Something about a goodbye

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I’ve always taken pride in the way I say my goodbyes.

I prepare for them, carefully curating the words in my head or writing them down as letters on my best stationery. By the time the ink has dried and the pages have been slipped into a fresh envelope, I’ve already allowed myself to imagine what life will be like without them.

Sometimes, my goodbyes are weeks long. The month before I was expected to move across the world to college, I said goodbye to my parents everyday — for me, that meant starting more conversations with my dad and scrubbing down every plate and greasy surface after sharing a meal with them. The meals my mom knew as my favorites each became prefaced with a joking reminder: “在美国吃不到,” she’d say with a smug smile. You can’t get this in America.

And she was right.

Who else would know how I liked my 老柴主排骨, ribs seasoned and cooked until they were salty black and dribbling with oil? Who else would know that my comfort food is 年糕汤, remnants of a distant childhood memory of coming home from the beach, freezing and exhausted, to a steaming bowl of rice cake soup? Meal after meal, my mom seemed to be saying goodbye, too — refusing to send me off without a full stomach.

The last meal we shared together was at a noodle shop at the airport, a chain restaurant that every true Chinese person knew to avoid. But compared to a dingy Burger King and a tragic Subway, this felt the least wrong. As I sat there trying to construct the words for the perfect goodbye, I drew a blank.

All I could think about was how empty my room would be and how my cat wouldn’t know why I wasn’t coming home. The airport security gate was a goodbye that was just a few bites away, before I would pass through the white hall with my life packed in two suitcases and disappear. All I could think about was my parents’ quiet drive home from the airport, returning to dinner and my empty seat, and I wondered if my mom would still make my favorite foods after I was gone.

And so, as I snapped back to reality, we finished our meal and reached the gate; and the only words I could muster between tears were “I’m scared.”

It’s been almost a year since I’ve left, and I still don’t know when I’ll see all of them again. But life has a way of sweeping me up and pushing me along, and as I’ve built a new life here, I’ve also accepted that goodbyes — and missing people long after you’ve parted — are a fundamental fragment of growing up.

But I still see the people that I care about, including my parents, everyday. A stranger’s shrieking laugh on the street will remind me of my best friends. The flowers that grow stubbornly from between the cracks in the pavement will remind me of the boy who used to pick them for me. The handful of green onions I throw on every dish I cook will remind me of my mom, the shape of my nose and the way I laugh will remind me of my dad and my favorite movies will remind me of my brother. 

It’s in all the little mannerisms and phrases I’ve stolen from “you,” it’s in the way I dress and the way I define love; all little pieces of you that are stitched into my identity, woven seamlessly into my life, seasoning all of my experiences like a familiar recipe.

Perhaps it’s just my way of holding on to something that may never be the same again. Maybe all of these little traces of you are just souvenirs, and nothing more; emblems of who I was before I grew up, moved out or moved on. Perhaps it would save me a lot of heartache to see the world as it is, a patchwork and the occasional ripped seam, instead of a continuous, patterned quilt of memory. 

But what would my life be without all of these cheesy little revelations? That, even with all the random and infinite outcomes of the universe, of all the places I could have been and people I could have become, I ended up with you, and being a part of something far, far bigger than myself.

And that’s why there’s something about a goodbye that is so revealing — it’s the lingering gaze after a hug, a twinge in my chest that is the subconscious decision that, yes, I will see you again. It’s walking backwards, just to hold them in your sight for a little longer. It’s the journey back home or to work or to a different country, when the thought of them is still fresh in your memory, so palpable that you can almost reach out and touch it before the image gets fuzzy. Every goodbye is also a revelation that the people I love most will always be a part of my life. There is something about a goodbye that is reassuring — it’s the knowing that I’ll see you again, and that it’ll feel like you never left. 

 

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members separate from the semester’s regular opinion columnists. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.