I always tell myself don’t look back when you’re saying goodbye, just don’t, it’s never a good idea. You kind of have to accept the fact that you are simply running out of breath from holding tears back, and that you can’t do much about the knot in your throat that could keep a navy ship tied to the edge of a coast. Accept even the fact that you fear the river of pain that will be flooding your chest in the next few minutes after you finally let go of trying to keep a straight face.
Of all the things that make traveling hard, saying goodbye is the hardest. There are two kinds of travel, the kind where you’re just a tourist and you go to enjoy the sights and take photos, and have a new experience, and the kind that’s usually longer and means you have created relationships and formed bonds in the place you’re in. The latter is by all definition the most difficult. It sounds glamorous, but there’s truly nothing glamorous about it when the time comes to ‘let go’. You get internationally heartbroken in some way, time and time again. It always sounds good to embark on new adventures, to set your sails, to be free, to try new things and see new places… but there is a downfall to this as well. It isn’t for the faint of heart.
For starters, it’s very rare that people get to know the real you, because by the time they could you’ll be gone. But at the same time when you travel so much you learn to really get to know others (at least if you’re a writer and like me, you ask a lot of questions). You take the stories of these people with you. Sometimes I feel like I know every story just by looking into people’s eyes, by asking them questions and seeing what expressions they have when they answer them. It’s tough because as a nomad you don’t feel understood in the same way. But when there’s a magical moment in which suddenly you are understood, when out of nowhere there is someone who has seen you in the crowd, someone who pulled you apart from everyone and decided to establish a connection with you, everything changes. You feel different because someone has seen you not as a traveler, or a nomad, or someone who is just passing by, but has seen you as someone who could be a part of their world. Things change because suddenly you aren’t referring to this person as ‘the person I know from’ (insert city here) but you have formed a bond, and will know them as your friend, as your brother, your sister, your mother, your aunt, your lover. It will be the person other people will hear you talk about, but will never know how and where you met them, you’ll just talk about them because you can’t help it. Because somehow all of your memories (the best ones) are attached to things you did with that person, and you just want to relive them. You don’t want to think about the fact that they will become distant memories as a quickly as they’ve become recent ones, you just want to believe that they somehow live on. You want to know that when you look at the places they sat with you, or the plates and cups they ate and drank from, or the restaurants you had dinner at, all of these places and things still stand with a spot left wide open for them to return, for you to return. But it’s heartbreaking when you awaken from nostalgia and see that your memories can’t bring anyone back.
All my life I’ve had an interesting relationship with airports, rather a vexing one. Airports are my favourite places, and my least favourite. Arrivals is my favourite area when I’m welcoming family and friends I haven’t seen for a long time, but it’s my least favourite when I’m arriving back to a place I no longer feel the same about, and when I still carry with me the tears of saying goodbye to my last location, my last home. Departures on the other hand is perhaps the most contradictory of all, there’s nothing quite like the rush I feel when I roll my luggage through departure, when I smell that fresh air-conditioned smell of airport-ness, as I pass through the counters on my way to my portal to another world. I feel like I’m on my way to Narnia every time I’m leaving, I never know what to expect and that makes my expectations enormous. But just as departures bring me an exhilarating joy, they also crush me. Leaving people I love at departures is perhaps the most painful experience in the world for me, because I’m staying with every essence of them behind, and I’m going to remember when I see those places without them. That’s the most difficult part I think, revisiting the same places and not seeing them there. Sometimes I don’t even remember what we were doing, but I remember they were there with me and that made all the difference.
Maybe lately I’ve said goodbye to a few people, and will be saying goodbye to some more in the near future, but for right now it’s tough to think about. It’s tough to think about the pain it causes, and how much I detest that it’s an inevitable part of this lifestyle. There are things that get easier with time, almost everything gets easier with time, but not this. Saying goodbye never gets easier, it actually gets harder.