March 4, 2013

What If I’m Always The First To Leave?

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It’s almost that time of year again, the one we’ve all had the misfortune of knowing intimately. Here comes another Leaving Season, I say to myself, and taste it in my morning coffee. Taste it in the way spring drops sunshine upon even the most persistent end-of-winter chill (a winter swan song, if you will), taste it in the nervous energy of everyone around you who knows it’s coming too. The Leaving Season brings back my bad habit.

When you care about someone whom you are about to irreversibly and indefinitely leave, are they real? When you make the acquaintance of someone who is about to disappear from your immediate reality, do they count? If there is an expiration date on human interaction, does it make it more precious or not at all? Upon the dawning of the Leaving Season, one is affronted with a major injustice: to choose if they will be the one to leave or the one to be left.

The Leaving Season is going to come and there is nothing to be done about it. It will not come on your terms; you can only react to its whim. Some people are good at this; they toe the careful line that is the silver lining. They play by selfless rules. I am endlessly impressed by these people and their resilience to being left. It impresses me that they can conciliate themselves with happy memories collected like shiny gold coins. Sometimes I wonder if, when they are finally alone, they have a milk jug full of these gold coins that they can pour out and hold in their hands, closing their fingers upon each solid one and feel it press upon their palms, feel the weight of each and every one. I wonder if they smile to themselves, then, and are satisfied because, even if these things can never happen again, at least they happened. Even when the ones they loved are forgetting them, they are still glad that the love was once there. I wish I could be one of these people.

I am not noble, or brave, or selfless. I am none of these pretty words. I am hysterically frightened of investing myself in things that will be torn away from me. I am defensive. And so at times like this when the Leaving Season squats on the horizon with its hungry smile, I need to be the one who leaves. I need to outrun everybody else who is leaving. I need win the race because if I lose, well, then I Lose and I think again about what my best friend had once told me when we were children: “I just think that every time you love someone, even in the smallest way, you give them a bit of yourself. But we are finite beings and if you give too much away, you will have nothing left. Then, you will never be able to love again the way you can, now. And the idea of that is just so sad to me, to not feel anything.” So, to keep from running empty, I try to snatch back the pieces of myself that I had let you hold on to.

“It’s mine, give it back. I was just letting you borrow it for a while but I want it back now because I need it. It’s not for you.”

Burning bridges is my bad habit and perhaps the biggest problem of all is that I am really fucking good at it. Practice, I guess. So now, in the face of all these goodbyes I am about to embark upon, I say ugly things that I don’t mean. Even worse are the ugly things I say that I do mean, that I never said because I loved you but now, if I say them, it means I don’t love you anymore, right? I get too drunk and do ugly things like lie, or yell, or let go of your hand when you want me to teach you how to waltz on the balcony with a cigarette pressed between your pale lips that I used to kiss (it’s cold out tonight).

I look at you and you and you and I think to myself, I could have loved you, and then I think with morbid glee, but I won’t. There is not enough time for me to love any of you and so while it is all right for you to think I am interesting it is not all right for you to think anything beyond that. We are passing fancies so let’s not make it more than it is.

On Saturday night, I braided red roses into a crown that I wore on my head and went to my Beautiful Boy’s apartment to drink craft beer and listen to The Velvet Underground with his little black cat in my lap. On Saturday night, as I knocked on his door and he opened it to let a shaft of warm yellow light fall upon me in the winter darkness, the first snowfall Atlanta has seen in two years descended and tiny, glittering snowflakes fell on my crown of roses and my dark brown hair. They fell on the curve between my nose and my lips and on the indents made by my collarbones in my skin. On Saturday night, he put one arm around my waist and another on the back of my neck and took me into him, then into his apartment, and laughed brightly as he said to me, “look at you, you are a flower princess!” I marveled at how beautiful everything was, then and there, as he led me by the hand to the couch and the warmth blasting inside the living room took the roses from my hair and put them into my cheeks. Even then, though, even then — I let the tips of my fingers linger on his face but he was already translucent. In the process of vanishing. The soundtrack of the Leaving Season cackled as, in the midst of loveliness, I collect my things and tell him “I’m done, ha-ha, I am so done.”

The Santa Ana winds are billowing my way from the West Coast and I ride their coattails, letting the Leaving Season take me away. If I am always the one to leave, will I ever be left alone? TC mark

Heidi Liu

Heidi is a twenty-one year old radio journalist from Los Angeles who now lives as an ex-pat in Beijing. E-mail her …

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