“The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again”

-The Mountain Goats, “Harlem Roulette”

My entire life I’ve had a hard time with people leaving. It’s not so much a separation anxiety as it is an outright, “I’ll never see that person again in my life—are you kidding me?” I even suck at small goodbyes. If you ask Gwyn about my conversation-leaving habits she’ll tell you I’ll tend to say goodbye and then stand there in a position that suggests I’m actually staying. Either that or I make a last ditch effort to make the friends we’re leaving understand they’re the greatest friends in the world and they mean so much to me. But I’ll try to do it subtly (read: not so subtly): a small wink, a prolonged high-five sequence, a hug followed by sustained eye contact followed by another hug.

So lately I’ve been practicing. I’ll position my body, deliver a cordial goodbye, and then move to make that goodbye a reality. And actually, when I say practicing I mean that I ran through the routine once with good friends who know I have a tendency to drag things out. In this case, practice does not make perfect. Just last night we were at a goodbye party for friends moving to Colorado in August. It was 11:00 p.m. and we headed for the door. I detoured quickly in the kitchen (to “grab something”) and ended up talking for another hour and a half.

I have this other habit of texting someone immediately after spending time with them. If I feel like I couldn’t fully express how much I enjoyed our time together, I’ll send a text that says something like, “Thanks so much for hanging out my friend. It was good to see you again!” with no less than one but no more than two smiling emoticons. This doesn’t happen after every get together, but it’s also not infrequent. I cannot let goodbye be goodbye.

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to carry on the great relationships we’ve ever had throughout our entire lives. What if I still went out for drinks with those block-building friends I had in kindergarten? What if I still talked with my favorite deskmate from elementary? Friends come in for a season and then disappear, and something in me hates that. In less than a year Gwyn and I will transition into another season of life. People will move away. We will move away. I will sink into wistful and oddly serene memories one moment and then wince from their sharpness the next.

In a review of the Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth for Sputnikmusic, Channing Freeman writes this: “What you find in Transcendental Youth aren’t answers to any big questions, but instead questions to a bunch of answers that never meant anything before but now seem exceedingly important, like what happens to lonely people when you never see them again?” Of course, this got me thinking: what does happen to lonely people when you never see them again? But more than that, what happens to anyone you never see again? What will happen to those you might never see again? What happens to all those people you were once close with but now haven’t seen in years?

My answer to all those questions is pretty simple. I have no idea. And so I suck at saying goodbye.

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