The one where I realize I am a bit of an asshole.
You might know the thread on Reddit (a popular online forum for asking and answering questions anonymously. It sometimes goes REALLY well and sometimes it ends up on the steps of the Capitol building on the sixth of January) titled “AITA” which stands for “Am I the Asshole?” which is a casual ‘Dear Abby’ forum for people to detail their lives’ problems and find out if, in fact, they are the asshole in the situation, or not.
I don’t need to write in the forum to know that when it comes to goodbyes, I am indeed a bit of an asshole. I just don’t like goodbyes.
If it’s a night out on the town, I’ll pretend to go to the bathroom and then just walk right out the door to a taxi. If it’s a family and friends barbecue, I’ll wait until people are distracted, and peace out through the side door. If it’s a colleague or student or friend as close as a sister who I might realistically never see again . . . unfortunately, same thing.
I cannot handle the finality – the door closing on someone’s place in my life, knowing that the next time I will expect to see them, I just won’t. And as much verbal diarrhoea as I have on this blog, when it comes to saying things in person, I choke. I’d prefer to not. When it comes to goodbyes, I say things like “cool, well, let’s not emotion this.” I thrust my arm out with the idea to fist-bump, intercepting any ideas of a hug that might bring me to my knees.
Because. I’m a goodbye asshole.
On the last day of school this year, I didn’t want to emotion – I didn’t have the energy, I had so much to clean, I was moving rooms and changing grades, packing for seven weeks at home in the States, a bit hungover. But my students were not so quietly falling apart, leaning forehead first into my bosom without invitation, wondering if we’d ever see each other again and the only words I said were “oh, probably not this side of Heaven,” because it was the truth and I was tired and felt like their parents were standing there taking pictures and could have been doing ANYTHING to comfort their kids so I could pee for the first time in hours.
I kissed their sweaty foreheads and posed for photos and signed yearbooks and felt a prickling of tears.
My students are ten. We will genuinely never meet again. And I waved and fist-bumped goodbye and then went up to the staffroom to scavenge for pizza and throw carbs at feelings.
Maybe I act this way and avoid goodbyes because I feel safe because of all the technology that allows us to check in anonymously on one another, ascertain the quality of one’s life, keep abreast of major news until we’re able to be physically together once again.
Maybe I hate big, honest conversations about how we value one another, and the gaping hole your absence will leave in my life.
Maybe it’s childhood trauma and important figures floating in and out and away of the periphery of influence without closing conversations with understanding and I’m trying to compartmentalise responsibility and pain of separation maybe maybe…..
Wow but it is messy to try and grow up and understand yourself.
Kudos to anyone giving an effort.
17 – pack it up, pack it in
I packed up the last day of school in a weird mood; I said some really painful goodbyes to students i’d had and loved for a long time, and for colleagues moving on, but I mostly just avoided the awkward conversations as much as I could and walked to my apartment. It was really hot, I was really sweaty, my students had made me cry multiple times. I was fragile. I took a cold shower, packed, walked, showered again, met a friend for drinks, packed some more, and prayed over my flat that it would not be completely molded over when I returned (I.e. last year).
Teaching might be the only profession where you get a summer off – the hottest months of the year, the end of your working brain cells, the point of mental and social exhaustion. It’s very necessary. Because Hong Kong still requires hotel quarantine (on your own dime) before full re-entry into our little fiefdom, schools kind of unanimously agreed to extend our summer holidays to allow us enough time to travel home and then spend several days in a frosted window hotel room with no access to fresh air.
It’s cool, it’s cool, I’m so grateful, etc., but I’m also just not thinking about it again because it will trigger some PTSD from last summer, spending two weeks in the same hotel, and also I still have 20 days here, so no need to preemptively panic!
The adventure to get back to California was curious – days before the flight back, the government announced we didn’t have to do a PCR test in order to leave, which was great, since I was convinced I’d finally contract Covid right before the flight. Then upon chatting up workmates, I realized I was flying both legs with my principal, his wife, and three children under the age of five. Oh goodie.
