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On the Endings of Things

I am eleven years old and standing in the fading light of a Colorado sunset. My sister’s hand is linked with mine, my great grandmother’s arm around my shoulders. Behind me, my brother keeps poking me in the sides, trying in vain to get me to smile for the group photo that my mom is taking before most of those gathered leave for the airport. “We’ll be back,” my aunt says, which really only makes me cry harder, because it is just another reminder that they are leaving.
I am 15, and my friend puts his hands on my shoulders as his graduation party winds down behind us. “Take the world by storm,” he says, and then he is hugging me, and I am crying yet again. I know this is the last time I will see him.
I am eighteen, standing in an airport bathroom crying so hard that my body feels like it might fall apart. A stranger has her arms around me, imploring me to “breathe, just breathe”. Somewhere nearby but too far away, a plane breaks away from the land and takes a piece of me with it.
I am nineteen, and my sister runs past a shouting TSA agent to hug me one last time before I walk onto the plane. The flight attendant stops his safety speech and touches my arm. “What are you leaving behind?” he asks, knowing I haven’t been able to take in a single part of what he’s said so far. “My family,” I tell him. “Everything,” I want to say, because I am melodramatic, but it truly does feel that way.
I am twenty, and my two best friends and I hold hands across a picnic table the day one leaves for his military training. “Will you guys remember me?” he asks. Me and the other both immediately say no, and he lightly hits us. He hugs us both, a tangle of arms and backpacks, and I wonder if it’d be easier if I didn’t care about people as much.
I am twenty-four, and the Uber driver doesn’t say a word to me as I try futilely to hold back tears, for which I am grateful. The imprint of memories on my skin and heart are a vice around my throat, and part of me wants to scream for the pain of their absence.
To live within my head is to live within a mess of confusing, contradictory feelings. These moments of endings, of loss even if only temporary, they remind me why I spend so much time creating and maintaining distance. If I don’t care, then I cannot get hurt. If I don’t get close, then they cannot hurt me when they leave.
Then there is the joy. My sister running down a school hallway and jumping to wrap her arms and legs around me, my brother hugging me and shoving anyone else away who tries to because this is his moment with me, fingers laced with my own, a heartbeat beneath my palm, breathless, uncontrollable laughter. These moments remind me why I am all-too ready to dive in headfirst, throw myself into the waves and be swept away. They remind me what it is to be alive, to trust that I will be okay, to take each moment as it washes over me rather than preparing for the next one. To abandon this closeness with those whom I love is to destroy my ability to feel that happiness. To remain withdrawn is to neglect the part of me which wishes so strongly to be seen.
If I don’t give enough, will they leave? If I give too much, will they leave? Will one option hurt less than the other?
I dread with every fiber of my being those moments of finality. I cannot convince myself that they are anything less than an ending. No amount of logic will assuage the feeling that the person is gone for good. I ache with such ferocity that I lose myself within it and forget that most times, an ending is not an ending at all. What if I never get it, get them, get him, get these moments back?
I sometimes wish that I could care less. I wish that I could maintain some moticom of distance from a situation so as to protect myself. I wish that I could do things, feel things by halves. I wish that I could feel safe in an ending not being an ending.
I don’t think there is any dampening of one emotion without suppression of them all, so the fear lives on within me. If I want to experience again the inextricable happiness and peace I’ve felt in the best moments of my life, I have to then experience the devastating anguish of the hardest times.
It is something that I have accepted but have yet to truly understand. I remain, balanced on a tightrope and both too afraid to jump and too afraid to stay still. My grasp upon my connections with others is tenuous, and I am both afraid of holding on and afraid of letting go. I am afraid of intimacy and of its absence. And maybe the key is to believe that, regardless of what happens, I will survive it.
Maybe one day it will get easier. Until then, I will probably just keep crying in airports.

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