Living Well Between the Goodbyes
I wasn’t prepared for the high-speed film reel of memories to hit me the second we drove off the 405 onto the 101 highway.
Two hours of driving through my tears on the day I said goodbye to a boy my brain had grown accustomed to telling “I love you,” when my heart just wasn’t there yet. An entire CD of Lady Antebellum Christmas songs my sister and I played on repeat on our way home for winter break. A 40-mile trek with three girls who shared my apartment and the label “best friend” just to walk into a Target.
His grandparents lived off that exit—it felt real when he wanted me to meet them. The first time I fell in love with the heart of the friend who I’m texting, right now, a pizza emoji and exclamation point to—it happened just a mile up the road from this stop, at the house she grew up in. I got off the exit coming up here on the right, that one there, when I saw carnival lights reflecting on the ocean.
My college experience wasn’t full of memories of nights out and beer pong, student organizations and internships, lectures and all-nighters before exams. My college experience can be summed up into the 180 miles of road between it and my hometown. Four years of life written in chalk along the asphalt of the 101.
UC Santa Barbara is the home of the Gauchos. The home of world-class researchers and Nobel Prize winners. The home of thousands of students who wear flip flops every day and spend too much time trying to find someone describe them on Yik Yak. It’s a home smack dab in the center of California paradise, where the weather rarely goes over 80 or under 60 degrees and you can take classes with ocean views.
It is the first place where I ever took a shot of vodka. It is the first place where I ever learned to praise Jesus with my palms in the air. It is the first place where I learned I could meet a boyfriend without having to leave my couch (and no it wasn’t online, but while we’re at it, it’s the first place I ever downloaded Tinder, too).
It is the first place I ever learned to call home on my own. And when I drove through it the other day, when it was no longer a place I recognized as my own destination, I realized how hard the word “home” is to let go of.
There are only a few words that stick with me, no matter how hard I try to forget them. But the hardest of all of them is “goodbye.”
“I’m getting out of here!” I said when my time in Santa Barbara was coming to a close. I spent every weekend on the 101, pacing back and forth in my old Honda Civic between the life I was eager to start and the life I had no idea I would miss so much. Goodbye was a word I was over-prepared to say. I said it to friends I was ready to leave behind, I said it to an apartment I paid too much in rent for, I said it to memories that ripped me open over and over, relentless as Donald Trump’s campaign manager, whenever I passed the park on the 25th block, or the purple house on Sabado, or Santa Claus Lane.
When it came time to actually leave for the last time, I felt emptiness in the place I knew nostalgia should be. But I’d said goodbye so many times before in those last few weeks of college that one final dropping off of a key and loading up of a mattress I planned to throw in the dumpster didn’t mean anything more.
Santa Barbara, to me, was the boy you can break up with in one word. You spent so much time putting distance between yourselves that when you pick up the phone to let him know it’s time for goodbye he is surprised you felt the need to say it. You walk away pain-free. You think about the freedom you’ll get and the bed you won’t have to share.
But then a few months pass. And you see him posting pictures with lips on the cheek of someone new. That freedom you wanted is a lot lonelier than it looked and you realize that you only use one side of the bed even when there’s nobody else there. You curse the word goodbye for all that it helped you give away. You lose sleep going over and over why you so desperately didn’t want to stay.
“I don’t get it. Why do I feel like this?” I asked my friend on the other side of the Santa Barbara county line. The car was still pushing forward to my new apartment in my new city that I still don’t feel ready to call home.
“I didn’t even like college that much.”
“But I think maybe that’s why,” she said back. “You’re realizing that you weren’t finished there. That you could’ve done more if you hadn’t been so ready to move on.”
I can tell you today that my life is full. That my new apartment is only a mile away from the beach and a sweet boy comes to visit it on the weekends. That I have friends here who meet me when a day is bad or I have news to share. That my job feeds me with purpose, and I love the Christmas lights I randomly hung throughout my bedroom.
But when I got on that highway, I saw pictures of so many things I left behind without a care. I saw the missing spaces I could have filled with things more substantial than a road if I hadn’t been so eager for my goodbye. I caught myself thinking the other day about my next step—the next spot on the map I could say goodbye to Los Angeles for. But I don’t want to look back at my memories from this place and see any more missing gaps.
When I look at my memories, maybe as I find myself driving along the 405, I want to smile, nod my head, and think, “You lived it well, Amanda. You lived it well.”