irish goodbye

this is new. when it’s come time to leave other places i’ve felt ready — no matter how much they felt like home, no matter how much it broke my heart to drive away from them, i was ready for the pain. when i left those other places — grade school, high school, internships — i always knew what was coming next. you never leave one home without knowing where your next one will be. until now.

i don’t know what my life will look like anymore. for years, i knew what the goal was: a golden dome at the end of a tree-lined avenue. beyond that, there was just fog. i thought it would either clear by graduation or i’d die. now that neither has happened, i have no idea how to orient any semblance of a life.

it would be easier if i could take everybody with me. i’ve left people that felt like family before, but we always came back to the same place for holidays, so it never really felt like leaving. leaving college is something else entirely. we’re meant to interpret the obliteration of the first home we’ve ever built for ourselves as an accomplishment, as something to celebrate. i feel like i’m surrounded by merry wedding guests at a funeral.

college is what i wished friendship could be as a child: i wanted to spend every waking hour with my friends, to live and work and sleep all in the same place, to never be more than a few minutes’ walk from the people who understood me the best. it seems cruel that once i’d finally found the kind of friendships i’d yearned for all my life, i was only able to keep them close for three brief years. now our little family is being rent apart, the pieces strewn across the country, increasing our distance from two doors down to hundreds of miles (and dollars) away from each other.

losing professors is another pain entirely. there’s no massive group text that fools us into forgetting we’re so far apart (although i’m working on it). we’re not privy to each other’s streams of consciousness in the way that we can be in person. our daily chats about politics and film and religion will have to be forcibly reshaped into the colder medium of e-mail, losing the quick back-and-forth that elevated my capacity to think and communicate in the first place. losing the privilege of perpetually open offices and the conversations that occur within them pains me more than i can say.

the absence of formal education is suddenly terrifying. it is literally all i have ever known. my entire conscious memory, my complete experiential existence, is temporally anchored around the fact that i always go back to school in the fall, and there are people there that can teach me how to do things, and friends to learn those things with me.

there are no rules anymore. our world has been ripped open to possibility. everyone is capable of being our teacher, and some are unexpectedly our students. our friends won’t all succeed at the same rate anymore: some will have cooler jobs, better love lives, more photogenic brunches. there’s always a chance some part of us will always feel like we aren’t measuring up. when success can’t be quantified in decimal points at the end of each semester, when it stops being something tangible, everything feels like it might be failure.

during graduation weekend, i was able to keep the emotions mostly at bay, until it came time for me to leave the building i’d had nearly all my classes in for the last time. i felt the years wash over me like water, streaming down my face and slipping through my fingers as i tried to catch the memories between them. everything came in flashes, my little life before my eyes.

we will never all be together in quite the same way anymore, not ever again. even if we’re all reunited down the line, we won’t be the same people anymore. the realization shattered my heart in my chest. i know i’ll be picking out the shrapnel for months to come.

as it turned out, we would break into that building to spend one more all nighter together. we’d lay on the floor of the studio where we’d met in our first production class and listen to scores of films we’d watched together. too crossfaded to cry, i’d silently wonder if something could be sad enough to kill you.

the morning i left for good, i went back to say goodbye to anyone that was left. i managed to catch a few of my favorite people, and because this was our third or fourth goodbye, there were hardly any tears. as i made my final rounds, i noticed the door of the cinema was open. i peeked in and my heart leapt to see another favorite professor, one i hadn’t had the chance to bid farewell, in conversation with another student.

before i could call out to him, something stopped me. their conversation, accidentally amplified by the microphone of the podium they stood next to, was strikingly similar to discussions we’d had in class with this very professor. i thought about what a privilege it was to learn from him, and how annoyed i’d be if anyone had taken even a moment of his wisdom from me — especially now, at the end, knowing how brief it all is.

years from now, i think i’ll look back on that moment of pause as one of the moments i became an adult. the selfish impulses that drive our college selves, the ones that demand attention, answers, and affirmation, must eventually be quieted, so that other voices may come next. this is why we go to college: so we can be ready for the moment when words stop being enough, when we must finally translate our years of academic ammunition into tangible humanity. we accept our eviction, take with us what we can, and begin to build a life.

i left home without saying goodbye. there were no more tears.

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