Shortly after turning 18, I realized that seeing loved ones again isn’t a guarantee.
We had just finished playing volleyball at the park — something we did routinely a few days a week. I grabbed my things and left without saying a word. As I walked away, I looked to the left and saw my friend half-laying down on the court, peacefully chatting with the others, enjoying the win. I remember turning away and thinking about how upset I was at him for winning the stupid game.
A few days later, I found out he had died.
I later realized I lost much more than just another game of volleyball. My beloved friend and the opportunity of spending more time with him if I had just let the game go, gone. I lost someone I considered a brother, and I missed the chance of saying goodbye.
I wish that things had been different that day, that I had been different at that time, that he was still here.
Navigating my friend’s sudden death was a grieving process on its own and not one that’s come to an end yet, if it ever comes. But realizing that the last memory I have of him is one filled with resentment feels unforgivable. I’m not sure if it gets better or if it gets easier, as people tend to say.
Instead, it’s become a feeling that’s numb and manageable. It’s memories that lie dormant before suddenly awakening to remind you that seeing loved ones one more time is not a guarantee.
Seemingly, the only guarantee now is the overwhelming sense that things will come to an end. I began to embrace a we’re-not-promised-a-tomorrow mentality in the same way we’re not fully guaranteed seeing others one more time.
Embracing such a melancholic mentality — as I’ve come to realize — left me with detached relationships with others. I kept my vulnerability at bay, my emotions under control and my somber mentality at the forefront, consequently keeping everyone else distant from me. My “I’ll see you later” eventually became “I’ll see you when I see you.” My goodbyes became absent entirely.
They say the hardest part of anything is starting. Whether it’s meeting someone for the first time or making that transition to considering them an earnest friend, there’s a start to it.
But that changed when I began expecting an ending to everything at any given moment, an expectation that more than likely caused an ending to most things. There falls a bitter taste in my mouth when things turn out as expected. The moments when I realize I may have seen someone for the last time quickly become a reminiscence of the memories we made, a remaining anxious feeling wondering if our last meeting left on a good note.
Even so, I haven’t fully been able to unlearn the mentality that I carried with me for years, and so, I continue to consider that I may have already seen them for the last time. But until I can prove myself wrong, I cling to the memories of sitting in a parking lot hours after we’ve finished our food, the drives filled with singing about beers on a Friday night, the collaborative Wordle efforts, the drunk conversations on the curb outside their apartments, the late-night cigarette I hold up to the sky as my way of letting them know I’m still thinking of them.
But lately, I’ve met others who have left me wanting to see them again. A desire to see them one last time has developed into redefining that “last” meeting into a prolonged cycle of seeing them time and time again. To the ones who have shown me that wanting sustainable love in all its forms is all part of paying an ode to human connection — a newly learned process of transforming the things I didn’t say into tangible memories shared between us.
The expectation that I may never see someone again has slowly developed into a longing hope that “later” comes sooner, that “again” holds its own. I hope the next time we meet I’ll be different, that I’ll have answers to the vulnerable questions I constantly avoided addressing. I hope I can see them again before the ink on their book begins to fade, before they’ve moved to a place that I can’t address in letters, before I’ve had the chance to tell them how grateful I am to have met them even if it’s the last thing I share with them.
I’ll continue to see you in the memories you’ve left me, hoping we may someday have the chance of making more. But until then (and until I can fully unlearn the way of thinking that kept me distant), I leave you with the (dis)comfort of the words I know best.
I’ll see you when I see you. Whenever that may be.