goodbye is a bitch

As I write this post, I am sitting on my parents’ screened-in porch, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, covered in a thin but ever-present layer of dog hair, drinking a Diet Pepsi (sorry Mary, I have no idea why there is no Coke in this house, please don’t be ashamed of me), and batting away the occasional advances of two loving and eager dogs whose attention-seeking behavior is clearly a ploy to steal my prime spot on the loveseat where I’ve been sprawled all afternoon.

It feels good to be home. Really, it does. And I know it will be hard to leave again when I load up my car this fall to drive all the way out west, but getting back here was hard. Over the course of one week, I watched my students graduate and move out, then gradually said goodbye to each of my friends and coworkers as they headed home — some for just the summer, some for only a few weeks, but all of whom I had no idea when I would see again. After the residence hall had emptied out, I began the daunting and stressful task of cleaning out and packing up my apartment — a collection of furniture, clothes, and knick knacks that have made two adjoining dorm rooms feel like home for the past three years. All I could take with me were the things that would fit in my sedan, so a giant purge was in order. However, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m a pretty sentimental person. Getting rid of things was an ordeal. I didn’t want to part with the six dollar end table I’d picked up from the thrift store or the throw pillows I’d sewn that matched my bedding. I wasn’t ready to sort through my nail polish collection and decide between two shades of lavender, or throw out the half empty bottle of perfume I never use, or reduce the size of my mason jar collection to just a couple. As I sorted through donations, trash, and things to keep, I watched my life collect into piles. Stuff. Things. Objects. Things that could be considered meaningless but meant something to me.

As much as I wish I could be the kind of person who can throw her life into a few suitcases and boxes and be ready to move across the country, I’m not. I like to be at home, wherever I am. I like decorations — little random jars filled with things, pictures on the walls, fuzzy blankets draped across the couch, shelves filled with books and movies and frames. I like comfort and coziness, and I’d built that for myself at my home in Michigan. It felt safe. As I looked ahead at the next chapter — moving to a new city, a new region, going back to school, taking a bunch of new risks — I wanted all of that safety to come with me. I wanted to pick up my living room, with the shelf on the wall filled with books and records, the squishy couch where my kids curled up and told me their secrets, and the old tube TV that I bought before my freshman year of college, and bring it with me to Spokane. I didn’t want to sort through it, I just wanted it all to come with me. I wanted to walk into my new apartment, turn on my same twinkly lights, and see all of my things there, greeting me like old friends.

In the end, I emptied my two rooms into my tiny car. It wasn’t easy. I got rid of things I didn’t want to, but I kept all the basics, the things that were irreplaceable (and plenty of things that are, but I’m stubborn). I had no less than three major meltdowns. One such meltdown occurred two days before I was scheduled to drive back to Minnesota, as I sat surveying the refugee-like state I was living in, half-packed boxes and trash bags surrounding me, and sent a panicked text to my friend Mary, who promptly responded with “Where are you? I’m coming.” (She showed up no less than five minutes later with a bar of chocolate. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year.) And it was among those boxes and bags, as I cried to Mary about everything left to do the next day and my fears about leaving and how my mom hadn’t been home when I’d called her earlier, that I realized it wasn’t just my stuff I was attached to. It was everything. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my friends who were still here, to say goodbye to this place. I had spent so much of my last days there tearing through my belongings, throwing things in trash bags and deciding what was worth the space, and not enough time making my peace with leaving.

That final night, with my car loaded up, my walls bare, and only some blankets and a massive bag of laundry left in my bedroom, I cried a lot. I said goodbye to some of the most important people in my life and sobbed. I brushed my teeth while crying. I tried to calculate if there would still be room in my car for my laundry and I cried about that. I hugged my teddy bear which I had purposely left unpacked and cried some more. But I let myself cry because, fuck, the whole thing sucked, and I wasn’t about to pretend that it didn’t.

