— The Best of Me, Nicholas Sparks
I just came home from a surprise despedida dinner-slash-milk-tea-date for a dear colleague-turned-quickly-into-a-friend—a really, really close friend. The drive home was excruciating. Every stop light was an uninvited opportunity to look back at what was once shared. Curse memories, curse them.
Every new year is filled with hope for new beginnings. But when 2012 arrived, I was greeted with one too many of the opposite. And I can’t help but ask myself why.
At a tender age of 25, I feel that I’ve had my fair share of farewells. With the tragic deaths of two best friends on separate occasions and separate points of my life, I think I’ve earned the right to claim that I’ve had more than enough. And yet it keeps happening. I always have to say goodbye—whether it’s to a friend who have chosen to find greener pastures somewhere else, to relatives who need to fly back home, to best friends to whom Heaven’s Gates have opened for, to a fiance who needs to finish up Med school for our future, or even just to some people who are physically present but are no longer there. I always have to say goodbye. What’s worse is that I’m always the one left behind. And tonight was no different.
Every setting is slightly different. They may come in different forms, phases, and timing but the theme remains the same: after the fleeting hello, the goodbye follows. Always.
I entered the restaurant…anxious—I can define this feeling because I’ve been through it one too many times. My hands were clammy, my heart was a staccato of the same deep note on repeat, my breathing was rapid and shallow. The only thing that kept me from turning around was having friends around me who could relate (or so I strongly imagined).
The hello’s were perfect, the priceless look of surprise on her face was pristine. But both were fleeting. As we settled into each of our own seats, as we exchanged stories of what was, what is, and what will be, I looked around and asked myself, "who will be next?". Throughout my experience, one of the lessons I have learned to accept was that somebody will always follow. All the same, I filled my heart with laughter, jotted down stories that I quickly saved in my mental notebook as I fought hard to keep the tears from falling. The last part I have yet to master because in the midst of our little story picnic, the tears began to fall.
It’s not because I am unhappy for a friend. It is never that at all; for always they leave for something/somewhere/someone better. I guess I just feel sad because I found myself in the same spot yet again: looking across the table at somebody that I’ve grown to love and feel my heart waving goodbye. Every moment was a screenshot that I wanted to freeze and capture with my imaginary remote control, for rewinding and repeating another time. But as much as I tried to convince myself that my watch was lying for telling the time, I knew deep in my heart that sooner or later (but almost always sooner), closing time will come.
As the waiters reached for each of our empty glasses, as they quietly wiped down each table, I knew it was coming. Closing time was imminent, palpable, just a breath away. I looked around and waited for someone to acknowledge it because it sure as hell wouldn’t be me. We took snapshot after snapshot of each other in various permutations as if to delay what was inevitable. We ran out of sets and started taking pictures of the same people, slowly but surely, inching towards the exit. This was it.
We ran out of photos to take and all that was left were the goodbyes that needed to be said. With a firm handshake, a juicy kiss, an excited "ingat paguwi!," and finally, a warm and tight hug, that was it. As quickly as we got together, we disseminated towards separate directions.
One by one, they disappeared from my screen. With every step, silence took over until all I could hear was the footsteps coming from my own red shoes. I look around and in the still of the night, with the dim lights of Makati Medical Center up ahead, I realized that I was alone.
What have I not learned from the past that I have to experience this loss over and over and over again? People are ruthless; they come into your life, leave their imprint as if they always had that right and then they get up to leave whenever they want/need to, sometimes without so much as a goodbye, while taking a piece of my heart as souvenir. What sucks is that I’m always the fool who allows them to come in when they come knocking, giving myself the non-refundable ticket of the one who always gets left behind.
As someone who has been through a lot of loss throughout her lifetime, one would think that I would get better at it. I assumed the same but experience always proves me wrong. Every exit is a different heartache. Nobody is numbed from loss. And, man, the truth of the matter is that it hurts every single time.
It’s difficult having to face every tomorrow with self-directed questions about how to move on, how to find a new normal. Every tomorrow is filled not with hope but with so much longing. I long to hear the "Ma’am Alphaaaaa!"-"Good morning!" conversation right before I cap off an un/eventful night duty. I long to read text messages that say, "What time do you get off today, babe? You want me to pick you up?" I long to hear the words "Let’s fly to Neverland" once again. But these are all pieces of memories tucked away in back pages of my mental notebook, soon to be forgotten.
Amid all these fretting and pondering, I glance at the lower right-hand corner of my screen and notice that the unforgiving clock has been ticking, urging me to move on at the pace of the universe, whether I like it or not. With 200++ words, here comes another day. Yet another sunrise and another sunset. Another hello, another goodbye.
Ready, set… Don’t let go.
Photo Credit Patrick Mejia