I have nailed the goodbye.
After just one college semester in the books, I have the goodbye down. I help load the car, give her a big hug and smile, remind her to drive safely and then wave until her car leaves the driveway.
No, the goodbye is easy. It’s the 24 hours after the goodbye — that’s the real challenge.
Based on her two quick visits home during fall semester, here is how I predict it will go for me in January:
Well, that wasn’t so hard. I’m getting really great at goodbyes. Oh, shoot, she left her Christmas candy here. The one with hazelnuts so her allergic sister and brother can’t eat it. I can’t toss out perfectly good chocolate from Santa, though. Oooh, I know. I can send it in a care package. That’s what I’ll do. Cool.
I head upstairs because, you know, laundry. Always laundry.
Why are some of her t-shirts in the dryer? Did she forget these too? Oh, these are the ones she keeps at home. I’ll just put them away now. But, wait. I have to go into her room to do that. Okay, I’ve got this. It’s fine. I’m fine!
Her room. Full of life (ie. mess, friends, the dog, etc) during December is now clean, dark and quiet – except for the fan she’s left on. The fan she can’t sleep without. And the closet light is on. I’ll just drop these shirts right here on her dresser. Why is her dresser so clean? I hate this. I really should turn off the fan and light. Maybe I’ll just leave them on for one night. I’ll turn them off tomorrow. No biggie. There’s something in my eyes. I need to get out of this room ASAP.
Ok, I’m out. Should I close the door? She always closes her door when she’s home. Let’s just leave it open for now. I mean, she’s not in it. Why is this lump in my throat? Oh gosh, I need to stay busy.
I know. I can grocery shop. We need food for the week ahead. That will kill another hour. Ok, this is good. My mind is occupied. Wait, put that cereal back. That’s the one she likes. And not that flavor of chips. Get the barbecue ones her brother always wants. Gosh, this stinks. I mean, really. It really stinks. I want to go home.
I’ve got the groceries all put away and it’s time to take the boy to confirmation class at church. We need to hustle and it’s already dark out. I hope she’s driving safely and not speeding like me. It’s a 3.5-hour drive for her. She should be back now, right? I’m sure she’s back. I mean, I would know if anything bad had happened, wouldn’t I?
Let me just check her location on my phone. Ok, yes, she’s back. Totally fine! I wasn’t worried. Why is my heart racing? Stupid heart.
Back at home now, and I don’t have to pick the boy up for two hours. Yes! I can read my new book. The book I picked out at Barnes & Noble when we were shopping together. Her sister hates to shop. Dang, I’ll be back to shopping alone again. I hate shopping alone. Okay, I can’t concentrate on Margery and Ned’s issues. I’ve got issues of my own. I need mindless TV instead.
Why is the DVR full again?? Let me just cancel some of these recordings. Well, I can’t cancel The Voice. We used to watch that together and now we text about it. I have to keep up so we can discuss who’s awesome and who should win. And I can’t cancel those two shows even though she’s the only one who watches them. I know she’ll want them next time she’s home. When is she coming home again? No idea. Ok, never mind, I don’t want to watch TV.
I’ll clean! Cleaning is my jam. I’ll start in my bathroom. Ah, look, the bath bombs she gave this year. And in the closet? The wrapping paper pile from where she wrapped her friends’ gifts two weeks ago.
Get the idea? And it goes on and on and on for the next 20 hours or so.
Reminders of her are everywhere I look. Good reminders, but still there – making sure I know that she herself has gone from this space.
This place where I remain, along with her dad and sister and brother. This place where there’s still so much going on. This place where our regular life will resume come morning, and our new normal will begin again. Back to jobs, back to school, back to life. Back to being 3 hours and 21 minutes apart.
We will be fine. The goodbye was easy. It’s the first 24 hours that are the hardest.
But I’m totally learning to nail it, right?
Kelly Hays is a freelance writer living in suburban Atlanta with her husband and children. She has also worked as a public relations and internal communications manager for The Home Depot, Inc. Her work has previously appeared on Grown and Flown.