I remember the night I said goodbye to my four best friends just four years ago. We sat in one of our driveways, atop a big hill, our stomachs filled with McFlurries and nuggets and sorrow. Goodbye swirled in our mind, touched our hearts.
We’d spent the drive with music loud. Music so loud you couldn’t hear sadness. That kind of music. And we’d danced and sung and our voices were the rhythm to the new drums we were beating.
I was the cause of everyone’s tears. As our McFlurrys turned salty with the taste of tears, I was the cause. I was the one leaving. And one, two, three, four, infinity times I’d wondered aloud about what I was doing moving eight hundred miles away. What was I doing leaving those who loved me?
And so my friends, the loyal ones who love nuggets and loud music and late night drives, they’d given me the simplest of answers: you don’t have to go.
And I didn’t have to. They were right. And for a million and one moments, I didn’t want to go. Starlit sky nights made me not want to go. But I went anyway. Despite my hesitations, despite their reservations, I went.
Fast forward four years, and I’m home again. No longer eating chicken or nuggets and no longer saving happiness in a cup of ice cream.
But I’m back in that same driveway. And I’m saying goodbye again, and as my feet shuffle, heavy like boots finding their way in a snow storm, and I get back into my own car—which for once isn’t stuffed to the brim with moving and packing and moving and packing—I realize that I’m not leaving. I’m being left.
The sense of sadness is familiar, yet it’s different all the same. Because I’m not choosing this. It’s not self inflicted, like a journey to the end of a rainbow with the hopes of finding a pot of gold.
I am here—in a static place—and CNN tells me that the world is moving on around me. I hear that things are happening. That not all paths are congruent as people seek out their pots of gold. And I am here, in a town that often I’ve wondered if it ever moves. Or maybe it’s me. Me that’s not moving. Maybe this town is just like the rest of the world, like this whole earth, and it’s moving, rotating as we find our way around the sun. Maybe it’s me that’s not moving.
Or maybe this is just what it feels like to be left.
For someone else’s arms to be wrapped around mine, as they take the first steps away—light and simple—into a car that’s fuller than the one we’d drive around on Friday nights. Only now the friends that once sat in the backseat have been replaced with suitcases large and full.
As full as we once used to be. Fast food filling our tummies. Friendship alive in our souls.
I wonder if maybe I owe a handwritten apology—a reverse thank you note printed in white and gold—to everyone I’ve ever left. To the swollen red faces with dripping tears. To the people who held my hand and kept me moving in the town that maybe moves, in the town that maybe doesn’t move. Because it was an accident. The sadness that trickled down the ladder, starting with me on the day I decided to leave. And it found its way into the hearts of those I love. It was an accident. But they hurt all the same. And maybe I could learn calligraphy and I could deliver I’m sorrys door to door, but nothing can reverse tears once they fall. Nothing can take away that ache in the back of your throat as a sob arises but you try—in vain—to wish it away.
So now, now I only have whispered thank yous—a reverse I’m sorry note printed in a forever way, held together by the type of hands that keep you moving. Thank you for loving me even though I left you.
Divided or together, we’re all searching for our own pot of gold. But the paths that were once parallel as we sat together in school, played in the forest on weekends, invented dream worlds for skinny little dolls, curved. And no longer are they parallel.
And we remember what they all used to say, the parents and teachers and field trip chaperones: if you’re lost, stay in one place. If you’re lost, someone will find you. And we’ve all been lost, we’ve all been found, we’ve all been lost again and again and again.
And the nice thing about home, about static, about the town that maybe isn’t even moving: it’s easier to be found.
And as we say goodbye, whispering see you soons, we only hope we’ll all end up in the same place. That we’ll all return back to the place where we feel found. That no road gets too windy to separate us forever. That no accidental goodbyes force us apart. That one day we’ll be pulled back like a yo-yo, and the music on the radio will be different and we’ll already be telling our own children about when we were their age, and fast food will probably be forbidden in our houses, but we’ll be back in that car.
We’ll be back and those memories will be back.
Flooding us, the way we once flooded sadness away with ice cream.
They’ll drown us—momentarily—as we grasp for solid ground, slamming on the brakes, hoping that we can stop moving for just a second. As we wonder where life went.
Where did those little girls go who once stood side by side in first grade photos wearing matching dresses, shoes, headbands. Personalities different, hearts together.
Where did those girls go, the ones graduating high school with French fry crumbs in their hair and eyes as full with tears as hearts with dreams.
Where did those girls go, the ones hugging goodbye in the same driveway, back to the matching outfits. Plaid shirts and sorrow that mirrored the other’s.
And the flood will recede with the tide and the world will continue to spin, and we’ll be moving again, going forward again in a town that maybe moves, maybe doesn’t move.
And though we’ll hate to leave again—we’ll always hate to leave—we’ll go anyway, because we’re searching for our own gold. At the end of our own rainbow, in our own sky, because oceans now separate us.
And as I stood by, the roles reversed, no longer the leaver, now the one being left, I only wished for the moon to fall, for the sun to rise with rain in its reach, for a darkened sky to once again illuminate, for redorangeyellowgreenblueindigoviolet to appear, for the path that’s not parallel to appear.
It’s hard to leave. I know this. Have known this. Have known this since the day it was me with only twelve inches of space in a backseat packed full of life. But what I’m learning now is it’s even harder to be left. To be the one holding onto memories and moments and a brown bag of trash that smells like French fries and feels like fullness.
Eyes heavy, heart aching, the morning will come, and apart we’ll be. And you, closer to gold. And me, looking for the rainbow, waiting for the rainbow. In a town that maybe moves, maybe doesn’t move, knowing the rainbow will come. Knowing only gold can be waiting.