things we’re not good at

I realized two days ago that last weekend, in the flurry of diploma-getting and picture-taking and packing-up-everything-I-own, I missed saying goodbye to one of my best friends. This being The Future, I quickly typed distressed messages of apology for my oversight at her on Facebook. But, as it turns out, she said she had actually slipped out on purpose, because it was hard for her to watch so many people leave and seeing them was too much.

“I’m not good with goodbyes,” she said.

scene from my moving-to-college roadtrip four long years ago

I’m not either, I told her. Nobody is! And so we said a kind of fakey-Facebook goodbye, punctuated with emoticons instead of the sobbing through tears that would likely have accompanied the physical act. I didn’t have much time to dwell, because in the short span of three days that I was home I had many glamourous tasks to attend to: unpacking, doing laundry, getting my teeth cleaned, going to the doctor, having blood drawn (ugh), trying not to barf on the nice phlebotomist, going back to the dentist to have my sexy tooth-grinding mouthguard refitted, and putting something in the family fridge that wasn’t pre-shredded cheese or moldy Indian takeout.

And! In my infinite wisdom, I had signed up for banjo classes in Brooklyn that I was Very Excited to take without noticing that the first class was on June 14, also known as Three Full Days Before I Intended To Move to New York. So I took the Boltbus up, for just the night, to learn the very beginnings of the clawhammer style and doodle around in that wonderful city for a bit. (Pro-tip: if you ever want to be regarded with suspicion at your favorite vegan bakery, go there in a stained-button down with a banjo strapped to your back. Hayseed-chic!)

The class, though, was great, and started the usual way any class does, with a go-around-and-say-your-name kind of deal. The teacher was friendly and did his best, but three people in he did a sheepish little palms-up.

“I’m not good with names,” he admitted.

Which made me think. As we were practicing forming our hands into claws and awkwardly strumming out our first attempts at the bum-ditty, I realized that no one ever says they’re good with names. And yet people still point it out, invariably, in situations where there’s a whole roster of new folks to get acquainted with. Same with goodbyes. I’d bet you two vegan donuts that no one relishes the act of parting with their friends any more than they profess their utter confidence at learning what people are called.

So what compels us, as a people, as a species, to qualify something that’s so universal? Why can’t we just come out and admit it? Change is hard. The best part of spending time with people is when you’ve mastered their name but don’t have to say it for the last time. If introductions aren’t queasy and nerve-wracking, then they’re at least a bit of tricky memorization. And goodbyes are just awful. No one wants to wrap their arms around someone knowing they’ll have to release them, and so soon, too soon.

I don’t know if there’s anything we can do about it, either, other than try to ride it out. Not to get all “Closing Time” on you, but it is true that beginnings follow endings. There was once a time when you didn’t know your best friend’s name. The people you’ve bid farewell circle back in the strangest ways. So maybe it’s a good exercise to relish these precipitous moments we’re “not good with” and give people healthy dose of consideration–not judgment, just taking-in–when we see them first and last. Who are they, and where will they go with or without us?

And if you really can’t remember names, or can’t handle the burden of keeping in touch, worry not. There’s always Facebook.

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