It was the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last.
I stood in the corner of the room, as far from him as possible. I kept my eyes on the floor, or on a ceiling light, or out the window. At my shoes, at the picture hanging on the wall, at anything that would keep me from meeting his eyes and bursting into tears.
I tried in vain not to watch, not to listen, as the rest of my family took their turns saying their goodbyes, but even the others’ weak, emotion-filled, cracked voices caused a lump to form in my throat and tears to begin to form in my eyes.
I concentrated again on practicing my goodbye. In my mind’s eye I hugged him, gave my tough smile, the one that said, “I love you, I’ll miss you, and I’m fighting back tears, but we will be okay.” The one that assured him that he was doing the right thing, that he wasn’t causing us too much pain. The one a perfect sister would be able to wear on her face.
And then I would say the perfect words. “I love you.” “I hope your flight goes well.” “I’ll miss you.” “Make sure to stay in touch.” Crack a joke, say something that would make him smile and let me hear him laugh one more time.
I had practiced it a thousand times. I was ready. I could do this. I wouldn’t cry.
I watched my sister say her goodbye. Then my mother. I fought to suppress my tears, and to this point I had won the battle.
I looked around the room to see who still had to take their turn. There weren’t many left, but I would wait as long as possible, run through my prepared scenario a few more times.
But then I looked up. Our eyes met, and I felt the tears start to come. Suddenly I was across the room, in his arms, his strong embrace. In a moment, all my practice and preparation went to waste as the tears rolled down my face. Instead of the “perfect sister words” I had continuously gone over in my head for the past days, the only sounds coming from my mouth were the quick, sharp breaths as I tried not to sob.
His arms stayed around me for what seemed like the longest time. But then I felt his embrace tighten, the way he always did before he let go, and suddenly I wasn’t ready for it to end. I squeezed him tighter, as tight as I could, before he released me.
Still unable to speak, I just looked into his eyes and gave a teary smile, and I knew that he knew. He knew everything that I was feeling, everything that I wanted to say but was unable to. We both knew.
That was the first time, and it wasn’t the last. Every time he comes to visit, it happens again. I spend days, hours, preparing myself, “writing my speech,” finding the perfect words to say when the time comes for us to once again say our goodbyes.
But in the end, I will never be able to say the perfect words, because neither of us is perfect. We are both hurting, both feeling the same pain. And that’s why that glimpse, that moment of eye contact, can bring us to tears that keep us from speaking but take care of what needs to be said at the same time.
That’s why it will never be the last time that I fail, that I will be unable to keep the tears in and get the perfect words out. Because it’s okay, and we are going to be okay. Because we know that even though each time is just as difficult as the first time, it still won’t be the last time.