I’m bad at leaving. My friends Monica and Jeff hosted a high school graduation party for their daughter Juliana on the back patio of an Oakmont restaurant. They served barbecued chicken and steak kabobs and deep-fried chicken rolls. I drank an eight-ounce glass of wine, which contributed to my not leaving. I told Erik I’d be home by 7, but at 7:30 I texted him to say I was on my way home. It took another half an hour to say goodbye to Leilah and Eric and Annette. I said goodbye to Monica and Jeff twice. I promised Tia we’d make real fried chicken this summer. I hugged Gioia Woods and asked her one more time about how happy her daughter was at Flagstaff High School. I’m spending half my time fretting over where my kids go to school. School choice, like leaving a party, is a miserable thing and takes too long. Rip it off like a Band-Aid. Pick a school. Go home. Leave before kissing Juliana congratulations one more time.

So I do leave, but I bring Karen home with me because if she’s still with me, then the party is not over, even though I really do need to go to bed so I can wake up and pack for Iceland where I get to see you and we can talk about Y and Z.

But then at my house, there’s more wine and more talk about school choice, and Erik comes to hang out even though he swore he was just going to stay in the other room and fall asleep on the couch because he doesn’t have the same relationship to party and people that I have. But really, he does like people and parties and so he has a beer and Karen stays and we have one too many glasses of wine, but that’s okay because it’s still a little chilly at night and the door is wide open and even though Max is asleep on the futon at the foot of our bed, Erik and I wrap our legs around each other all night so I don’t sleep that well, but I get up anyway and make the kids’ lunches and take the dogs for a run and get to work grading and editing and writing about saying goodbye, which I really hate to do.

Every day I don’t die is a good one. It makes me grateful, the prospect of death. Today the plants we call red hot pokers poked their red heads up like matchsticks, friction against sky blue air, and the blue flax, more moisture than friction, lives, and the kitten that got thrown out of a window lives. The kid with the cough lives and the kid who got lost in the forest lives.

Yesterday wasn’t as good a day. The kids immigrating from Libya drowned, and the girl who survived the Manchester bombings succumbed to her injuries, and Denis Johnson died, and although I didn’t love him as much as everyone else seems to on the Facebook, I still hate to say goodbye.

You and I will meet in Iceland where we will not have to say goodbye. The sun won’t set. We’ll stay up all night remembering how we began this project, on a different, warmer beach. We will sit and stare out at the old harbor and think that maybe one of these molecules of water has traveled all the way from the Southern Ocean (are we still calling it that?) to say not goodbye but hello to us. There will be no polar bears there to die, nor any reindeer, and even the puffin is extant enough to appear on the touristy menus.

Maybe if we never go home and maybe if the sun never sets and maybe if we figure out how to linger without drinking too much wine, we won’t have to say goodbye. We won’t have to come to a conclusion. We won’t have to sign off. The humpback whales. I can see it in the distance. They’re coming back. Maybe all intelligent life doesn’t destroy itself. Maybe it just bides its time.


Xoxoxoxoxo” originally appeared in The After-Normal in 2019.