Thursday, April 26, 2012

In the Gloaming in Koh Chang: The Trouble with Goodbye

"I hate goodbyes. They're right down there with endings on my list of things I'd pay good money to avoid (and I did each of the three times I delayed the end of my stint in Southeast Asia last year until what was meant to be a one-month trip turned into a six-month one).

I don't have to play devil's advocate to see that sometimes "The End" can be a welcome sight -- after the denouement of a terrible movie, the closing notes of an awful song, or the conclusion of a bad romance that should have been put out of its misery months earlier. But when what has come before the end has been a positive viewing/listening/loving/traveling experience, there's nothing good about goodbye.

It's not so much the finality of goodbye that gets to me as the complexity and uncertainty of it. I'm never really sure what to do at the end of the final act, how to say goodbye at the end of a great holiday (to the place and to the guy), at the end of a first date, or at the end of a last one, the postmortem rendezvous that we all occasionally go on seeking closure.

Do I say goodbye by pecking him on the cheek, kissing him on the lips, inviting him up, or just shaking his hand. And what do I do with mine while I'm trying to answer the previous multiple-choice question? Do I pretend like there'll be a next time even if I know there won't be? Do I play it cool -- "Take care!" -- and throw in a casual "mate" or "buddy" when I'm actually thinking more along the lines of "honey"? Do I say, "Call me" (too desperate?), or "I'll call you" (code for "Don't call me"?)?

How do I appear like I'm still interested at farewell when all I can think of are the million things I have to do when the other person leaves -- or when I do? If breaking the ice is difficult, arriving at that moment of finality is even more so. The conversation suddenly starts to wobble from topic to topic, fumbling toward an exit, a graceful note on which to end.

Living in Argentina exacerbated my fear and loathing of goodbye. It was impossible to leave any gathering without offering a "chau" and a kiss on both cheeks to every stranger in the room, people whose names you couldn't even remember, people whom you'd probably never see again.

For me the happiest ending of all, was always one without a single goodbye.

I'm not sure if my best friend Lori knows about my aversion to adieu, though she was one of the people who was most affected by it during my last five years in New York City. Many is the time that I’d throw parties in my Union Square apartment and ask her to lock up, quietly excusing myself from my still-full house just so that I could avoid sappy goodbye scenes with my guests. For me, it was a bad habit that began in college, where I thankfully had roommates to lock up for me when I ditched the proceedings for the Hardback Cafe, or someplace where there'd be more booze and fewer goodbyes.

I'm not sure where Lori stands on the subject of goodbye, but I was pretty surprised to hear that sunset, which is basically an elaborate goodbye to the day that precedes it, is her favorite time of day. As far as I knew, she was never all that big on endings either. But since her arrival in Thailand, she'd been dying to see the sun set from high above street level. Unfortunately for her (though not for me), things kept getting in the way (traffic, sightseeing, shopping, late-afternoon naps to battle jetlag).

She finally got her wish when we arrived at Nirvana Resort in Koh Chang's Bang Bao Bay. Though it wasn't a view from 37 or 63 floors above (ones offered, respectively, by Anantara Bangkok Sathorn, where I live, and Lebua's Sky Bar), when the sun sets on Bang Bao Bay, it's every bit as spectacular.

But then, I have nothing to compare it to. In nearly 43 years of day in, day out, I can't recall ever stopping to actually gaze at a setting sun from start to finish. I couldn't believe the incredible beauty that was spread out before me, the kaleidoscope of warm color, the way the sun was relatively high in the sky one moment, then touching the horizon in what seemed like a matter of seconds. It was one of the visual highlights of Lori's entire visit up to that point.

I'm not sure if it will affect how I feel about endings, about goodbye. Now I know that they can indeed be beautiful, but that might not make the ones I have to say to people face to face any easier. Like so many things in my life, goodbye always comes easier in written form. I can compose a killer break-up email, or an excellent kicker to a magazine article or blog post. Some writers have trouble with ledes and endings. For me, it's always what comes in the middle that gives me the most angst.

But “So long” in writing is much easier. End with a great memorable quote, a clever declarative summary statement, or one simple word: Goodbye.

The end.

3 Goodbye Songs That Will Make Sticking Around Until the End of This Post Worth It

"Goodbye" The Sundays

"The Last Goodbye" Jeff Buckley

"Goodbye Stranger" Supertramp

super tramp - goodbye stranger by feriananda
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