Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Friends come. Friends go. I place great faith in their return.

The first time I stopped doing rounds was when I was fifteen. I was underaged and experimenting with White Russians and Long Islands at the Starfish Room in Vancouver. It was a hip hop jam and it was packed. I had a lot of friends and acquaintances at that jam. Mostly acquaintances. In my adolescence my ability to socialise was blossoming and my circles of friends started radiating, growing as quickly as I was changing. That's what happens when you're fifteen and all of a sudden brave. You make a lot of acquaintances.

James and I were ready to jet. "Hold on," he shouted, "I'm gonna say 'bye..." As he disappeared into the crush of head-nodders and beats, I sipped the last of my latest alcoholic discovery. I scanned the crowd for cute girls that I didn't have the balls to talk to all night... there she is... there she is... there she is... there's another... I noticed new friends and newer acquaintances scattered throughout the mess of people, uprocking, nodding, rapping along, swigging, chatting up the cute girls that passed me by. Everyone was busy socialising and I was busy crunching my ice, watching them not noticing me. James returned after forever, said, "Yo, you're not gonna do your rounds?"
And we left.

I've tried to replicate that exit for the last fifteen years. It's happened sometimes. But usually I've succumbed to social grace and spent half-an-hour saying goodbye when my actual goodbye should've happened half-an-hour ago. One of my vices, my banes, is my feeling of social obligation. "What will my friends think if I don't say goodbye?" Or worse, "What will my acquaintances think if I don't say goodbye?" Acquaintances might think I'm snubbing them (such horror), but friends... the friendship will survive the lack of goodbye. Friendship, although rarely unconditional, is far more unconditional than acquaintanceship. Friends should remain friends with or without a proper and belaboured goodbye. But be them friends or acquaintances or enemies, no one actually cares whether or not I say goodbye. They are intelligent and will conclude one thing: I went home. Why flit around the room inflicting uncomfortable farewells when I'm gonna see you again soon anyways? I'm almost certainly going to interrupt your conversation with someone I don't know and we're going to hug and I'm going to meekly twinkle my fingers at the patiently awaiting stranger so he doesn't feel left out of the goodbye. Awkward.

I'm not an irrational cynic. It's smart and advisable to let someone know that you're leaving so they don't worry you've been kidnapped. Also, I'd appreciate it if a drunken friend checked in with me -- "Dude, I'm outta here, I don't wanna get towed, I'm so wasted" -- so I could say "Not so fast." And of course in some circumstances you sincerely want to hang on to that person for just one minute longer because they're leaving tomorrow forever for Peru and you want to make sure you have their e-mail, have their Facebook, give them your blessings. Proper goodbyes are thoughtful displays of kindness and appreciation. But in general, for the bulk of things I attend, I'm content to leave the evening pat. Tell a friend or two that I'm leaving. Not everyone. Clean exit. Quiet. It's gratifying to simply disappear.

"She didn't even say goodbye," some people complain like it's a crime. Is it?

I learned something from my father when we went to China in 2004. Over the last thirty years he's been able to see his dear old friends only sporadically, perhaps a decade or longer between some visits. Maybe even thirty years. Maybe more. On one occasion he and his old buddies gathered at the kitchen table to smoke cigarettes and eat lunch and eat dinner and drink tea and talk for twelve hours. No break. That is friendship. I don't know how they handled the first goodbye when my father left China in 1979, but I reckon the "goodbye" was more like "see you later". I now say "I'll see you later" with more sincerity because, indeed, I will.

One of my favourite non-goodbyes was doled out by my mother when I was home some years ago for the winter holiday. I was leaving early next morning back to Toronto and of course my mother wasn't going to the airport -- she never does, nor do I want her to; she taught me pragmatism -- and she shut her bedroom door to go to sleep.
"MOM! What're you doing!"
"Bedtime," she muffled behind the door.
"Aren't you going to say goodbye?"
"'Cause I'm leaving tomorrow! You won't see me for half a year! Can I at least hug you?"
"Why? It'll be summer before you know it. I'll see you later..."
She didn't say goodnight. She didn't say goodbye. She didn't even open the door. Her exits are so clean they're invisible.

It's that unconditional bond I have with my family that I transfer onto some friends. No, I don't take friendship for granted and I've had a few collapse, but I'm finding that the stronger the bond, the less need for goodbye. That's probably why I feel a need to say goodbye to acquaintances: a little prick to remind them to remember me because they've already started forgetting. But my friendships that are full of substance... I'd like to keep them loose, where no ends are tied because there are no ends. Keep things open because our relationship is unfinished business. Instead of chopping up our narrative into pieces of stop and start, I'd rather let it trail out like one long unbroken thread of friendship.


Rich said...

ah fuck... i forgot to say goodbye to you the last time you were in town. shit. sorry man.

Zain said...


you are going to start writing for a magazine.

sharilyn said...

stumbled into you this evening, so i thought I'd (only) say hi. hi, old friend! and other unfinished business.

love to you +
xo s.

veronica said...

Wow. Your writing leaves me speechless.....

Norman Yeung said...