A Kiss Goodbye

Posted on Thursday 9 December 2010

I know the look. I saw it on my biological father, when I thought he was just tired from all the activity he’d insisted we cram into 48 hours. But he knew.

I know that look. I saw it on my customer who’d said he’d lost so much weight because he’d wanted to. I evaluated that look as he huddled under a jacket and a sweater when it was so hot at my bar that no amount of AC could chill the mid-August Keys air that always hangs heavy and sticks to you like a collectible but mildewed mink wrap. When I offered to turn off the air so he would be more comfortable and others around him shrieked in protest, he merely shook his head, because he knew when no one else did.

I know that look. She didn’t have it last week when I patted her soft, newly grown baby hair late that night when my great guy was in town and we were celebrating being together for a brief 24 hours, and I’d had a few, and she was drinking bottled water.

She still had color in her cheeks and could muster a full smile last week. She didn’t, she couldn’t tonight. She simply had that look when she ordered a diet Coke she couldn’t drink and played Bingo she didn’t win and sat next to annoying and tipsy friends she didn’t much talk to, because the simple but supreme effort of being there was a simple but important distraction from having to look square at her reality in the harsh mirror few of us ever face. If we’re lucky. If you consider that luck.

I have often wondered to myself: Is it better to know what’s going to kill you rather than wonder when the unexpected and unknown but oh-so-certain eventually will happen? Is it better to know the drugs have lost their value, that the cancer is going to be how you die, and you make peace with that rather than just worry like the rest of us do, but only worry now and then, because you know you are young and vital today?

“Maybe it’s just the pain killers or the other drugs,” I told my great guy who now lives hours away most of the time, as I tried to downplay a stupid, dumb night at work that was barely punctuated by this woman’s look even as it was the focus of my night that I could not ignore, because I am young and vital enough and rarely worry about the how and when of when my time will come.

“Maybe the last round of surgery and drugs is making her seem more sick than she really is,” I told him, even as I knew this night rendered a final snapshot of her in a time–her time–that has fled by so fast.

“RG, come here for a second,” she called to me at the end of a night I’d tried so hard to not make me crazy–and not because of her look, but because of all the predictable inane and meaningless aggravations I’d endured.

I walked over to her in slow motion, even as time sped up into fast forward.

“I wanted to say goodbye,” she said with the hint of a smile. Not goodnight. Not thanks, see you later. Goodbye, she wanted to say.

As she leaned forward, I leaned further forward across my bar and grabbed her shoulders in a hug. I placed a soft kiss on her cold cheek. She hugged me back. I kissed her cold cheek a second time.

I hate the phrase, “I hate goodbyes.” Because when you know a goodbye is the last one, goodbyes are truly worth hating and not worthy of a catchphrase.

“I am bringing Rouletta to see a group of Vets from the VA Hospital tomorrow,” I said to her, sounding surely desperate. “Just down the street, where they are having lunch,” I smiled. “She’ll be dressed in her Mrs. Clause outfit and I’ll be in an elf costume I bought for $4.95 at Target when it was 1000 percent off after Halloween. I bought boots to match it this weekend at Old Navy. Can you meet me there?” I was babbling.

“Send me a photo,” she smiled. “Send me a picture of the two of you.”

No. No. Please meet me there. Please just one more time. I never knew you well beyond a customer, although you knew my great guy when you worked together. But we’ve kind of connected, at least I feel that we have because I’ve lived a life I hope is so much more than who you know me to be, and I know you wanted to live the same kind of bigger life, and I think you are so incredibly strong and cool and wonderful, and could you maybe, just maybe, come by and smile with me and Rouletta when we say hey to the Vets?

But she just gave me the look. The look that conveys all the wishes, all the hope, all the hopeful wishes.

God, I hate goodbyes.

12 Comments for 'A Kiss Goodbye'

  1.  
    December 9, 2010 | 5:57 am
     

    I’m glad you had the opportunity to say goodbye. We might hate them, but we hate it more when we didn’t get the chance.
    ((hugs))

  2.  
    December 9, 2010 | 7:33 am
     

    ((hugs)) i know. xoxox

  3.  
    December 9, 2010 | 9:13 am
     

    Oh, RG, I’m so sorry. Kim is right though, it sucks more not getting to say goodbye. keep your head up XOXOXO

  4.  
    Restaurant Gal
    December 9, 2010 | 11:45 am
     

    Kim–I know this. It just surprised me last night, when I saw her at my bar. I was shocked by her decline in just one week. And it made me wonder, is this it? This is the last time I see her, working a dumb night when even my nice customers drove me crazy for the dumbest of reasons? And it may not be the last time, you know? I really hope I misread everything about last night.

    Savannah–Hug back attach.

    Jenny J.–My head is up and my sight is becoming evermore clear. In the light of day, I hope against hope that I was off-base about the extent of her illness.

  5.  
    Shannon
    December 9, 2010 | 12:08 pm
     

    I, like you, have wondered if knowing would be a blessing or a curse. Saying those final goodbyes would be wrenching to both giver and receiver – but there is a gift there too. The time to expresss all the things that you would regret if you never had a chance to say them, or to hear them, knowing its truly the last time would be some of the most meaningful conversation of your entire life. Accept the gift. Say the things you want to say – and that she would want to hear – and leave with a graceful goodbye.

  6.  
    Bob C
    December 9, 2010 | 12:28 pm
     

    RG, that was simply wonderful writing. What a gift you have!

    Thank you for sharing.

  7.  
    RG Son
    December 9, 2010 | 6:10 pm
     

    I hope I got half of the gift you have in your ability to convey deep emotion and description in words. You hate goodbyes, I hate reading about them, and we both want to cry.

  8.  
    Restaurant Gal
    December 9, 2010 | 11:51 pm
     

    Shannon–I hear all that you say. I also need to get her phone number and text her a photo of me and Rouletta.

    Bob C–Thank you.

    RG Son–You have so many gifts. You also have a writing talent very much all your own that you have honed beautifully over the years. I am forever proud of you every minute of every day. I love you every second forever.

  9.  
    Art
    December 10, 2010 | 2:04 am
     

    RG;
    Sometimes what someone writes takes my breath away. This did.

    Art

  10.  
    Restaurant Gal
    December 10, 2010 | 10:25 am
     

    Art–Thank you.

  11.  
    L
    December 10, 2010 | 8:40 pm
     

    ((((( )))))

  12.  
    Sharon
    December 11, 2010 | 6:15 pm
     

    Every now and then, you make me cry. You did today.

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