Merritt Malloy is my favorite poet. Except for my friend, Sally, who first told me of her, no one has ever mentioned her name. Malloy has written a couple of slim volumes of verses about people she loves. My favorite book is The People Who Didn’t Say Good-bye. And the lead poem is “The People Who Cannot Say Good-bye” and it touches me every time I read it.
I won’t say good-bye to any of my Bay Area friends. I am not leaving anyone—just outward bound for a while. My friends and my family know that being close and connected has nothing to do with distance. They say fare thee well but not goodbye.
* * *
I had dinner the other night with my friend, Gene, with whom I have crossed a half-dozen decades. We didn’t see each other at all from the day we graduated high school until the 25th class reunion, then but once before the next reunion. At the 35-year mark I moved to his part of the country and we visited several times a year. The friendship never faltered even as our lives changed, converged, diverged, converged, and diverged. We tried for annual dinners and monthly phone calls. The effort counted whether of not we succeeded.
When I decided to take a year on the road, we talked weekly and scheduled dinners regularly.
“Once more before you leave,” he said. His life was no less busy and mine was hectic with preparations but we did get together more frequently.
And I asked why. After all, cell phones and the internet have made miles meaningless. I imagined no change in our monthly calls and annual dinners.
“It is because.” he said, “I have been able to see you any time I wanted. And now, I won’t.”
Sometimes good-bye can be about proximity.
* * *
This morning I had word that Leon, another friend from my schoolboy days, had passed away. Lee’s life was a struggle with a tag team of demons. Lee never called, he never wrote. I never minded that the keep-in-touch burden was on me. He had enough on his plate. He never complained. It was his lot to play the hand he was dealt even as he understood his game was rigged and the deck was stacked.
I called him a week ago tell him I was going to take a year and hit the road. I’d be coming through Delaware in the Spring and would stop and see him.
I opened with the lazy throwaway question, “How ya doing?”
“Just waiting to die.” He said. “I have a needle full of chemo in my arm.”
We had a foggy chat. I am not sure he knew who I was. He wanted to get off the phone.
Even though I knew I would not be seeing him in the Spring, I did not say good-bye.
But today I used the hour after receiving the news about Lee to say good-bye because this good-bye is not about miles and geography.
There is a time for good-byes but the commencement of adventure is not one of them. In fact it is the time to stay in touch, to share.
So, whether I sail off to the tune of Willie Nelson’s nasal “On the Road Again or Ray Charles’ gravelly “Hit the Road, Jack, don’t come back no MORE, NO more,” I am taking everyone with me.