Thursday, August 16, 2012

On Moving: On Staying

A response post to Dolce Vita's post "On Moving" to .:westcoastcity:. She asked me to write a post on what it is like to "stay" in the midst of others leaving.

Two Tuesdays Ago: A bright, cool summer morning.

Seth had told me the plan around midnight the evening before when we had showed up to fork the yard for his birthday (another story for another time):

"Some people will be at Saints in the morning around 11. You should come."

It was one of the last days living within a few minutes walk of Saints. I walked slowly, tired and sick from an undiagnosed bacterial infection. Crossed Atherton and moved up the hill towards Frasier. And stopped, winded.

When I stopped to catch my breath, I looked up the several remaining blocks to the cafe and saw a small group sitting outside. Their faces were indistinguishable. But I knew who they were. Dan's hands were moving as he expounded on his point. Seth was laughing and gesturing casually as he tossed back a devil's advocate response to rile him up. They were too far away to hear, but I imagined Robbie and Dolce laughing at the exchange. Dolce would be alternating between her shocked, only partially genuine disapproval and hearty laughter. Robbie would be taking the absurdist argument, or just watching gleefully, observing far more than he ever let on and being entertained by it all.

I knew this, though I was too far away to even make out their faces. I continued to stand for a few moments. Happy. Grateful. At a loss.

Seth and Dolce would move to different parts of the country later that week. This was the last gathering where I was be with both of them together in this small group that makes me laugh so much.


I graduated from college and stayed in my college town. Some people do this. It is not the norm, though perhaps more common in this place than in others. It was like being in the same bedroom but waking up with all the furniture rearranged. I've seen many people leave. I've had to say goodbye. I've learned that goodbyes are rarely satisfying, and that good "goodbyes" have a ring of impermanence about them, as if that person really can't be leaving.

It is impossible to really say goodbye until the person has left and you learn to accept the spaces they left and the way time closes in over those spaces so you don't even remember that those gaps were there.

In short: time keeps going. New people come that you learn to love.

But for a time... even Time seems to mark their absence, make you notice their leaving.

Good friends like Seth and Dolce tend to leave parts of themselves with you. A stack of letters. A new favorite tv show. A top secret recipe. A book recommendation. A poem read aloud. A distinction between real "tea" and "herbal blends". A belief that Indian Food is perfect for Being Sick. A tendency to capitalize things like Science and Art and Things You Must Not Do.  An attention to dance shoes and the new dresses in the window of Mr. Charles. An appreciation for moscato wine and well defined cheekbones (ala Mr. Cumberbatch). Someday, I might not remember that these things came from them. I hope I do. They were good gifts.

I start to look for them. I see a slim Indian figure walking with great purpose in some random neighborhood and I check to see if it is Dolce. A man bikes past on a green road bike and I check to see if the handle bars are green and if Seth is passing on his way downtown--which makes no sense because the roads I now watch from my desk wouldn't be on his route. I hear tangos and think Dolce. I see Scrabble and I think of Seth and Robbie all of this early summer in Websters.

Some definitions of this experience would call it "missing".

Life continues in its normal frantic pace. The gaps close faster than I think they will. I rush from one thing to the next. But in the quieter evenings, when its time to find people to join me for a peach cobbler attempt and my latest version of soup, I notice that I cannot add their names to the list of "The Usuals" and I hope that they are doing well, they who have somehow made it out of this Valley and are making their new stories in other towns, finding new things to love. Because they will. It happens. New places that they will share with new friends in new stories.

And I wonder what would happen if I followed them out of the Valley, to Somewhere Else.


Anonymous said...

So you don't know me, I don't know you, but I wanted to let you know how very moved I was by your post. I gave up trying to hold back tears and I'm just embracing this shared feeling of loneliness and being left behind. You are right, sometimes it can be a lot harder to be the person left behind instead of always being the person going some place new. Thank you both for a really good cry (I think I needed it) and for a beautiful story of how to move on without losing that connection to what's important, friendship and community.

dolce vita said...

If I had a nickel every time I've gone into Powells, a coffee shop, the dance studio, the rose garden, anything and turned to you to say something, or thought I saw you...

The dance studio makes me feel better.

Chelsea said...

Thank you, Dana! The expat community here can be similarly transient, sometimes with little predictability of coming and going. I've been mourning several switches to long-distance friendship since returning last month, knowing the goodbyes are among the hardest aspects of life here and won't improve over time. I appreciate your poignant words and invitation to celebrate the legacy of now-faraway friends.