My parents divorced when I was six. I was the youngest of three kids, and at the time, I felt like everyone’s favorite. Certainly my father’s, and I was doted on – as much as one can be – by my older siblings. When the separation occurred, I was given over to my mother, and my dad took the two older kids with him to another state and then, for a time, another country.
At that young of an age, I had to get good at goodbye. It was too painful, otherwise, and what I learned was to just shut people out so it didn’t hurt as much.
My mom and I moved a lot when I was growing up. I changed schools several times. My siblings came to visit now and then. My dad remarried and had another kid so I was no longer the youngest or the focus. I occasionally went to see them, but the trips were few and far between.
All of these things kept me good at goodbyes. I got good at moving and not getting attached to any one location. At last count, I’ve lived in over 32 homes in 44 years. I can pack like no one’s business. I got good at disconnecting from friendships, or just not having any real close ones to begin with. I went to two elementary schools, one middle, and four high schools (two in GA, two in TN), so I got good at saying goodbye to familiarity, to the potential for building relationships, to stability.
Aside from two notable exceptions in Portland and Minneapolis, I – perhaps subconsciously/intentionally – dated a lot of less than stellar men (UNDERSTATEMENT), because it was easier when it (inevitably) ended, regardless of who did the ending.
As an adult, I continued to move from apartment to apartment, city to city, state to state, because I either didn’t know how to stay put or I didn’t want to, out of fear of getting too close. Easier to just say goodbye and go before the stakes got too high. The vast majority of my closest friends live in other states; it’s not by design, necessarily, but it makes it a whole lot easier to chalk up the lack of close contact to distance, rather than anything I might have going on inside, you know?
Every year or so into a new job, I start getting the itch to move on to something else. A minor frustration, an irritant of some kind, spurring me on til I have myself convinced that there must be better somewhere else, something MORE: more money, more responsibility, more challenge… I don’t ever really know, but it’s always been easy to just pack up and go, because “screw this place anyway.”
All of these things, all of this life, helped make me who I am: someone good at goodbyes.
Until now, that is.
Over the last year and a month, I’ve had to say goodbye (or, “so long for now”) to C. a lot, because he travels for work. At first, it was a bit of a relief, because I’d gotten so damn good at being alone, I wasn’t sure how to handle someone else’s steady presence. But that changed. Somewhere along the way I let him all the way in, and now, when he leaves, I’m a little out of sorts for a time, not really sure what to do, a little awkward in my movements to stay busy and keep living while he’s gone. I think that means I miss him; it’s a new thing, to let myself miss someone and to be affected by their absence. To admit that I miss him and like life a whole lot better when he’s home. All the more reason I’m so excited to call this man my husband, come September.
For the last year and a half, I’ve worked at a place where I’m fully connected to the people with whom I work. They’re good people, doing good work, and it’s a great opportunity to build my own knowledge and experience. I’ve been given a lot of leeway, grace, and room to grow, I basically wrote my own job description, and I get to take that in some pretty great directions. So when presented with a really difficult financial situation, one in which I’ve had to consider finding a different job in the for-profit sector in order to comfortably pay the bills without C. having to stay out on the road… it’s not an easy task. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t actually want to leave. I want to figure out how to make it work so I can stay.
My thoughts keep returning back to friendships, and I have to admit that I’ve just never been very good at them. At least, I don’t feel like I have. A life of goodbyes and disconnections keeping everyone at arm’s length. There’s something inside that gnaws at me, though; some sort of preconceived notion of what friendship is supposed to look like, telling me I fail on the regular. I suck at reaching out, suck at making plans, suck at making myself vulnerable enough to risk… whatever it is I think I risk by reaching out. Sometimes I think I want it too much, and sometimes I think I’m just fine. I sit at home in my pajamas instead of making plans; I keep myself entertained and sure it’s good enough. I think about people a lot and wonder how they are, but then forget to actually ASK them. I’m so happy spending time with C. when he’s home that it’s sometimes a challenge to force myself to reach out and hang with other people… but I’m always really happy when we do. I don’t actually know that I’m as terrible at it as I think I am; certainly, I compare my insides to other peoples’ outsides, and assume they’re all doing things together all the time and I’m not. But it feels like one of the last hurdles of this whole deal, and I guess it’s gonna roll around in my brain a while until I figure out what’s next.
It’s a nice realization, though, that I’m no longer all that good at goodbyes. Connection is a hell of a complicated, important, wonderful thing.