Sunday Afternoon on Gilbert Avenue
Why is it always awkward to say goodbye to family? We don’t know what to do with ourselves during that weird time just before company leaves. Our own limbs seem in the way. They dangle, then grab something to hold, usually ourselves, as if we’ve suddenly we’ve got one too many.
We look down while we wait for them to leave, and we try to think of something profound or at least interesting. We come up blank and look at the grass and count things, wishing something big would happen, like a car crash or some disturbance, maybe a gunshot in the neighbor’s house, or a scream, but on-demand disasters are rare, except in movies. Then we feel worse for being disappointed that the awkward silence went uninterrupted by something bad.
Even pets don’t know what to do. They wag tails and appear preoccupied with a dead bug stuck in grass. We pretend to take part in the dog’s joy, pretend to overly care, just to chew up the clock.
“What did you find, boy? What is it? What is that thing? Show me what you’ve got! Is it a bug? Get that bug! Get it! Good boy! Good boy!”
Everybody pulls out of them some interest, real or not, and maybe a chuckle or two, and it helps. Then we check our watches and find that the entire dog-eats-bug scenario wasted only 45 seconds of awkwardness. Now what? But we don’t dare say that out loud.
Then someone with a heart (not us) says I’ll miss you, or I don’t want you to go, probably come back soon. We join in on the last part. Yes, come back soon. Be honest. Somewhere deep inside we hope they don’t come back. Some day come back but please not soon. Don’t overstay your absence. Somewhere near that place inside, somewhere near a heart, we feel like crap for feeling that way, but we feel it.
Then it happens. They say it. Somebody does. Finally, the awkwardness dissipates with a word, just one.
“Well…” Then “I guess it’s time…”
Yes! That’s it. The signal to get in the car, or if they’re already in, to start the engine. Last goodbyes. Final round of hugs and hand shakes. Then the one with a heart (not us) cries in silence. That’s when crying is at its most honest.
Museum-quality, fine art of emotion is found not in the wailing from the bad news call. It’s in the silent tears. The tears that fall days or weeks or months or years or sometimes minutes after the funeral, when the people who promised to keep in touch and to check in stop doing so, not because they stopped caring but because they have lives just like we did. Silent tears have a direct path to the deep end of the grief pool.
Then, we almost feel it too. After the, “Well,” and, “I guess I should be going,” and the comments about the long drive ahead and the heavy traffic, after all that, we sense the loss. The ones we say we love but want to see go so we can reclaim our space, even while they are still here with us, standing in the front yard, we miss them as if they are already gone and have been, and it’s after the funeral and after people stopped checking in.
Then they leave. The beautiful sound of tires on gravel picking up speed and gears changing. The sound of moving on. We wave longer than necessary. We keep waving as they get smaller, just so that, when they look back (and they will), they will not see us not waving and think we wanted them gone.
Then we are left with ourselves and the echoes of their visit. Maybe they will call to say they arrived safely. Maybe it will be assumed after a few days of no news of a serious accident along their route.
We go back in, and the house feels empty, but not a good empty, not the empty we wanted, not at first. But then it does. It does about the time that we stop checking in to see how they are coping, because we don’t want to hear that they are not, that they are still stuck, not able to move on. Then we would be stuck with them.
We relive the memory of last visits, or try to, but the image is blurred. But we remember the stupid things most vividly, like the bug the dog ate.
“Remember that dog? I loved that thing.”
“Me too,” someone next to you says.
That is, if we are fortunate enough to have them. If not, we will still say it out loud. We pretend that they haven’t said goodbye yet, or left life without saying anything.
“What was his name?”
“Look at the back of the photo,” they suggest.
We do, and it’s blank. As blank as the front.