“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.”
- Christina Rossetti
Usually when people say “goodbye,” they don’t actually mean it. Most of the world’s farewells are like that — a matter of courtesy born of habit — goodbyes that at best carry the hope of “until we meet again, my friend.”
These everyday goodbyes are forgotten easily, if remembered at all. They’re like trying to recall what you had for breakfast the Monday before last. Did I have the bacon and cinnamon rolls? Or was it the oatmeal with the brown sugar crumbles? Maybe eggs? Such little things aren’t important enough to be remembered in the first place. They’re just the stuff of the moment.
Yet, sometimes, little things can grow in weight and size, so much so they seem to reside outside space and time. Sometimes even a little thing like a simple long lost goodbye can stick in the mind for a lifetime.
Some goodbyes, after all, have no farewells to follow. Some goodbyes, indeed, are truly final.
Those are the types you never forget, even if you try. Some ghosts never stop haunting you.
Yet, you may try to forget. Out of pain. Out of guilt. Out of carelessness, cowardice, corruption, pity, worry, and woe. You may try. You may even succeed for a time with this or that diversion, this or that romantic romp, this or that new project, this or that career goal. But, try as you may, the ghost of that long-lost goodbye still haunts the attic of your mind.
You hear bumps in the middle of the night. Someone is overturning your mind’s furniture again. You try to go back to sleep. You awake again to yet another loud thud inside your skull.
“It’s all in your head,” you think to yourself.
You blame your restless nights on an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea or worn-down mattress coils. You pray the melatonin will keep you in a healthy REM cycle — though healthy cycle or not, you always forget your dreams the next morning. You remember how you used to lucid dream as a kid and wonder why your dreams are now so clouded by darkness.
Night after sleepless night this goes on. For 5 years straight you can never remember your dreams.
Then one evening you go to lay your head down on the pillow. You set your alarm and happen to see the digital calendar reads it’s Christmas Eve.
“Bah humbug,” you think to yourself. You fall asleep.
Then suddenly you feel you’re dreaming like a kid again. Spirited away. You’re aware you’re dreaming, yet you’re still asleep in the dream.
Your old middle school-era alarm clock goes off. You're late! You rush out of bed to get ready. Suddenly, your old playground falls into place before you. You see your former classmates, friends and foes alike playing together. You see your first crush, your first kiss. Then a wave of anxiety hits. You didn’t study for the test!
“Wait, wait, you don’t have a test. This is a dream. You’re not a kid anymore. No, no, you’re at work.”
You’re at work now, doing the same job you’ve done for the last 10 years. You know the routine well. Ha! You know it in your sleep! Yet, every little task feels like some 7th grade test you forgot to study for. You’re off the clock. You’re back at your house. Yes, that house, the grimy one from your 20s — the place where you first got the news she was sick. “I fell,” she said. “My leg just stopped working,” she said. “Brain tumor,” she said. “We’ll fight it together,” she said.
Inside the house, you see a rogue’s gallery of old roommates, drinking buddies and past flings. They’re having a party, but they’re acting like you’re not even there, like they can’t see you at all, like you don’t exist. You leave. You hop in your car. Suddenly you realize you’re in the backseat, and no one is behind the wheel. Yet the car keeps accelerating faster and faster. You’re going to crash. Right before impact, it all goes to black.
You open your eyes with a jolt. You’re not in your bedroom. “You’re still dreaming.” Yet it all feels so vivid, so real. More real than real. Hyperreal. Numinous even. So quiet, so peaceful too — a serene far green country under a swift sunrise. You suddenly feel like a child again, as a familiar hand falls on your shoulder.
You turn to see her ghost. She’s shimmering, eternally beautiful, no longer draped in pain and suffering — not how she was at the end when her own body had turned against her and stolen her mind before anyone could fully grasp the fact. Truth is, you never had the chance to say a proper last goodbye. She was gone before you knew it. Gone in bits and pieces, day by day. But there she is now — put together and realer than real in that silent land — right in front of you. You try to speak. You can’t. Only tears fall from your face. She pulls you close.
“It’s going to be okay, son. It’s going to be okay,” she says softly, “I am with you always. Always by your side.”
You wake up. Back to reality. Back to earth. Back to your old sunken mattress and the hodge-podge of failed sleep aids on the nightstand. You look down at your phone through a gunky veil of tears and snot.
The screen says 6:30 am, December 25.
“Damn it, get it together” you sniffle to yourself, wiping your eyes and nose with the back of your hand, “grown men don’t cry on Christmas.”
Sometimes the goodbyes you most want to forget are the only ones worth remembering.
One day you may even find yourself praying that a certain ghost never stops haunting your dreams on the evening of Christmas Eve — if only so you can remember her again for a little while and have another chance to say goodbye.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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