Goodbyes can come at great emotional cost. Goodbyes can be sweet, they can be complicated, they can be fun. In a way, goodbyes can be as difficult to characterize as a kiss. No matter how you slice it, goodbyes are about separation.
There are the kind of goodbyes that stretch on for an eon. When I was a child, my uncle and my father had a ritual that we always observed at our leave-takings. We would say "Goodbye, goodbye, it was a wonderful visit." We would kiss and embrace each other, the cousins, the aunts, the uncles. Then we would load into our car if we were visiting their territory or they would all fall into their car. There was honking, furious cranking down of windows to wave goodbye and to throw kisses until we were out of view. A pause...
then we would circle back, all get out of the car and repeat our goodbyes. This particular ritual was practiced three or four times every year and it never failed to give us all a lot of laughs, a lot of pleasure, and now, fond memories.
There are goodbyes that are understated and quiet. For example, my 18 year-old son, on his way to school, may remember to say, "See you later." When I hear the garage door going up, I usually race to that side of the house to wave goodbye from the laundry room window. Sometimes, he stops me short, causing me to rock back on my heels in surprise. For no reason that I can detect, he says, "'Bye, Mom. Love you." My day is made and I know I am the luckiest woman in the world.
There are goodbyes that I don't want to remember. Those fall into two categories; the ones that were awkward or embarrassing or.... the ones that are, in all likelihood, the last. When I was seventeen, I went to visit my boyfriend of three years at Skidmore College over Columbus Day weekend. While I was there, I discovered he was seeing someone else. He introduced his girlfriend to me. My anger chased my humiliation. He suggested we might all be friends. Honestly? Are you serious? I demanded a ride to the bus station immediately. He borrowed her car to get me there. Now THAT was an awkward goodbye. Fast forward twenty years when I went to visit my grandfather in Florida. I brought my newborn infant son with me. My grandfather wanted to meet his great-grandson before he died. He was 91. I wept when I left my grandfather. I put on a brave face, but as soon as the car was out of sight of his residence, I wept. He died the next year. As it turned out, it really was the last time I saw him.
My mother was partial to "So longs." There is a hint of optimism in so long that is not present in a goodbye. In 1923, Walt Whitman's friend William Sloane Kennedy wrote about the use of the words "So long" in one of Whitman's poems.
Walt wrote to me, defining 'so long' thus: "A salutation of departure, greatly used among sailors, sports, & prostitutes -- the sense of it is 'Till we meet again,' -- conveying an inference that somehow they will doubtless so meet, sooner or later." ... It is evidently about equivalent to our 'See you later.'Today, I drove my friend's car to the auto-mechanic. Once there, I called a cab to take me to the boat, the Island Home. I entered the Steamship Authority Ticket Office in order to buy passage and a bus fare. That done, I headed across the tarmac to the ferry from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole. Leaving Martha's Vineyard never fails to cause a slight constriction in my heart. As I climbed the gangway to enter the boat, I paused for a moment to take in the harbor and to consider my leaving. At long last, I said, "So long, my friend," and boarded the Island Home. The Island, indeed, feels like Home.