partir, c’est mourir un peu

August 19, 2005

A good friend left today for further studies at the University of California at Berkeley. I fear the gaping wound that her departure will leave in my life (or what remains of it); and am severely apprehensive of what the future weeks have in store for myself: friends will carry on disappearing at a steady and disturbing rate, and after that I alone will be left here in Singapore, alone.


She barged through the airport gates in her typically tardy manner, bags askew and documents in disarray. The send-off had come to an end not with a bang but with a whimper, since we had spent far too long ignoring the last-call warnings flashed across the television screens, and really had no time for a proper goodbye. Air-travel timetables are ruthless things; they never realise how tyrannical they really are, turning each farewell to its inexorable end.

And here she was, then, embracing each of us in turn, uttering the trite benedictions that must needs be intoned at a permanent parting: ‘Sorry I couldn’t spend more time with you…’ or ‘Keep in touch!’ (of course, accompanied by a wryly ironic smile, self-mocking) or ‘I’ll see you soon’. Yet the cliches are true and subservient to the true emotions which run underneath the scene of fake-smiles. Everyone knows that partings are deaths, since we are dead to the person we thought we knew once she leaves and starts anew, a new life, and changes. Flux, a constant, will flummox us all. We could not escape the suspicions, the unsaid thoughts, the twist in the tail.

And yet there she was with her open arms, reaching out to me, and I told myself, as I had the night before, to fight the urge to cry. I leant in for the fierce hug. As if by holding on tightly we could somehow call forth the petty, disingenuous, beautiful claims of friendship to assert themselves across two continents and conquer unassailable distance. Two weeks earlier, I left her at a train station doing the exact same thing: yet the physical embrace was followed not by closeness but by distance. Unassailable distance.

In my arms she seemed small. Too small, too frail, to bear the slings and arms of outrageous fortune and her father. I shudder to think: who could bear to hit such fragility? The keen edge of grief touches her still, I can feel it on the pulse of her beating heart and in the wavering of her voice when she accidentally refers to her parents in the plural. I think to myself, and know that it is the truth, that it is because of her grief that I love her so much. Nothing is beautiful without pain. The poetry is in the pity. The depth of her sorrow is an apotheosis: I am willing to look past the minor faults, the unfortunate events that irk, to see that inky halo of smallness, frailty, fragility, grief, pain – beauty – that envelops her.

I think: Will she be able to take care of herself? Already she struggles with carrying all the luggage (six bags, no less, the attendant inconveniences of being female), has probably misplaced her boarding pass, and has no idea that she must board at gate twenty-six. Will she be able to take care of herself? Our entire friendship built up on my endless worries, as if by crucifying myself on her cross of stress I could take away her stripes. We argued once, because I felt I was giving too much for nothing in return. Now I see that my giving was selfish, born out of an atavistic inclination to help the weak, heal the sick, walk on water. Poor little rich girl, all the money that money can buy and yet still so poor. As if, by so doing, everyone else would reciprocate and come to help me, heal me. Weak and sick me.

Now she has everything in order. She walks on into the impersonal airport, turns around to wave at us. Take care of yourself, and call once you touch down! I shout. She cannot hear, the glass that keeps out criminals and terrorists also shuts out the hollering which carries all my love and affection and the accompanying anxiety. Over on her side it must all be quiet, the reverent silence which one only hears at the airport. She can only see some of us gesticulating wildly, she thinks: what mad friends I have.

She cannot wait any longer, she turns away and walks to gate twenty six. She knows she must be there. I stay a while longer, expecting her to come back, screaming that she has forgotten something or other. No-one comes, she is lost in the apparition of faces in the crowd. She has left.


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