I move around a lot and say goodbye often. Usually, I’m the one leaving. This time, I threw the goodbye party for a family who until last week, lived in Salta, too. They were the closest we had to family here. Lila was with them when I was in the hospital giving birth to Charlie. We cooked for each other. Went on a road trip to Brazil and the beach together. They were the ones we called in an emergency.
We waved goodbye as our friends drove down away to the airport, not knowing when we’d ever see them again. Then what else is there to do but go back inside and continue life as usual?
I’ve known this was coming for a few years, since the day they mentioned they were selling their house and moving back to England. But it takes time to sell a house. A couple years. Once it sold, they rented a house for eight months while their kids finished school. Their rental sat just over the mountain ridge across the valley. When they walked their dog, we saw them from our front porch.
What an amazing last summer we had together, too. The kids came to us to swim and pick tomatoes from the garden. We went there to bounce on their trampoline. We grilled lots of meat and set fires, went fishing, caught bugs.
Summer ended late this year, too.
Usually, we’re piling on layers and lighting fires by the end of March, summer rainstorms long forgotten as the dry grass yellows. This year, we wore short sleeves and sat on the deck for dinner well into May.
“I can’t believe they’re gone,” we say wistfully every so often.
Their trampoline sits in our backyard now. They gave us coffee mugs, children’s books and a couple of bags of things for other people. I’m waiting for these other people to come pick up what our friends left behind.
It’s easier to leave than it is to stay. Yes, the work of leaving is excruciating. It’s pulling up every root, dislocating the soil. Pieces of your life inevitably remain behind. But once you go, you’re more focused on what’s happening next and what you need to do and where you’re going. One foot in front of the other, you move ahead, one bit at a time.
And it’s exciting.
When you stay, you notice mainly what’s missing and what was left behind. A coffee mug, a puzzle, a Hungry Hungry Hippos game. There’s no excitement in imagining life where they once lived.
Years ago, my best friend Jen left Brooklyn for traveling nursing. She packed her apartment, placed the things she’d accumulated into the three categories things always seem to arrange themselves.
Jen left coffee mugs with us. We returned her mugs a few years later when she moved back to Brooklyn. Then when we left, we gave her some of our mugs. Whenever I visit her now, I can’t remember which mugs were ours and which were hers. They’ve existed in both our lives. We’ve sat at kitchen tables, hers and mine, with the same mugs in our hands drinking coffee and talking about myriad things.
Two of the mugs our friends left have the same shape, although a different color, as the mugs Jen left when we were in Brooklyn. When I pour coffee into the porcelain curved shape, I think of them. I think of Jen. I think of travel and family and where we’ve been.
Mug transcends the very thingness of mugness. They’re no longer things, but memories. Things-no-longer-things connect to a person, place, time and event. Is this what Buddhism means about letting go of attachments? They are all too often bittersweet.
I pulled my jacket out the closet the day after they left. It was too cold for the trampoline, but I lay on it fully clothed, shoes still on and stared at the sky.
Is it time for us to leave, too?
There are so many reasons to go.
We don’t really fit in, and we never will. Our kids are different, too. I’m far away from other English language writers, and my Spanish writing is a pale cousin of what I can do in my lengua maternal. If I lived in the US or closer to it, I could run more retreats. I could go to more conferences. I could find a writing group to meet in person. I’m too far away from my parents. Our community here is not what it used to be now that our friends have left.
There are many reasons to stay, too, but one stands above the others?
The earth around our house is magic.
We have cherry tomatoes in the flower bed, and more sprang up in the garden and at the far edge of the house. Grapefruits appeared on three bushes at the edge of our yard one summer. They just started fruiting, and now we have more than we’d ever need, so we gift them to anyone who visits.
Our compost has spilled over, multiplied and grown bushy and busy as it sprouts deep green koreano squash, mingling their furry vines with smooth honeysuckle.
It’s not orderly, but it is magic.
Magic grows from the dry mud outside, yet I will never fully belong here. My children speak Spanish better than I ever will, and sometimes, I lose English words, too.
I’m far away from everything I’ve ever known, but I don’t remember what it’s like to live in the United States. When I visit, it seems disjointed, jangling. I long to come home to my rich red earth and silence, but it’s lonely to be neither here nor there. To speak neither this nor that. To always be in limbo, liminal, a little bit lost.
There’s no such thing as perfect, not in writing and not in life.
These days, I notice how my words and life intertwine as well. We write and what we wrote comes true. Real life dissolves into words, as we work ourselves out on the page. Without even realizing it, we move by instinct, one foot after the other.
When something major changes, displacing the comfort we thought was permanent, it puts the rest of life into sharp focus. What else is missing that we didn’t even notice? What do we have that was never fully appreciated? Jaws relaxed, sniff the air as if to find which direction to rest the next footfall, where to place the next word, by instinct, breathing in the magic.
That’s the secret. One bit at a time, and it’s ok not to see your forward path clearly.