Mother’s goodbye

And now it’s my mother saying goodbye, her voice cracking through the phone, or maybe I exaggerate to stress the kind of sadness I imagine her feel. But even more clearly, I can see my father, who will be more sad. I don’t know why the two of them are so different at expressing their emotions, not that they really express with words, but their mannerisms are at odds with each other.
My mother will make fun of a sad thing. She will try to humor you. She will hug you and as you are holding her, she will slip, and she will say something that will unintentionally hurt. She might say, so you are leaving us and going about your own life, and she’ll say it softly and with good humor and you might not even hear it. But once you do, you don’t want to let go. She is small and a few inches shorter and holding her is so easy, yet she is so powerful, even as you seem to be in control of her. You finally let go and you look into her light brown eyes and you wonder where she’s got all that strength from.
My father will not say a word. He will watch you in his own, subtle ways like when you are reading on the couch and he is sitting across from you, his hands resting on his lap, his eyes drifting from the newspaper to you. When he looks at you, it will be tender and sad. When he walks slowly across the room, you wait to hear him say something, and when he doesn’t, you feel sadder. When you hug him he hugs back and says something sweet like, oh, my daughter, and he’ll leave it at that. And this moment is so tense and so tender that you feel yourself falling on your knees.
The two of them are not good with goodbyes so it’s hard for us to learn from them. We are all terrible at goodbyes. We avoid them. We silence ourselves. We give hugs and we kiss each others’ cheeks, but we never say what we really meant to say. And if we do, on an especially expressive day, we say it so awkwardly or so humorously that we forget that it is goodbye we are talking about.
I hang up the phone and my mother’s words crack, and I feel heavy with guilt. I sit on the couch, alone, and try to understand when it was that I first felt the need to break away.

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