When I was in middle school I went to an all-girl’s summer camp in Maine. The camp offered a seven week session in which the most popular activities were sailing, swimming and competing amongst each other for the most and most devoted best friends.
As soon as you had racked up 10 or 20 BFF’s the next step was to get together and act out the most public and maudlin goodbyes imaginable. The last 24 hours of each summer were a race against time to collect friendship bracelets, notes and pictures, farewell mementos for each little camper to display on her person. These were testaments to her coolness, like so many scalps on the belt of an Indian brave.
Best friend number three, Emily, was the Meryl Streep of the camp goodbye.
It all started next to the arts and crafts shed: a Teva-clad 12-year-old at the end of my first summer, I became an initiate in the cult of the camp goodbye.
Standing in front of me was Emily, in a moment of recovery from her latest bout of hysterics, encircled by a dozen of our best friends and holding a hemp necklace.
She had made it in pottery class. The beads spelled out “LIZ & EMILY BFF 4 LIFE” in pink and purple glaze. As she gave it to me with Masonic gravitas, her freckly cheeks quivered and her eyelids puffed up, little shimmery dams on the verge of rupture.
“Thanks,” I said, and I smiled. “So, see you next year, right?”
I knew my response had been horribly amiss when I saw the face — the face Emily made when our counselor told her she had not been elected senior camp leader, and when Mitsy Durand had admitted that she didn’t just like Emily’s camp ex-boyfriend, she like liked him.
“What.” Emily growled, not so much as a question but a threat.
My flimsy camp goodbye was clearly not paying the bills.
I tried to muster a tear, a sigh, please God, even a convincing frown, and to drum up those sad words that would convey the pain-addled bewilderment that I was supposed to be feeling.
“Yeah, so um … this is so … sad.”
I’m not sure whether Emily left truly insulted or just ticked off that what might have been the magnum opus of her goodbye season had been cut short by a camp goodbye novice. Either way, that was the start of my goodbye anxiety.
I am really bad at goodbyes. When the time comes to be weepy and effusive, I freeze up, then nothing. It’s not that I don’t miss people; tearful confessionals just aren’t my style.
I worry that my blase attitude towards goodbyes will lead people to see me as frigid, or less devoted than they to our friendship. So like anything else I am really bad at (playing the recorder, c-walking, math), I have worked to avoid goodbyes.
I’m even a wimp with the word goodbye. When I part ways with friends after lunch I find myself emphasizing the next time I will see them; “See you tomorrow” or “see you at dinner.” I used to date a guy who goes to school down south and each time we parted ways at an airport, I would superstitiously refuse to say “goodbye.”
As if it’s not a goodbye until you call it one.
Being a senior facing the granddaddy of all camp goodbyes, I’ve started to question my lifelong evasion of closure. Am I really just sparing myself a useless tearfest when I so willfully resist sappiness, or am I missing out on something more important?
Within the cynical confines of East Coast academia, for many of us public displays of happiness and appreciation are, yes, signs of mental weakness. That’s why we gag at “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” That’s why we secretly love “My So-Called Life.” Yale’s culture prizes wit and sarcasm above warmth and nostalgia. Being good little intellectuals, we’d rather hurl self-deprecating jabs about, say, Ivy League athletics than wax sentimental about how some friends are silver and the others gold.
Goodbyes seem to be the one time everyone agrees to drop the whole too-cool-for-tears act and openly admit that we have souls, and feelings, that even Yalies get the blues. I have decided that to hide from that, or to minimize it, amounts to a lost opportunity.
In the words of Joni Mitchell, “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone?” Looks like the hippies got it right this time — goodbyes may be a tearjerker, but on the upside, they bring out the best in every situation. Just look at the Pope and President Reagan.
As this is my very last column of my very last year of school, I think I’ve earned the right to offer up one piece of advice: in these last few weeks on campus, do the one thing that so many people have yet to do at Yale.
Sit back and smell the party.
That’s right, just sit. No reading, no writing required. And stop checking your e-mail.
Well right about now I feel like it’s 12:37 at BAR and the damned lights just came on.
So here it goes: goodbye Harkness bells; goodbye SML; goodbye morning runs up Prospect. Goodbye impromptu dance parties, Yale granola and the most beautiful courtyards in America. Goodbye ridiculously awful vodka and ridiculously awesome pizza. Goodbye Yale ID; goodbye dance floor make-outs and midnight kisses on High Street. Goodbye eating dinner before my grandparents do. Goodbye to my professors, the ones who helped me and the ones who hated me; goodbye to half-yards and double shots. Goodbye Payne Whitney and goodbye treadmill shrieker. Goodbye to my ladies who lunch. But most all, goodbye to the four-year vacation of a lifetime.
In college Liz Gunnison has become great at two things, and goodbyes are the other one.