One of my best friends in life came to visit me this week, and this morning she left. Dawn and her boyfriend drove 1000 miles to hang out for a few days with me in my slightly interesting, but mainly typical city, and then they went on their way. I gave her a hug, hugged her boyfriend, and when I looked back at her I realized she was crying. I was shocked! I don’t know why I was shocked–people miss people all the time, but I never expected Dawn to tear up. She’s a sensitive woman, but a tough one too that typically leans to the more chipper side of emotional states. To put it another way, she and I share a classic Southeast Iowa cultural characteristic: no matter how hard your heart aches, no matter the pain you go through, put on a smile and share the happiness you have instead. Stuff down the sadness so it can be dealt with quietly in private. We are a mushy bunch of love down there, don’t get me wrong, but more often than not tears are an uncommon show of softness that even women try to suppress. Touched and concerned, I walked around their ridiculously red rental car to her side. “Ohhhh! You’re crying!??” I asked, “Oh, Dawnie, don’t cry!” I gave her another hug then, bobbing back and forth, tears now welling up in my eyes. And she sniffled, gulping in air, “Goodbye’s… are… hard.” I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? I had become so practiced at the act of divorcing the emotion from goodbyes on my old home turf, and at that moment the pain and sadness I feel when I do it came gushing back full force in my new locale.
See, I’ve lived now in New York state for four years, and prior to this I lived in Iowa my entire life. Dawn and I have been friends for thirteen years–we went to high school and college together–and when I moved to New York for graduate school, she was left with the rest of my family and friends in my home state. At first, it was difficult to say goodbye. I cried every time as soon as the car was out of sight. But after some practice, I became more accustomed to parting with my family. In my mind, when I left Iowa, it was like “real” time stopped and then continued conceptually via telephone, Facebook, and email. Every thing paused , and my life in New York would start again. Then I would return to Iowa and “reality” would pause in New York and start again in Iowa. It is like I am two people really, still tied to the life I lived for 25 years in Iowa and creating a new life somewhere else.
But when Iowa comes to New York, I never know quite what to do, or how to say goodbye. Because this time, I’m not doing the “leaving.” They are. And that for me is especially difficult–I know how hard it is, and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. So, as Dawn and Tim climbed into their car and backed out of our garage, I waited by the door. I would do what everyone in Iowa has done the last four years for me. I waved goodbye to them as they drove off onto their next adventure. It is amazing how much a wave goodbye can mean–how waiting outside to watch someone drive off can be so incredibly touching. It made me recall in 2008 when I left Iowa. I had just seen my Grandpa for what I knew deep down would likely be the last time I would see him alive. I had said goodbye to both sets of my folks and grandparents, Jake’s folks the day before, and our siblings and friends before that–all with minimal tears. We climbed on the Amtrak, and began slowly rolling out of the train depot. My mother had told me to watch for her at work (she works at a historic site on the river in town, right by the tracks). We had already said goodbye that morning, but as we rolled past the Old Fort Madison, there she was, dressed in her historic garb, waving and smiling as the entire train passed by her. The riders in my car, astonished, said, “Look at that lady! She’s waving at the train!” And I said as tears rolled down my cheeks, “That’s my mom, waving goodbye to me.” She didn’t know what car I was on, but she knew I was there, and so she waved at all of us, making sure I would get the best send off she could give. And it was.