Some people hate goodbyes. The only thing you hated was saying them more than once. You told me that a goodbye, a real goodbye, is final. Like a last breath, it's something that can only happen once. I don’t want to mess this one up.
The other day I found an empty snail shell in the garden. I picked it up between my forefinger and thumb to examine the nothingness inside, but my hands were shaking so badly that I crushed it between my fingertips. It turned to dust, and I thought of you. It felt like a sign, even though I never believed in those before you left. I wondered if I should say my goodbyes then, staring down at the shell fragments while the sun stared down at me. Maybe I would have, if the dog hadn’t barked for his food.
. . .
You were never one for relics, were you Maggie? I was the one who picked up fallen feathers and pine cones when we went on walks. I remember you said my room was like a greenhouse for cultivating the past. Maybe that’s true; I never could let go of things. You moved through your life unencumbered by anything, meanwhile my thoughts weighed down on my spine like the rocks in my pockets, testing the limits of fabric and thread. You were the most practical person to ever live in the clouds.
But now… you’re as tethered to the earth as one can be. It could be worse, you could be a keepsake on someone’s mantelpiece. You would hate that, wouldn’t you? Finally being as free as the winds, and then bottled like the world’s worst wine. Sorry. Sometimes I still find myself trying to make you laugh, as if I could make light of this situation. As if you can laugh, wherever you are.
I wish I could talk to you again, and I wish that you could talk back. I want to ask where you were going that day, and if it hurt, or if everything just went black. I wonder, did you know what was going to happen? Did you see the car come towards you? Did time stop for you, and in that brief moment, did you think of me?
Some days it feels like time has stopped, and I’m just walking through some dreamworld where nothing and everything matters at the same time. I always come to whenever I’m reminded that I’m not, in fact, suspended in a dimension where time doesn’t exist. I know this because you’ve been gone for five months, two weeks, and three days. Sometimes I wish I knew how many minutes it’s been. I count the seconds. I count each breath since you’ve been gone. Sometimes these numbers are the only things that keep me together. I count and recount until my tears have evaporated, or my teeth have been brushed, or my laundry is dry. Sometimes, when the air feels made of jelly, I cannot move or speak or blink or breathe. And so I count.
But sometimes I wonder whether I’m counting up or down. And either way, what am I counting to?
. . .
I loved you. You knew, although I never said anything. An open secret, a closed door. I suppose you might’ve loved me too. Now I’ll never really know, will I? Your mother said something strange, when we were cleaning out your apartment- I was there, of course I was there. She asked me if I knew how much I meant to you. Something in the way she looked at me made me feel like she was grieving the loss of two people, their togetherness, rather than just one. As if maybe she was grieving us, Maggie. At that moment I was convinced that you felt the same. It was as if I had conquered something and lost it all at once, and I had to sit down. Your mother didn’t notice, she misses a lot these days.
That night I felt disgusted with myself, for creating a story in which you and I could have been together. What right do I have to decide what you would’ve wanted? Who you would’ve loved? I decided right then and there that my grief needed to end; that you were gone and I needed to accept it. I stared at the ceiling, readying myself to say goodbye. It was so dark that night that my eyes didn’t know where to land, swimming in blackness for some sort of lifeline. I opened my mouth to form the words, and I broke. A sob tumbled from my throat and spilled over my lips, and my body convulsed into piteous shapes. I clutched at myself, choking, shaking. I hadn’t cried that hard since I got the news of what had happened to you. Every time it subsided, long enough for me to hiccup and attempt to say farewell, I collapsed back into sobs. No matter how hard I tried, my body prevented me from speaking. I cried so much that the darkness around me became blurry, and it held me as I fell asleep.
When something dies, it always leaves pieces of itself behind. Dust from a snail shell, or crumpled leaves from a tree, like the shirts your mother picked off the floor in your apartment. Your parents gave me some of your things. Your clothes, some books, and the photo of us on graduation day that you had framed on your wall. So many pieces of you, but even if I had them all, I couldn’t put you back together again. Maybe that’s why you never kept things like I did, it’s a frustrating reminder of what can’t be undone.
My therapist told me that I should try writing letters to you. She said that if I could put pen to paper and describe how I feel, it may help. I smiled and nodded, and pretended to take her advice. The truth is that I’m afraid to write this all down. I’m unable to explain the way I see your smile when raindrops fall on soil, and hear the chords of your shower songs in the whisper of the wind. I’m afraid that if I tried, it would all come out wrong and the pieces I have left of you would change. So instead I keep them safe, cradled in my heart.
It may sound insane, but I wonder if you can hear me. I can’t help but feel that all my thoughts are letters for you, stamped and addressed to godknowswhere. I never believed in anything after death before you left me, but now I’m not so sure. As long as I think these thoughts to you, I don’t believe you can fully disappear. Not until the pages of your journals have returned to the earth and the places touched by your fingertips forget the way it felt.
. . .
It’s been almost a year now, and everyone tells me that you would want me to let go. I believe them. If you knew that I treasure my memories of you like collectibles, and look for reminders of your life every day of mine, you would disapprove. You would frown, with one side of your mouth more than the other, and say my name in that lovingly strained tone of voice: Hana…
If things were different, if I was the one who left that day instead of you, you would have said your final words to me ages ago. You would not have my things cluttering your apartment, or my absence somehow filling your brain. You would blow me a kiss and let me go. That would have been your last goodbye, but it simply can’t be mine. Each exhale of breath is my goodbye to you, each inhale my hello. Cultivating the past, and growing the future. If things were different, this would be a happy ending. But it is just an ending like any other; an ending that will begin and end again. Goodbye.