The Wrong Goodbye
Excerpt from Each Wind That Blows
I wake sometime in the night, haunted by the ghost of an old, torn up elephant, the ghost of my mother close on his heels. Oh, give it a rest, I moan, irritated, mentally swatting at the notion like one would a pestering fly. Give her a rest and yourself with her.
Oh, I would if I could, but regret and remorse make for uneasy bedfellows, and both rest heavily by my side tonight. Regret for the old bull, murdered for trinkets, underscored by a deeper, harsher regret that burns with an all too familiar sting of remorse. Regret for what I should have done, should have said, not said, hunches I should have followed, the call I should have made. Remorse for all the short retorts I can never take back, the affection I may never give. The patience I had but wouldn’t spend.
It is the airport that finds me tonight. Flinching as it closes in around me, I try to stem the tide of a painful memory but all I can do is tread water and let it wash over me.
It is the morning of my departure after a three week stay. My mother looks sad and stressed, an unhealthy pallor pinching at her cheeks that I notice despite my self absorbed eagerness to get on the road. I put it down to her unwillingness to see me go, as usual. I feel tight and imposed upon. Why can’t she just let me go with a smile? Our family has revolved around hellos and goodbyes my entire life. This is nothing new.
My unkind words of the night before pull uncomfortably at my heart, but I shrug them away. How was I to know they’d make her cry? In time, the words will no longer matter, only the look on her face, twisted and scared. It will be a knife caught deep in my heart, too deep to dislodge with even my most earnest attempts at self forgiveness.
I squirm in my camp bed to remember my reluctance to spend time with her that morning. All too vividly, I can see us standing at the bottom of the escalator, my bags checked, my boarding pass in hand, plenty of time for a coffee before my flight but all I want to do is give her a careless hug and make a quick getaway. Her depression is suffocating. My conscience feels pressed by her pale face and the dark circles under her eyes. I am full of a strange mix of equal parts sorrow and resentment.
At the top of the stairs I turn to give the usual final wave. I am disappointed. It’s a first. She has already turned and is making her ungainly way through the crowd, like a toddler without a hand to steady her, all her God given grace torn from her by the fall that almost took her life years ago. My heart plummets to see her go, now finally it fills to the brim with the compassion and empathy I so lacked for the past few weeks.
I want to give it all to her now, in one huge wave of love and understanding. I want to take back all my hostility and give her only my adoration, drench her in my affection. She looks so sad, so lonely it cuts through all my selfishness and cleaves me in half. I am in tears. I consider running after her, it’s not too late, but cool reason overtakes my impulse. I turn and head for security, drying my tears and swallowing the lump in my throat. Maybe I’ll call her before boarding.
The walk to security beside floor to ceiling windows runs parallel to the sidewalk outside. I walk, just twenty feet above and a hundred feet away from my mother as she walks with as much dignity as she can muster towards the parking lot. I watch her with gathering intensity, sending her thoughts of love and goodwill, willing her to turn around, look up and see me so I can blow her hugs and kisses. So she may feel my love before it’s too late. Now why did I think that?
I want to rewind the tape, back to the bottom of the escalator so I can erase this horrible, wrong goodbye and replace it with the right one. The one where I hold her tight, kiss her cheeks, tell her how very much I love and honor her. The one where I sit down with her over a cup of coffee and let her know she is worth any and all of my time.
Instead, I watch as she disappears into the parking garage, the shadows deepening around her till she is gone from my sight. Maybe I’ll call her before boarding. Give her an hour to get home. Then I’ll call.
I curl around myself and my pillow. It never gets any better, any less painful. I fall asleep to the sound of crickets, the clinking of coins that were never spent on a simple phone call.