I drove the whole twelve hours back to Minnesota in one shot, the first time I’ve ever done that alone without splitting it over two days. I filled up my gas tank and shelled out the $4.25 for an iced mocha because that’s what you do when you’re about to drive all damn day and you’re on the constant verge of tears. And even though I had been dreading the drive and I cried a lot during the first few hours, I survived it. I sang through countless Broadway soundtracks, I made up a bunch of weird harmonies to old John Mayer songs, I cursed my car for its lack of air conditioning and cruise control, I got stuck in countless construction zones, I refused to stop for fast food and instead subsisted on snacks, and, with four hours left, I crammed the raggedy blanket I’ve had since infancy under my ass to try and elevate my partially-numb right leg and keep going. But when I got home, my mom had bought four different flavors of Ben & Jerry’s to welcome me. My dogs jumped up and down. My dad told me we didn’t have to unload the car until tomorrow. I collapsed into the comfort and familiarity of a place that wasn’t my usual home and I knew it would do for the summer.

So now I’m here, with another chapter of my life behind me (and most of it still in boxes, because I hate unpacking). And I still feel a little bit like there’s a Michigan-shaped hole in my heart, and I know it’s going to feel that way for awhile. Until I move to my new apartment and I fill it with new old thrift store tables and mason jars and twinkly lights. Until I find the new people who will play Cards Against Humanity with me on a Monday night or sit at the coffee shop for hours on end. Until I have time to let my feet sink into the new soil around them and my eyes adjust to the streets and buildings so that they become just another familiar sight. Until it feels like my home.

I have unending thanks for the things I gained in magical northern Michigan over three years and four summers. I don’t think I would be sitting here, writing this post, dreaming about the future if I hadn’t taken a chance and gone there in the first place. So even though goodbye is one of the hardest words I’ve had to say in that place, I’m thankful that I got the chance to say it at all.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

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ghosts of friendships past

It’s a strange sensation, losing a friend.

It can happen in a bunch of different ways, I guess. Sometimes you simply grow apart. You’re friends in grade school because you both like the same flavor of PopTarts and you have made up an entire saga about unicorns to play out on the playground at recess. Then, all of a sudden, you’re auditioning for the school musical and she’s joining the volleyball team. And from then on, you just see each other in English, exchanging polite smiles or working together on yet another PowerPoint presentation. You’re not enemies, but you’re not friends anymore either. It’s bittersweet for awhile, but you move on.

Sometimes, especially in the case of relationships born out of mere convenience, you start to see certain characteristics in a person that force you to grow apart. The girls who lived down the hall from you in your freshman dorm suddenly don’t have anything in common with you, and you realize they never actually did — you were just friends because you lived together. Your coworkers from your old job are harder to relate to because you don’t have work to talk about anymore. Your former biology lab partner suddenly has horrible taste in music and a fake, peppy smile that didn’t matter when you were dissecting a fetal pig, but now all of these things annoy you to no end. It’s not as hard to say goodbye to these relationships, because you realize they weren’t based on any sort of depth. You miss the friends, but you don’t miss the way they chewed their gum.

Other times, physical distance is what ends a relationship. Your best friend for years moves across the country, or you both go to separate colleges after high school. You make a conscious effort, Skyping once a week or writing old fashioned letters, but inevitably, you lose touch. You see her engagement pictures on Facebook, you catch up every once in awhile, but things will never be as they once were. You’ll never have coffee dates where you can actually get past the surface details of your own lives. “What have you been up to?” and “That sounds exciting!” are the center of your conversations, always. This is also bittersweet, but it’s a natural part of life and growing up.

But the most painful way to lose a friend is to watch it happen right in front of you. Slowly, this person you have come to connect yourself with, to love completely, begins to fade away from you. All of the things that you have become accustomed to — the secrets, the inside jokes, the knowing glances — disappear from your life. Who will you stay up until 2am with, doing nothing but staring at the ceiling? Who will distract you from Facebook while you sit at your favorite coffeeshop for five hours on a Saturday afternoon? Everything you do makes you feel alone, even the things you didn’t share with this person. Days pass, even weeks, without any text messages, any coffee dates, any significant words exchanged. The fault can’t be placed on only one of you, but you don’t know what words can be said to fix things. How do you say the things you can’t even say to yourself?