They kinda scream-cried both flights and through customs, and I was as sympathetic as I could be from a few rows, a few beers, and two ear plugs away.
I landed at 10:30am on a Saturday, my mom and Gma and the dogs picked me up. More family was waiting at home for me, along with Los Panchos, my favorite Mexican food. We hung out by the pool and my shoulders fell back from their tension around my ears for the first time in weeks.
Fast forward and now I’ve been “home” almost a month! I’ve already been able to do so much, had a lot of adjusting to do, seen so many people i love, and am still settling in. Mostly I am grateful to have a space at my parents’ house to chill with the dogs and scrounge in the cupboards for errant crackers.
Eighteen – Knowing Ellis
Just a few days after landing in California, I took off for Tennessee to visit my baby sister (and you always will be! Even if you’re 30-something just now!) and her own baby. She also has one on the way. Despite weird bouts of jet-lag and fear of having Covid, it was a super awesome visit. I got to be Auntie Rachie in every way; remember how to put a diaper on a squirming child, learned who and what Cocomelon is, heard “Babyshark” a million times, congratulated Ellis on every small accomplishment until I felt i’d almost lost my voice, got sweaty from holding him and rocking and singing endless verses of “You are my Sunshine” and taught him what is apparently a truncated and incorrect version of “Grey Squirrel” but I’m sticking with it because I like it. And so does he.
It was only the third time I’d gotten to meet the adorable, stubborn, curious creature that is my own nephew. I was a bit nervous – wanting him to love me and like me, let me cuddle him, and I also thought it would be really cool if I could teach him how to add and subtract and read and write within our tiny visit.
As if he didn’t own it already, the very first night, he claimed my heart. I’d landed at 7-something pm and got to their house expecting he’d be asleep and I’d miss him, he was wide awake and ready to cuddle, throw some things around, share food with me. And then it was way past time to go to bed, and his dad asked “Do you want mama to put you to bed?” “No.” “Daddy?” “No.” “Auntie Rachie?” “Yeah,” his sleepy little voice said, and I threw down my carry-on and my beer and tucked him into my arms and raced upstairs before he could change his mind.
According to his parents, who were well asleep by the time I got back downstairs at 8:30pm, he completely bamboozled me into about 45 minutes of extra sing-to-sleep time. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Ellis loves basketball and golf, and play begins at 5am most days. He’s actually really good at both and can sink a three (sometimes I say it’s a four) while standing on the couch in his diaper. He will practice the same shots over and over with surprising dedication for someone not even two years old, but he will also say “you try” and want you to do a few shots and swings (you are not allowed to sit down, this is an audience participation activity). Ellis will sit and watch golf videos and “OHHHH!!!! YAAAAYYY!!” at all the right times, because he knows what’s going on. It’s pretty adorable.
Other highlights of my visit included his swim lesson, which he was NOT in the mood for – crying so hard and wanting to run away and Auntie Rachie wanted to be like “well, let’s just stop and go get popsicles!” but we also have to learn to do hard things. We also went to the zoo and loved looking at fishies, and played in the hot Tennessee summer sun, looking for airplanes.
It was the first time I’ve seen Sophie pregnant and also got to watch her really get to be a mom with Ellis, as he’s older now and definitely can have a mind of his own. Maybe it’s just a big sister thing, but I kept thinking “are we old enough to do this? Are we really grown ups? Do we know what we’re doing??” as we’re driving Ellis around, getting him in and out of a carseat, taking him to the zoo, finding joy in sneaking him bits of cookies because I’m his aunt and that’s my right and privilege even if it is only 7am.
Times like these make it hard to live so far away and be a digital auntie, because nothing compares to the warm, heavy weight of him in my arms, snuffling into my chest, letting me kiss his curly head and rock him to sleep. I’ll take all I can get.