See You Soon: A Vagabond’s Goodbye

Is it possible to ever say goodbye to New York City?

The past two weeks, I have been gaining weight from all the brunches, lunches, dinners, coffees, mid-lunches, desserts and other invented rituals as I say “So long!” to New York once again.

This is the sixth time I am leaving a country, so by now, I know the drill. Moving to another country is quite different from moving to another state; it involves immigration papers, customs, another currency, language, and time zone. Life has gotten simpler the more this happens to me. Two years’ worth of stuff have been packed in three boxes and shipped. I don’t accumulate much anymore.

We all have our quirks. For me, it’s saying goodbye—it’s important to say goodbye! It marks the passing of time, of “properly” saying thank you for being a part of my life, whether voluntarily or otherwise. I have had rituals that were very traditional (dining out), adventurous (climbing a mountain and hiding a pepper plant in a castle for my friends to hunt for), and nonexistent (I once just left without notice). All have had different results. For this time, I think I prefer the simple ritual of having a conversation—the last one I will have with them face-to-face for a while.

It’s not just about the ritual, because it’s always good to get together with friends. Each move represents a switch, violently or not, of career directions and personalities. I’ve been a research scientist, a human rights something-or-other, a journalist and an editor, an artist and a poet, and an interaction designer. I’m quite curious (and clueless) as to what will happen to me on this leg of the journey now. And because of the chronic change, usually when I say farewell it does mean the end for most of the people I have known, who will likely never have a reason to reconnect with me ever again, who may at one point shake their heads, wonder, and go back to the anchored desks of their (relatively) stable and mortgaged lives. Sometimes, goodbyes are heartstoppingly lonely.

But they also have their entertaining side. Just what is it with farewells that makes people say the juiciest things to me? I’m quite positive I would never have heard a lot of these “confessionals” otherwise. It’s no wonder that travelers turn into storytellers in one form or another; one by one, the people I leave behind keep spilling their guts out without me having to prompt them. Amidst all the Thai lunches, American breakfasts, Japanese dinners, and English teas, I have been privy to the hidden lives of friends and colleagues alike. The secret identities, the love affairs, the hidden longings are all revealed to me like a discontinuous soap opera or graphic novel. It’s almost like they think of me as a bottle in which they can keep a message, to be tossed into choppy waters and never to be seen again, except maybe for the stranger who will pick it up on the other side of the ocean. Perhaps then I can whisper that secret, and create a legend out of that piece of gossip. Sometimes, I think they want me to.

The stories I have collected over time remain with me, long after the memory of the place has all but vanished. Sometimes, stories are all that I carry.

To say goodbye means to die a little inside, because I feel that I am leaving a part of myself behind in all the people I have met and cared about. And so once more I feel a bit lighter, a bit rootless, a little sad, but indescribably happy that the two years have meant oh so very much.

Is it possible to ever say goodbye to New York City? Nah, I’m sure I’ll see you all very soon.

For everyone I have met in NYC on this round. 


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