My Last Goodbye

It’s a fifteen hour flight to South Africa

A journey across the Earth my family embarks upon once every two years

I press my face to the glass of the coveted window seat

A place I scored after lengthy negotiations with my sister

The oval window is a portal to the rest of the world,

reminding me just how insignificant we are

Oceans and islands soar beneath us as I plug into my third movie of the day

The end of this eternal ride has left me wondering where all of the time has gone

It’s a two hour drive to Johannesburg

I have never been able to stay awake the entire duration

I don’t see the gorgeous sunset spread across the sky

A sea of ruby reds, vibrant yellows, and cotton candy pinks

I don’t see the last rays of sun slip off the rocky sidewalk

As darkness consumes the night

When I awaken thousands of stars shower the sky

Like drops of glittering rain that never reach the Earth

New York City does not have stars like these

Twenty minutes of waiting for them to text us to come over to their house

Later we play bridge in the dining room

I pretend to understand the endless rules and meticulous strategy

So that I can keep my blue folding chair around the deck table

In the kitchen I learn to bake challah with Aunt Joanne

The overwhelming scent of yeast shocks my nose with its powerful aroma

My fingers knead through the sticky, elastic dough

Even though one side is as burnt as the scorching pavement

that sits beneath the African sun

I pretend that I remembered to flip the loaves after thirty minutes in the oven

So much pretending

Pretending I don’t understand everything that is going on around me

Soon I’m running from Alphie, the ferociously persistent little dog

Secreting pearls of gleaming sweat in the malicious heat

And shivering in the icy pool that bites your toes and fingers if you overstay your welcome

All simple, All familiar

But then it’s talking in hushed voices about renowned hospitals

New surgeries

And ovarian cancer

It’s Aunt Joanne being too tired, so tired

Too tired for chemo

Too weak

Some words hold more meaning than I can even comprehend

Rocks around a volcano are hollow

Formed by scorching hot magma

Natives used to think they were just unbelievably light

Legend tells that taking one of the rocks is bad luck

The word cancer is unbelievably heavy

It is the quintessence of bad luck

This one word has the power to weigh everything down

Slowing the world to its own pace, forcing accommodations

We try our very best to avoid the heavy word

To not let it crush us like ants underfoot

One word is on the tip of everyone’s tongue yet rarely do we dare breathe a word of it

But before we know it, it’s time to say goodbye

Goodbyes seem so simple

Yet there is something so personal about them

I give my goodbyes everyday

To my friends

To my teachers

To my parents and sister

To the sun when she goes to sleep each night, urging me to do the same

Sometimes I say goodbye forever

To my friends at camp when I know that our adventures together have come to an end

To my cat when she decided to never to wake up from her nap on my parents bed

And to all those dreams I have let go of

But it never quite feels as final as it should

When one chapter of your life snaps shut

The final curtain

We allow ourselves to believe that we might keep in touch

We might revisit that plan we started

We might be able to go back to that moment in time where we let go

Now Joanne is giving me a gentle hug and telling us to have a safe flight home

I’m saying that I love her and that I hope she wins her next bridge game

I know this is goodbye forever

It doesn’t feel big enough

It doesn’t feel special enough

It doesn’t feel worthy of being the last words that are ever imparted

from her soul unto mine

But just like that and it’s over

I want to say that when she dies I am going to miss her so much

and cry until I’m all out of tears

But I can’t say that

I want to ask if she is really ever going to get better

But I can’t ask that

I want to lock myself in a room and not leave

Because it feels like I’m leaving her behind

But know I can’t do that

I want to beg her to stay strong for two more years

Until I am back to bake challah and learn the rules of bridge

But that is not fair to anyone

Before I know it, I’m driving out of the gate

Past the Acacia trees that sway in the breeze like the swings at Pierpont playground

Past the little inn where we stayed because the house is overflowed with relatives

All waiting to say their own goodbyes

My heart tries to trick itself into believing otherwise

But my mind knows the truth

I’ve said goodbye forever

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