Over three years ago, I stayed with a friend in a new city, and his friends all came over and made steak tartare and fries for a welcome dinner. They became my first new friends. Since, I had never seen them all together in the same place, for constraints of time or distance or scheduling. Last night, we were all together again — every last one of us — and made steak tartare and fries as a goodbye dinner. It was the kind of farewell where you don’t even really need to say anything, because part of you knows that it will happen again, it’s just a question of when.
A few days earlier, I had endings that were much better-articulated.
“You’re a really good person,” I told a friend in the hallway of the house party, “and I’m really glad that I got to know you.”
It was the last one we’d have just like that, with all of us in the same place and the same level of freedom and the same open future ahead of us. I would come back some day, yes, but nothing would be quite the same. And that’s a good thing. It’s always tinged with a certain sadness when groups of friends remain exactly the same over the course of a few years, but a selfish part of every person wants people to repeat themselves out of nostalgia. You want to put everything into a little music box and open it up at will, seeing the tiny dancers spinning just the way they were when you left them.
His cheeks flared red when I said this. We weren’t, like most friends, used to speaking so candidly about the way we feel towards each other. He told me some sweet things, and I felt a catch at the back of my throat. “Don’t cry,” I thought, “It’s going to be all weird if you cry, and tonight is about having fun.”
There is no perfect way to execute a goodbye. There is the lightness and the familiarity that we all want, the feeling that even its final moments, a relationship is still just as fun as it always was. Because when we are saying goodbye to someone, we’re not just talking to them, we’re talking to the person that we are at this very moment. We know, even if we don’t want to admit it, that we will never be in this exact same spot again. We will never see the world the same way, and closing the door on someone’s chapter means committing it officially to memory — that it’s no longer an organic, living thing.
“If nothing ever changes,” we think, without even really thinking it, “then maybe we can be young forever.”
I think I said a hundred goodbyes that night, sometimes forcing myself to go back and add one last thought before the person walked out the door. I told certain people what I’ve always thought of them, told them that I believed in them, told them that they were good at that thing they’ve always considered just a hobby. Goodbyes are a certain brush with mortality, the feeling of time running out that leads you to say every thing you’ve ever considered too uncomfortably honest. There were people I’ve known for years who only in that moment heard what I truly felt for them with no filter, and all I regretted was not having told them before.
There are people we will never be able to say goodbye to, even if we have to leave. They are the ones we will make every last effort to stay close to, the people we will write and call and video chat with in the early morning hours to accommodate time zone discrepancies. The two of you will look at ticket prices and plan trips and make sure there is always a couch that the other can crash on, even on short notice. They are the loves that can’t be tempered by distance or time, and the goodbyes you force yourselves to say are really just an “I’ll see you soon,” even if they make your chest hurt in the moment. Even when you are about to leave, you imagine that you’ll see them just one more time, even if it’s getting a coffee at the airport terminal.
When the party was over, I wondered how many of these people I would really never see again. I picked up my belongings and walked as slowly as possible to the door, counting every step to see how long I could make the exit last. And while I knew, on some level, that many of the goodbyes I had said were permanent ones, I thought it better to assume that I would see all of them again some day, even in the same room. It seemed a better way to live life, imagining that your next reunion is just around the corner, and that your story will never have to come to a real ending.