Dearest Rachel –
I was leaving the ‘office’ the other day. Mom was out for physical therapy, I believe. So the house was quiet, and I slipped out the door, only to find myself realizing that I forgot something:
I forgot to say goodbye to Dad before heading out.
So I immediately ducked back in and called out to him, adding an “I love you,” before heading back out the door, my conscience assuaged.
Somewhere out in the wilds of the internet, I recall reading that married people live longer, because they have someone to come home to, someone they’re earning a living for (hey, it’s why I kept your picture on my desk at work), someone to live for. But that requires a situation where each of us knows that’s how the other feels about the other – it should stand to reason that an unpleasant (or worse – and it would seem that there are a lot of them out there) marriage would actually have the opposite effect. After all, why else would so many people be rushing for the exits, when it should be so much easier – and healthier, apparently – to stay together?
So, for both our sakes, I would make a point of kissing you goodbye every morning when I headed out to work, even if that meant waiting for the last moment to let you sleep as long as possible beforehand. Always, “take care, honey. I love you.” And more often than not, you would slowly sit up and do your best to reciprocate, before either sinking back into the bed or – more likely – heading to the washroom. Small frame, small bladder, I guess.
I’d also make sure to stop by where Daniel was sleeping on the couch, and peck him on the cheek, too. “Take care, son. See you this evening. I love you.” Unlike you, he would generally remain asleep when I did this. Either he’d stayed up later (which would kind of make sense when he essentially calls the family room his bedroom), or the father-son dynamic doesn’t require the same level of reciprocation that is incumbent with spouses.
Now, it’s not like I expected not to return – after all, I would explicitly tell Daniel that I would – it just needed to be said before leaving. Just so you knew.
Like Randall Munroe in the above xkcd cartoon, I do worry sometimes about the last thing I say to people before I leave – or before they leave. People talk all the time about leaving a good first impression – and someday I need to re-tell the story of the first impression you made on our extended family – but it could easily be argued that the last word makes as much of an impression as the first. I remember our band director saying that we could muddle up some parts of our field drill routine, as long as we “stuck the landing” and assembled into the formation that had been drawn up for us.
Well, I still feel the need to “stick the landing” in discussions. It makes conversations… difficult sometimes, as I don’t always know quite how to end them. Along those same lines, I even have problems when it comes to wrapping up these letters to you sometimes, and for the same reason. My thoughts just sort of tend to trail off, or meander somewhere indeterminate. And once I lose the thread, I then have to figure out how to pick it up, and follow it back to where it all can be wrapped up nice and neat until next time. It doesn’t always work well, and I’m pretty sure you – and everyone else – can see the seams showing from time to time.
It probably goes along with the need, or perhaps the desire, that I have to say Something Important. And if I can’t do that, where do I go from here?
But there’s also always the concern that I need to make sure that the person I’m leaving knows – and hopefully remembers – how I feel about them and, if it comes down to that, they can take those last words, and remember them forever.
In amongst all this, I find myself thinking of Tohru Honda, the lead character from the anime Fruits Basket. One of the first things we find out about her is that she’s both homeless, and an orphan. It turns out that her mother, who was raising Tohru on her own, left home for work, and was killed in a car crash. What bothers Tohru the most about this is that nearly every day her mother would say “I’m leaving now,” to which she would respond with a “Take care, be safe.” The morning her mother was killed, Tohru had been up late studying, and didn’t wake up in time to bid her mother goodbye, and she bears that scar, among many others, on her soul.
I don’t know why I bring this up, actually. It’s not as if you didn’t know how I felt about you. Barely an hour before, the accident we were talking about the future, and how we would come back to camp in the summer, hopefully when things were built up a little bit more. We had plans, we had dreams, we had each other.
So it’s not as if we said anything important at that fateful moment. After all, all you were doing was going down the hill one more time – why should either of us expect anything untoward to happen? I think the last thing I said to you was simply that I didn’t feel like going down the hill one more time just to have to climb back up again, so I was just going to watch our stuff until the two of you were done. And then you two slid down… and well, you know the rest.
There were no last words, there were no final goodbyes. Just you were there, and then you weren’t. Nothing to remember, and yet… I remember so much.
It was Karl Marx, of all people, who, on being asked on his deathbed for his last words, simply yelled at his housekeeper to “Get out! Last words are for people who haven’t said enough yet.” As with just about everything else the man said, I think he was wrong. None of us have ever said “enough.” Well, maybe in some cases, it seems like more than enough when someone’s around. But when they are gone, and gone for good – unless they were absolutely horrible people, and why would you hang around them, in that case? – that’s when you wish you had more to remember them by.
Oh, I have your words here and there, I have pictures and footage, but they’re out of chronological order – there is no last word, unless you count the image of you skating, all wobbly-like after so many years off the ice, complete with an expression of dismay at realizing I’d been filming you for that moment. And at this point, it’s a finite quantity. There will be no more words, no more sights of you, going forward. I can only remember you with what little already exists. And I do so wish there was more. More on the things we discussed together, more on topics that… generally wouldn’t be part of a sermon or a Bible study (edifying though they might be). Just… more.
But you’ve said and done all you’re going to, and I’ve got to hold onto what I have.
It’s all I can do.