It is 2:00 AM and I am sitting in a metal can being jet propelled through the sky thousands of feet above the ground and I cannot sleep. All the lights are off and all the headphones are in and hundreds of people are developing neck problems that will manifest themselves 15 years from now when they can no longer sleep on their left side, and I cannot sleep. My contacts are out and I’m listening to an obscure collection of “relaxation songs” and I am wrapped in the blanket that smells of the home I just left behind and I cannot sleep.
How does one trade everything that they know and love for one small piece of paper that holds information such as “Departure Gate” and “Seat Number”? I wish I could tell you how seeing as I just did it myself, but my words currently taste like room temperature milk when I have been fresh squeezed juice for a while now.
I have never been phenomenal at goodbyes. A few of my Ecuadorean friends even figured that out this last month and have been giving me grief about the excellence with which I can slip away unnoticed from an interaction without so much as a kiss on the cheek. Perhaps it is because I have a fear of being alone, or perhaps because I enjoy being a mystery, or perhaps because I am afraid of death. There are a lot of perhaps’ you could attach to this quirk of mine but no matter what perhaps you assign it, I still had to face myself and learn how to say goodbye to a lot of things and a lot of people when I left this country just hours ago.
I’ve been on the verge of tears for nearly a week now, slowly realizing that no matter how globalized this world becomes, continents are still continents and I will still not be able to teleport. That means that my goodbye’s here have all been followed with a probable lie when I say “I’ll see you soon”. I went for a walk around Quito and whispered to the blackened ugly streets “I’ll see you soon” and Quito spat pollution and a beautiful sunset back at me saying “I doubt it” and I knew that she was true in her conviction. My darling Quito, may your doubt challenge me to prove you wrong.
Goodbye is one of those words that should be stripped of its entire honor and thrown in to the prison cell of never-should-have-happened’s and experiences-too-painful-to-put-words-to’s. It should be locked up and put on death row and injected with a serum that makes the world smaller or flights cheaper or makes it so I only fall for friends who live within 7 hours of me by car. Goodbye is so hard to swallow I wonder if the man who invented the word thought he was being clever when he put the word “good” in it. Someone should have smacked him.
I suppose I started saying goodbye a long time before it happened in the way I made excuses to stay away from my house and in the ways I tried to tell my friends that I love them. But when it came down to it, I was still trying to swallow waves when the moon just grew bigger and bigger, pulling them out of my throat. It’s even harder when you know how to say goodbye in two languages.
Now I am in a home with an infected ear piercing and the irony is not lost on me that it was fine until I showered in the States. And they told us to be wary of the water there. I’ve got songs I’m playing on repeat and I’ve got lists of things I want to tell you about my life here because I feel as if you’re the only one who will understand and I made fried bananas this morning. But these songs do not answer any questions and I’m the one that left and my bananas ended up looking like black poker chips and I’m glad to be home.
I’ve received so many messages from so many extranjeros that were with me and they all say the same thing. They say, “I miss you. I miss it. Everything is wrong. I’m so glad to be home.” This semester turned us into people who have realized just how wrong it is to lock young people up in classrooms with bare walls and tell them to read until they know and to fill in the right bubble and run the right equation. That is not how you learn, that is not how we learned. I did not learn how to say goodbye by reading books about it. I learned by having people become to precious to skip the one last hug. I learned by understanding that distance does matter and that memory fades and that time does not respect anyone just because they are young.
Ecuador was an unexpected shaking of the tectonic plates of our hearts. It was learning how to live and learning how to love and learning how to forgive ourselves and those to come. This semester will fade, quickly, but there will be days when we hear a song or smell food in the street and we will be sucked right back to day one. I will be cold and lonely for quite a few nights before I come to peace again with the instability of this world. Even though saying goodbye is a lesson that hurts to learn, I am so glad that my life is a life so full it constitutes learning it over and over again. Ecuador: do not let them tame you; do not let your heart beat slow. We ran up so many mountains, some physical, most not, and at the end of it all, we are still just trying to catch our breath.