realize that it isn’t really permanent. You’ll see each other again. There will be summers and Christmases, always time to catch up. On the one hand, this realization is wonderful, on the other hand, it can also be infuriating. Because you realize that some people will just always be a part of your life, whether you want them there or not.
The second round of goodbyes came after college. Those are a little tougher. Because you’re not all from the same place, and you’re all heading someplace different. This time, without a timeline. It’s not “I’ll be gone for 4 years and then I’ll be back”. It’s just “I’ll be gone.” It takes more effort to keep up those college relationships, because you have to travel. You have to write, or text, or call, and wonder if this is something you can keep up for years and years or if it’s something that will eventually just fade away. But at the same time, you always have your school. The time you spent together – that common place that’s always there if you want to take a trip down memory lane.
Then there’s the third set of goodbyes. The ones that happen in the real world. The first time you say goodbye to someone and realize that you might actually never see them again, regardless of whether you want to or not. I find myself constantly saying goodbye these days. It seems that if you’re not leaving, someone else is. And things change a little bit with every goodbye, whether for better or worse.
I hate goodbyes, of course. I don’t know anyone who particularly likes them, unless you’ve got a flair for the dramatic and a thing for recreating the last scene from Casablanca (“If you don’t get on that plane, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But someday, soon and for the rest of your life”). Real goodbyes aren’t usually terribly theatrical, unless you’ve decided to live your life like a romantic comedy and have one last chance to tell Joe Shmoe that you’re in love with him (Because God forbid you’d actually told him when the two of you could’ve done something about it).
It’s just that it’s very odd to say goodbye and realize that you mean it. That everything is changing, and there isn’t that much time left. Because we always want more time, don’t we? Whether you’re forced to say goodbye to someone because of a tragic event, or it’s simply because life is moving you in different directions. There is no “see you later”, because you don’t know if you will. And maybe that’s the scary part – suddenly you realize that whether or not you see someone again is entirely up to you. Life isn’t going to toss you together anymore – it’s already done its job. After goodbye, friendships can’t just be reactive anymore, they have to be proactive. And that’s when you figure out how much people mean to you.
And maybe one day you’ll find yourself standing in an airport, wishing desperately that you could buy a ticket to see somebody and knowing that whether or not you do is entirely up to you. And you’ll think “If I don’t get on that plane, I’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But someday, soon and for the rest of my life”.