Last week I left Yellowknife, my home for the last 22 years, to embark on the adventure of a lifetime- traveling around the world, solo. I spent my last few days in town scampering around in a hectic rush to say goodbye to my friends. For some reason, time decided to start moving in fast forward and I couldn’t slow the clock down enough to drag out my last few weeks, to see everyone I wanted to see, to hug everyone just one more time, have one more heart felt exchange, one more night of belly aching laughter. My last two days were comprised of practically speeding from one friends house to the next- to hold their babies, see their new houses, give them some of my things, share music with them, hug them and tell them how much I’m going to miss them. It felt so rushed, so wrong to have to hop from one to the next, when I wanted to give each of them all the time in the world. The only good part about the goodbyes was when I got to follow them with an “I’ll see you in such and such a country!”. When I said goodbye to Mike, I got to say “I’ll see you in Turkey!”. When I said goodbye to Anthony I got to say “I’ll see you in Columbia!”. When I said goodbye to Molly I got to say “I’ll see you on the beaches in Thailand!”. And when I said goodbye to Gill I got to say “I’ll see you in Panama!”. How remarkably lucky I am that so many of my wonderful friends have already begun making plans (some even booked tickets already!) to come and meet me for an adventure of our own along the way.
Other goodbyes were harder, the ones where I didn’t know when I would see them next. I have no set date for when I will return home, and I don’t really plan on returning to Yellowknife to live again. Saying goodbye, not knowing if you will ever see someone again leaves one feeling terribly melancholy. One goodbye that hit me unusually hard was when I stopped by Marie Claude’s work to say farewell. Marie Claude and I have only know each other for about a year and half but we became fast and strong friends in that short time. We forged a deep and meaningful friendship based on our shared love of yoga, nutrition, books and the great outdoors among many other things that drew us together like magnets.
I had thus far kept myself together well for my goodbyes, attributing my composure to the excitement of my impending journey. But as I walked up the steps to her work, I could feel myself getting nervous, could feel the composure slipping. We began our heartfelt goodbyes and embraced each other tightly, the tears flowing freely. In that moment I was reminded how much her friendship had come to mean me; I came to the realization that I had made a new best friend over this last year and half and it was terribly hard to say goodbye to that. She handed me a lovely envelope with a letter and told me to open it later, which made me all the more emotional. We walked outside, hugged some more, promising we would see each other again, that she would come meet me some day, somewhere. She promised to keep warm and I promised to keep safe. I got in my car and read the envelope dedication: “To: a wonderful globe trotter in the making” and on the back “from: a friend who will miss you”- followed by a quote from the book I just so happen to be reading at this very moment… “our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go, but no matter, the road is life” (On The Road- Jack Kerouac).
I burst into fresh tears at her thoughtfulness. Hardly able to see, I wiped my eyes and turned the car around to move on to my next goodbye. As I looked down the street towards the way she had turned, and saw her walking away- that beautiful, distinct blue coat with her wizard hood standing tall, the white fur pom pom bouncing gently with each slow step she took in those big black fur boots- I felt my heart break a little more. Her sadness at our parting was tangible in the gait of those slow, heavy steps. There is something terribly heart wrenching about seeing a person you’ve just bid farewell to walking away from you down the cold, snowy street. While our time together was short, I know we forged a friendship that will last for a long, long time. I know I will see her again, I just don’t know when, which makes it hard to say goodbye. I forced myself to wait until I was alone to read her letter, and I’m glad I did, because as I suspected, it left me in tears again. What a beautiful soul she is, to send me off with such sincere and heartwarming words.
I knew the hardest goodbyes would be those left until that last day. Marie Claude and Seb were difficult, to say the least, but I knew when I had to say farewell to my parents that it would be the hardest of all. As my dad and I drove out to the airport, we tried to have small talk, about completely meaningless things. The weight of the reason we were driving to the airport hung heavy and thick in the small space between us in the car. The whole time my mind was racing, thinking that in a few minutes I would be saying goodbye to him for a very long time, not really knowing when I would see him next. I don’t even recall what we talked about; my mouth just rolled the words out on auto pilot to fill the silence, to talk about anything other than what was looming over us- my departure. We got to the airport, met with my step mom, checked my bags and walked over to security. This was the moment. I had done everything I could not to think about it at all up until that point, but there was no putting it off any longer. Dad reached for me and pulled me in quickly before we could see each others faces contorting in a mess of emotion. I hugged my dad desperately, fiercely, and we both broke down sobbing. Words were blubbered about missing each other, about him being proud of me, about the open invite to come meet me somewhere, anywhere, anytime. I didn’t want to let go because I didn’t know the next time I would feel those strong arms around me again. The same arms that held me my whole life, every time I was in pain, every time I made him proud, every time I had to say goodbye before. The same strong arms I used to marvel in awe at as a child, as I watched him do things that I thought surely required super hero strength. I didn’t want to let go… but I had to. I went to hug my step mom, who was already crying, saying she couldn’t handle watching us say goodbye. We hugged and cried and made promises. It was just as difficult to say goodbye to this exceptionally kind and genuine woman who loves me as her own and for as long as she has been in my life has been nothing but an angel in disguise, I’m sure of it. We blew kisses to each other as they left, and I let the tears continue to fall, shamelessly.
I sit here listening to my dad’s ‘Best of Van Morrison’ album that he burned for me as I write this, and ‘Someone like you” comes on. It shouldn’t surprise me when these happenstance things occur, as they do so often now, but it still does (see lyrics below, listen to it here). Music was always our special connection- always burning CDs for each other and suggesting artists to each other. I know I owe my wild and insatiable love of music to him, and I am forever grateful for that. It’s comforting to know I will have so much music along my journey that will remind me of him.
Someone Like You- Van Morrison
There are no words to describe my love and admiration for this woman, which is what made saying goodbye to her so hard. Her health has declined rapidly this past year, and I know there is a very good chance that I will never see her again. While she struggled to recall who I am (and who can blame her at 100, with such a vast network of family with at least 8 new great-great-grandchildren in just the last four years!), when I went to say goodbye, I swear there was a glimmer of recognition. I knelt before her in her wheelchair, hugged her, and then took her hands in mine. I told her I loved her, watching her read my lips, ensuring she understood. She told me to be safe, which I promised to be, and then she begged not to forget her. My heart ached at her request and I told her with absolute conviction that I couldn’t possibly ever forget her. I was about to leave but she held on to my hands and pulled me back for another hug, which nearly broke my heart. I swear I could feel her trying desperately to place me, could feel her on the edge of understanding, remembering who I was, and if only for a fleeting moment I think she did… and then it left her as quickly as it had come. But she knew that I loved her. She knew that I was family. She knew now that I was leaving for a long trip. And we both knew I likely would never see her again.
Goodbyes are hard, so damn hard. But that is an unavoidable and uncompromising part of traveling. I suppose these few weeks filled with passionate goodbyes were good practice for me, as I am going to spend the next few years saying endless goodbyes to such darling people who touch my soul. And while goodbyes are wretchedly hard, they also show you how loved you are and how much love you have for those around you. Although all of these goodbyes have made me sad, they have also made me feel utterly overwhelmed with love.