“They’re on their way,” my mom said.
My heart sank. This was going to be painful.
I didn’t know what I was going to say. One of my closest friends was coming over. We had very similar, although quite odd, interests for teenage girls, but, this time, we weren’t planning to have fun. This time, we weren’t going to have a sleepover with popcorn and action movies. We weren’t going to debate religion or bake brownies.
No, this time, we were going to say goodbye.
She was a third culture kid, and her family was moving back to a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She was quite literally moving to the other side of the world.
I guess we always knew it was inevitable. She was always a third culture kid, even from the day we met. She had shown up at my church quite unexpectedly, and I, remembering what it was like to be the new kid and curious about island life, decided to make friends with her. To our delight, we clicked, maybe partially because both of us were so counter-cultural or maybe because our moms also became friends. For whatever reason and without expecting it, we became good friends very quickly.
You could say I should’ve known that I would have to say goodbye. It wasn’t going to last forever. Eventually, the day would come when her family would have to leave America and go back to island life. Knowing in advance didn’t make it any easier when the time actually came.
That night I sat in my living room, with my heart stuck either in the lump in my throat or the knot in my stomach. I pictured everything from telling her all the things I loved about her to bawling in each other’s arms to laughing and enjoying one last night together.
The next thing I knew our doorbell rang, and my friend and her mom were at the door. The four of us spent some time together, and then my friend and I went out to the front porch for some girl time. We sat on the front steps next to each other, arms wrapped around our knees.
And we said nothing.
I think it was the only time in our friendship that both of us were completely speechless. What could we possibly say? There are just no words to summarize a friendship and the pain of saying goodbye, wondering if this would be the last time we ever spoke in person.
There were no words. There still aren’t. Sometimes life experiences can only be felt, not described or articulated. There isn’t always a perfect way to say goodbye and express what we’re feeling. There can only be mutual love, common pain, and shared memories.
Eventually, our moms told us that it was late, and it was really time to say goodbye. We stood up, swallowed hard, hugged, and said goodbye. Just like that. She walked away from me, back to their van, and I felt like part of my life just walked away with her.
Up until now, I had always been the one to move. It was different from this side, and I wasn’t sure how it would go. It felt emptier. It felt like I was losing something. We promised to keep in touch, but I knew from experience that those good intentions often become lies. It’s difficult to keep up with people outside of your immediate life. I resolved to do my best, but not to be surprised if eventually I lost her.
That night was nine years ago. Our friendship survived separation across oceans and continents via email and Skype. We grew up, attended the same college, and stood at the altar of each other’s weddings. To no one’s surprise, we both married nerdy guys that got along, and today we live only 20 minutes from each other in the same city. We get together as much as adult life allows and the friend I once thought I was saying goodbye to has now become one of my longest friendships.
Her husband is now job hunting after finishing a graduate degree and once again I feel nervous. Once again I wonder if we’ll have to say goodbye. But this time, I know that friendship survives time zones and life transitions. This time, if I do say goodbye, I know that I don’t need to have all the words. I will do nothing more than share the painful yet joyful moment of goodbye. I will be content in the quiet and the reflection. I will just be.
And you never know, maybe it won’t really be goodbye.