I drop my arm even though my hand remains waving a few seconds after the van drives out of sight. For a few seconds more, I stand on the edge of the parking lot and just sob into the sunlight, then slowly turn and wander back inside. Once inside, my crying hollows out until I just moan, kneeling on the stairs, looking up at the grandfather clock as its brass pendulum swings toc-toc-toc and the van that carried it here drives farther and farther away.
“I’m so tired of saying goodbye to people I love.” The weary kleenex is folded into a neat rectangle ó when did I do that? ó and I fiddle with it as I swallow over more tears. The furniture in Dr. Doctor’s office is not office furniture at all, aside from the desk and chair; there are two suspiciously nightstand-looking things, and one is missing one of its four tiny silver knobs. The empty hole bothers me. The nightstand is imbalanced. I keep thinking it’s going to teeter towards the door and fall.
“What did you mean by that … you’re tired of saying goodbye to people you love?” Dr. Doctor asks in his mellow, comforting drawl. He pronounces “tired” the way I’ve grown fond of: “tahrd.” The way Northerners make fun of me saying “Fahv Points.” It is an easy thing, like the soft brown grass right before spring hits and makes everything radiant and sharp. Winter lingers here like the softest of drawls, its extended vowels the faint smell of red soil and rain.
I tell Dr. Doctor about visits, and how they have to be intense, short things, and how I feel their loss so acutely it overwhelms and chokes me, and how I steadfastly believe no one understands how close I am to my dad or why every goodbye with him gets more and more painful.
“You know I’m very proud of you,” Dad says over breakfast, in that quiet, resonant way of his. He talks and I can feel it buzz in my head, in my gut, like the breathing exercises my voice teacher used to whip me through. But god, I can’t concentrate on what else he says, because I’m too busy holding my breath in an attempt to curb the teary-eye thing I’ve been doing all morning. He ends with, “… and it’s going to be a long, upward climb.” I manage to nod, and I want to look at him, but if I do, if I see the earnest look on his face, the love that lies there, I will lose it, all over the remnants of my potato pancakes.
Melissa returns to the table, and the moment sinks in all over me like hot bathwater. It occurs to me that not only do I love my dad, but I love the person who is my dad. If he weren’t my dad, I would still want to know him.
Not even 72 hours after Dad and Melissa arrived, it is time to say goodbye to them. This is a little ritual we all hate but it’s comforting even so. Melissa and I hug first, and she says, “Well, sweetie, it was so good to see you,” and I say, “It was good to see you too,” and she replies, “I love you very much,” and I reply, “I love you too. Thank you.” Then the hug is over and it’s time for me and my dad to part. A swollen second hangs between us; I am thinking about how I could get them to stay just a little longer, and perhaps Dad is thinking the same thing. But then we hug, and immediately on contact we both start to cry. We run through a script similar to mine and Melissa’s, only more extended, and stumbled through tears. Dad kisses the top of my head as I smush my face against his rough cotton shirt. Hearing him cry shreds me to ribbons, every time. I try not to count how many different times and places in which my dad and I have said goodbye. The number may not be remarkable, but considering each time has ripped and ground a part of me, I am surprised there is still enough left to congeal and fall apart all over again.
They get in the van and drive slowly away. I blow them kisses and wave, and cry, and wave.