I think that the silent enemy of every Third Culture Kid I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, both in person and digitally, is buried deep within the moment we pride ourselves on handling better than anyone. I don’t like the term “we’re only human,” because honestly, I don’t believe in universal truths when it comes to human behavior, but I do know that the issue in question is one that affects a great deal of people in this world, TCKs not excluded despite what we may want you to believe. Just like everyone else, perhaps more so for reasons we hide so very well our entire lives, we are in constant battle with Goodbye.
Goodbye for TCKs is a drastically different thing to what it is for First Culture Kids. At the risk of over-generalizing yet again, FCKs have a tendency to treat goodbyes with extreme finality. The weight of loss that couples a goodbye appears to be so much heavier for them, and as that goodbye grows with the reality of that finality, for example a death instead of a departure or an increase in distance, that weight appears to become unbearable. TCKs, on the other hand, seem to handle those goodbyes with a more nonchalant approach. But appearances are often deceptive at the best of times.
TCKs have had a lifetime full of loss. Some TCKs, like myself, may have been fortunate so far in their lives in terms of the permanent loss of death’s heavy hand, but there are other TCKs who have experienced it plenty. But despite the permanent loss, the number of goodbyes we’re faced with in just a few years are larger than most FCKs deal with across the span of their entire lives. And more often than not, those goodbyes are just as permanent as the finality of life’s end.
But for me, those goodbyes are handled so differently than the goodbyes of my FCK friends and family. I believe I have told the story before of when I left San Antonio on my most recent move and the way I handled that long string of multiple goodbyes, but for the sake of my point, I will tell it one more time. When I left San Antonio, I did so in what I consider to be the best way to handle goodbyes based on a massive history of goodbyes. I know that to me, saying goodbye to my friends that I have grown to love over the years is just a natural state of affairs. Nothing is permanent, and all great things pass eventually. So I handled the goodbye with a quiet, sneaky twist.
I invited everyone out, some in groups, some on their own. I told them I had plans to move, I said I’d be leaving soon, but never gave a date. I rounded them up, saw them all, and left every night saying “Yea, we’ll have to get together and have a big haza before I leave! I’ll give you a call before I go and let you know when I’m actually off. We’ll get together again before I get going, so don’t worry.” And then I never called. That was it. That was their goodbye.
I did this because I knew that saying goodbye for many FCKs is an awkward experience. The knowledge that most of them, if not all of them, would probably never see me again in their lives is an odd thing for anyone to process. We’d spent years developing that friendship, and while I’m not claiming to be the most impacting force in their lives, there’s always a sense of regret associated with saying goodbye to anyone you’ve established a relationship with.
The only person that got a real goodbye, or more the only person that I wanted to give a real goodbye to and never got to due to her busy schedule, was Erika. She has been quoted in this collection before, or perhaps The Illusive Home, under a different name. Possibly Elizabeth, but I can’t quite remember. She was the first girl I ever lived with, the first girl I thought “I will marry this one,” and even when all of that was behind us, she was the most influential and shaping person in my life. There are exceptions that prove every rule, and she’s my exception to my rule of goodbyes.
The level of understanding “goodbyes” that can be found in most TCKs, or perhaps just this particular TCK, extends further than just saying goodbye to friends. Goodbyes come in so many forms, and one of the most interesting to me is the finality of death. That goodbye, more often than not, comes silently and sneakily, snatching life away in an instant. At least, that was the case for both of my most recent and highly life-altering losses, my Grandmother, Anne Mitchener, and my cousin, Jack Allison.
At both of these events, I held my ground better than I expected. I watched as my family crumbled, as tears were shed and as people mourned the loss of truly incredible people who should never have had to leave this world. But, like all amazing things in life, everything has an end just as definitively as it has a beginning. Even now, I have friends and family both that will break down and cry at the loss of both Granny and Jack, more-so Jack these days given his recent and tragic passing. The total sense of loss, the ultimate goodbye that was never said, it has broken many of my FCK family and friends so severely that it looks like they will never come back together. Of course, they will find the pieces one day. Eventually, everyone is at least partially consoled. But right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
What shocked me, though, was how both my brother and I handled the situation. We were the buffers of the family. The ones that kept it together, held our own, and didn’t break down. I had a drunken moment with my cousin, Gregg, where I lost it, but the truth is I wasn’t losing it because of Jack, I was losing it because of how broken the family I love and know so little about had become. That was what hurt me. Empathy, more than anything, cut me to my core. But the loss, the lack of a goodbye to my baby cousin whom I loved so completely, that part didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as I had expected.
Why? Because like many TCKs in this world, I have learned more about goodbyes than anyone should ever know. I can taste their inevitability from the moment we meet. I can read them in passing words that others would miss. I can predict their arrival no matter how far down the line of life they will fall. I am always, always ready for them. And so when we lost Jack, when we lost Granny, the moment of goodbye was done. And while everyone was devastated he wasn’t there, that they couldn’t have just one more moment, that they never had a chance to say goodbye, I was fine with my memory. Because to me, to this TCK, a goodbye is just a door being closed, an isolation of memories, an acceptance that there will never be another created for as long as we live.
But the way I see it, whether we’ll meet again or not, that goodbye isn’t the end. If you simply don’t want to see me, or perhaps no longer walk this world, the end result is always the same. I am a TCK, and I have lived my entire life in a string of relationships that last not much longer than the passing of a season. But just because that relationship has floated on in terms of time spent face-to-face, the moments we shared have shaped me into a different person, and pieces of you will live on with me forever. In that single season, in just one tiny conversation, you changed me for the better. And even if we are never to cross paths again, I will carry you for the rest of my life, and share what you taught me with others.
In the end, I will always keep you with me, and the lives of those I meet will be made better because of the time we spent together. And that’s my TCK goodbye.
Post by: James R. Mitchener