When our parents were young, they went to summer camp. They went at the start of summer and made summer friends there, and at the end of summer, camp was over, and everybody went home. Maybe they’d return a few years in a row, and see familiar faces. But never everyone — the end of each summer always meant “goodbye.” Back then, goodbye was real. It was still possible to lose touch with someone, and more often than not, you would. Phone numbers and addresses changed, records were left un-updated, years passed, and summer friends became memories.
Goodbye is dead. I came of age when it died. I got email at age thirteen, my first cell phone in high school, and Facebook as a college sophomore. I remember when I was twelve — like it’s etched in stone — riding bikes through the woods and kissing the neighborhood girl and feeling like there was nothing else in the world. Now when I meet someone, we trade numbers, social media follows, and texts. We go home and Google each other. We’re given the option to weigh our options and we take it. Now, at the end of the party, “goodnight” is never “goodbye.”
I fantasize about those summers, when goodbye was real, the same way I do about old novels and love stories. It’s a fantasy of life made clear by fate, and the romance of ships that pass in the night. “Goodbye” meant fate was real. I’ve imagined Romeo and Juliet with smartphones. They don’t transcend. They’re just two dumb, sad kids.
A few years ago, I started saying goodbye again. I was tired of my heart jumping when an ex popped into my social media feed, and of guilty, furtive check-ups into their lives online. I was tired of a bad career decision haunting my Linkedin page. I was tired of all the unannounced visitors. I wanted end-of-summer goodbyes, and stone memories.
I said it first to a company, and then to a casual lover, and then to a great love, and a few old friends. I would explain how “this isn’t a begrudged act,” and how “keeping you around makes you feel like a ghost.” And then I’d delete – the phone numbers and Facebook friendships. I blocked the emails, and tossed the rest.
I got good at goodbye. Hell, I even started a business doing it for other people. At first, I felt a rush – like a foreign fling, or the perceptual clarity of traveling far away from home. At parties I’d say, “I don’t take numbers.”
They’d ask me why the eff not.
“Because I believe in goodbye, and things that are bigger than me. Because I believe in fate.”
Sometimes it was a winning line…but it didn’t make me any happier. I didn’t feel any freer, or truer. The past would say hello with a song, or over six blocks on a certain avenue, and my heartbeat still got quicker. Past failures snickered at new opportunities. My head, as it turns out, is a social network, every object a referent of supposedly forgone cares. I felt sick. I had said goodbye to nothing, and I had made myself very very lonely.
Fate can be cheap beauty, a stand-in for choice, an excuse of responsibility. I had tried to avoid it, but goodbye was always real. It just had never lived where I thought it did — in texts, on Facebook, as apparitions on screens avoided and avenues bypassed, and in options chopped away. No, goodbye had always lived in me.
I don’t say goodbye much anymore. I accept Facebook friends, and I’ve let some ghosts reappear on gchat. I’ve let the past creep back, like ivy on a stone farmhouse. It looks nice, I think. Goodbye is a matter of heart, and fate less about chance than conviction. My life is much more like summer now. I know there will always be ships that pass in the night. What I’ve learned is that the distant voice in the darkness…it’s mine.