I guess it just strikes me how transient relationships are. Unlike in a romantic partnership, in a friendship the only thing you have tethering you together is this mutual bond of “being friends.” I mean, you have, in a sense, committed yourselves to one another, but you don’t have the explicitly stated exclusivity that husbands and wives or boyfriends and girlfriends have. But just because you haven’t stated publicly or in a romantic ceremony in front of your family that you intend to be linked to this person, it doesn’t mean losing them hurts less. This is especially hard when you have a best friend. You can spend all the time together that you want, you can love each other with your entire hearts, but in the end, when you lose each other, it still feels like as much of a breakup as if you had been romantically linked to that person.

I think the key is to look fondly on the past relationships you’ve had, the friends you’ve lost, the people you’ve distanced yourself from. Don’t let those losses become tinged with negativity, with grudges and unhappiness. Celebrate the people you’ve had in your life for who they are, who you were when you were with them, and the fact that, for however long, you were able to share something together. Relationships are a unique part of the human experience — if anything, cherish the fact that you’re alive, you can love, and you have loved. Those lost relationships are only proof that your heart is working.

“every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied”

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on relationships lately. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Josh Ritter, my favorite singer-songwriter. For some reason, during a routine listening session recently, the following line in his song “Kathleen” stood out to me, more than it ever had before: “Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.” Though I had heard this song countless times before, I finally really listened to this line, and I stopped what I was doing and thought, Damn. This guy’s got it completely right.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been struggling with a few of my own personal relationships lately, or maybe I’ve just never fully understood the weight of Ritter’s words before now. But I started thinking about the knots that had been tied around my heart and who had tied them. Beginning a relationship with another person, be it romantic or just a friendship, involves a certain amount of trust. You are agreeing to let them see the vulnerable sides of you, the ugly sides that you sometimes can’t control. You are also agreeing to let them have a permanent impact on your life. You will make memories with them, you will be connected with them in some way for the rest of your life. Yet when we form relationships, we don’t think of it in this deep, heavy way. When I meet someone new, my first thought isn’t You are going to make a lasting impact on my heart, am I ready to let you? That would be weird. But it is funny to think about how seriously our relationships with other people impact our lives. For some people, one failed relationship can mean a whole string of other relationships that lack trust and honesty. For others, a solid relationship can make the rest of life seem to fall into place. For me personally, a couple rejections and “friend zones” have given me many insecurities about entering into relationships.

When I love someone, I love them completely. I invest so much of myself into the relationships I make with people, romantic or not, and sometimes, I let my feelings dictate my actions more heavily than I should. I can’t help it, I just love deeply. But that sometimes complicates things or leaves me disappointed. Not everyone can commit so fully to relationships like I do — it would be weird if they did. It’s how I love, and I can’t change that about myself. I think sometimes I feel stupid about it because we are often taught not to be the one who loves the “most” in any given relationship. It means you are weak, or clingy, or dependent, or any other negative adjective that describes a person who can’t function without others. I hate that. Just because I really love someone, I’m the weaker person in the relationship? I agree that there is a healthy level of attachment for a human being to have, and when you become too fixated on yourself in relation to someone else, then something needs to change. But I don’t believe we should ever think less of ourselves based on how much we love.

When you love someone, you are allowing them to tie knots around your heart. You are also, in turn, tying your own knots for them, but blindly. You don’t know how your knots are going to affect the shape of their heart or the ability for them to love others. You just do it anyway. I don’t think a heart can ever be a perfect package, with a single string tying it all together simply. Maybe, depending on the nature of the relationships you form, the knots on your heart aren’t very tangled. Maybe they are, but someone else will come along and be able to slightly detangle them while gingerly adding their own knots on top. Maybe you’ve closed your heart off enough so that no one else has been able to tie any knots in a long while.

I think right now, my knots are a mess. I’ve tried to untangle them with my mind, analyzing and criticizing my own relationships, each knot in relation to the others, but it just made the problem worse. And maybe someone else came along and tried to untangle the mess I had already made, but the knots just turned into a bigger, more condensed knot. It won’t ever go away — it’s like the knots are tied from some permanent material — but I can choose how I’m going to let those knots affect the rest of my relationships. It doesn’t matter that it’s not all a nice, neat package. All that matters is that I have space for new knots to be tied.