leaving, being left
leaving, being left
Anneli is going back to Sweden. To medical school. To home, and family. And pickled fish and lingenberries and straight-laced Lutherans. Tonight we had our last beers at Christopher's, she and Mr. Hwang and Andy and I. The others said goodbye at the dojang.
"It's always better to be the one to leave than the one left," I said, to make her feel better. She's pink around the eyes. I know that feeling all too well. "Yes," she agreed, "that is definitely true."
But I don't really believe that anymore. I don't want to be doing any more leaving. I've done enough. I hate boxes. I hate the tight chest encroaching-departure-date feeling. I hate tearful car rides to the airport.
We drank our beers and ate our burgers and then Anneli put on her coat. And sat at the table wearing her coat for another 10 minutes.
"Les enfants," she finally said, standing to go. I love how Anneli speaks three languages in a sentence. "Come visit me in Sweden in months that don't have the letter 'r'." And we watched as Andy made faces counting in his head till he got to May.
"Do you want my plants?" she asked, extending the long-goodbye. Mr. Hwang and I followed her back to her house to collect her plants.
And she gave me a music box she got in Paris. "You must not play this until the 23rd." Mr. Hwang turned the crank anyway. I tucked it in my coat pocket. We tried to chit-chat about things other than friends leaving. She pulled some Dali prints out from a box. We put the plants in paper bags. We pretended we weren't saying goodbye.
The thing about travelling, about moving, about living overseas -- the thing about that not-so-romantic-anymore bohemian lifestyle -- is that it toughens your soul. You learn to bite back the ache of loss, you learn to say goodbye without looking back. You cherish your experiences and the friends you meet along the way, knowing they are all that's real, wanting to hold on, but too wise -- or too jaded -- to even try.
On the ride back Mr. Hwang says, "Sad that Anneli's leaving. What's that feeling -- sort of a big sad, but sort of depressed also? Not like you're going to go home and cry, but just sort of depressed?"
"I don't know," I say. "I don't have a word for it either." I try to feel what I am feeling. What is it? Another goodbye. Another friend to visit somewhere far away. Life goes on, but tonight it feels a little gray. A little muffled.
"It's been two years since you've been in Boston?" Mr. Hwang asks.
"Three," I say. "Three exactly. Minus about a week..."
"Did you move to Boston on your birthday?"
"The day before. I had my first interview on my birthday."
"That must've been hard."
"Interviewing on my birthday?"
"No, coming to Boston without a job, not knowing anybody..."
"Not as hard as the leaving was."
I still get a nauseous feeling when I think about those last few packing-up days. The remorse, the anxiety, the tight-throat feeling you get when you try not to cry for a very long time. It was a couple years before I could let myself miss New Zealand.
I dreamed of Simon last night -- him trying to hold on, me pleading with him to let me go. "I'm already gone," I reasoned, "I'm already gone, please don't try to hold on." In the end Simon had thought me somehow defective, with my callused, world-weary way of letting go and moving on. I'd gotten too good at leaving.
I think he may have been right. Things take on a new shape when you know you can’t hold on to what you love. Slip-sliding. In an 'it'll-be-right-mate' sort of way. I always hated that particular New Zealandism. But it will... it'll be 'right...
So. Medical school. Goodonya, Anneli.