I like saying goodbye to places
because places do not say goodbye back.
I can say a goodbye that lasts
for months, a sullen farewell
spelled out in long kilometres
of boardwalk footsteps
beneath Saturday evening sunsets.
I can say a goodbye that emanates,
that radiates like body heat,
that takes shape in the way my shoes
hug the concrete, the way
the coffee tastes sweeter
and even the mosquitoes
don’t bother me.
I can finish the goodbye
I’ve been slowly saying
since I left the last syllable of hello,
since my first borrowed glance
at these glowing marshlands
and burnt brick walls.
I can let the words echo out, dissolve
into the silence that hangs
between the fleeting birdcalls,
and know in a moment
that I have been heard.
It’s such a strange experience to watch a town recede in the rear-view mirror and wonder when you’ll see it again, or even if you ever will.
It’s a similar yet definitively distinct experience to know that that departure is coming. To see it looming mere days, weeks, or months in the distance. That knowledge gives every interaction with the space another layer of significance, no matter how minor. It’s a sort of memento mori for one’s existence in a certain place: what you choose to do with your time is only meaningful because your time is limited.
This was my experience when I moved from Sackville, New Brunswick, to Toronto, Ontario.
I’ve been through this cognitive and emotional process several times over my relatively short life, but I still don’t think I fully understand it. It’s such a bittersweet effect: by turns I would find myself appreciating the small town of Sackville more than ever and disdaining its close-knit existence. I wanted to stay as long as I could and leave as soon as possible. I knew that I had to move on but also knew that I was nowhere close to ready to do so.
What made my departure from Sackville unique among my previous moves is that I saw it coming far further in advance. I was in Sackville because I was getting a degree at Mount Allison University. In four years, the degree would be done and I would be gone, perhaps on to bigger and better things. That was always the plan, always the understanding. Thus I found myself unsure whether to mourn my departure, celebrate my emancipation, or just matter-of-factly note the passage of another milestone.
Yet the crux of this poem — and the reason that I find moving away from places to be a generally cathartic experience — is that Sackville doesn’t care. This place, this geographical location, this setting didn’t have any expectations for how I would feel in those last few months, nor in that moment of looking in the rear-view mirror. I couldn’t hurt its feelings or bring a single heartfelt tear to its eye. There was no right or wrong way to say goodbye, no right or wrong way to leave. I was free to feel what I needed to feel.
So long, Sackville. It was one hell of a ride.