Fire Life

Saying Goodbye

By Anne Gagliano

Saying Goodbye

I hate saying goodbye—I always have. When I was a little girl, I would cry and throw myself into my grandparents’ arms at the airport before boarding the plane to fly back home. I’d do the same each year when I had to say goodbye to my beloved aunt and uncle and cousins at Thanksgiving. I simply hate it—the separation from those I love. I even tear up every time my husband Mike leaves to go teach somewhere for a few days. I hate goodbyes, even if it’s only for awhile. But none of them even begin to compare to the goodbye of late, for just last week I had to leave my youngest boy alone, clear across the country, and probably for the rest of his life.

We knew this day was coming; we’ve known it for months. This past winter Rick was accepted into several law schools, some of them close to home, but the one he wanted, the one he chose, was the one farthest away. I’ve had plenty of time to get used to the idea, but the impending goodbye was more than I could face, so I buried it.

As the days slipped away and the time grew near, my heart began to ache more and more. Rick had moved back home after finishing his undergraduate degree to spend this year saving money as he made his applications. We loved having our boy here! Not only was he a comfort after having our oldest son get married last summer (another tough goodbye), but he was lots of help, too! We have very extensive grounds that need lots of upkeep; Rick did it all. The boys have both always done the majority of our yard work, but with him home full-time again, he was able to do even more and complete some pretty big projects for us.

Day after day, I’d watch him in the yard mowing, hauling gravel, weeding, and frolicking with our two little dogs. “Ricky’s home,” we’d say whenever he’d walk in, and the dogs would go nuts. They love Rick—I think more than any of us—because he actually plays with them. Seeing him with them down by the lake makes my eyes well up with tears, as I know soon those little tails will droop, for they, too, will have to say goodbye.
As the date draws closer, everything grows more painful–doing his laundry one last time; folding his funky T-shirts. And shopping—I’m always food shopping for him because he eats like a horse; going up and down the grocery aisles is excruciating as I one last time buy his favorite things.

I begin to help him pack.   He’s upbeat and excited—I’m quiet and withdrawn as I dare not speak over the lump in my throat. He’s rummaging through his things, trying to decide what to take; I’m watching his blonde head and studying every line of it, burning his image into my memory, for this will soon no longer be his home.

I try to conjure up all the irritations he brings—the massive food requirements, the wet towels, the dirty laundry and food crumbs, his disruptive presence when Mike and I want to be alone. But these small nuisances aren’t enough—I still don’t want him to go. Although my son is now a man, all I see when I look at him is our precious little “Water Baby” (our pet name for him), who brought us grasshoppers and snakes and who always wanted “chlocolate,” his baby word for chocolate. I slip a jar of Nutella chocolate spread into one of his suitcases—the last I’ll buy for him.

We fly to DC, the goodbye drawing closer, the goodbye I hate to face. We spend the week setting him up in his new place. It’s perfect. It’s nice, safe, furnished, and close to campus. I hang a picture of “chlocolate” on his wall. The law school is gorgeous, impressive, amazing; we are bursting with pride.

Together we learn the metro system—I wish we had one in Seattle! We take our son to the National Mall; he is blown away. He’s where he’s dreamed of being, and it’s written all over his face, that precious little boy face that is indeed a man’s. I watch Mike drape his arm around his son as we approach the Washington Monument, and my heart swells with gratitude. What a husband I have—on a firefighter’s salary he’s brought our boy to this place, working countless hours of overtime, and sacrificing much of his free time and even some of his own dreams to help Rick realize his. Rick walks closely beside his father, proudly wearing his dad’s fire station T-shirt.

The heat is a bit much for us thick-blooded Seattleites. It was 65 degrees at home—here it’s 90 and humid. Rick has to face being sweaty for the first time and is concerned about showing up to class that way. But it’s all still amazing, heat and all. We enjoy the crickets’ song and the warm summer nights—neither of which we have back home. The energy is palpable—both Rick’s and the area’s—for he is a young, handsome man with a bright future in a living, vibrant city, our nation’s capital. I drink it all in, hoping the excitement will drown out the mounting pain of the impending goodbye, but it doesn’t.

The day comes. It’s very early, still dark. We rise, grab our now-empty suitcases save for one, and head to his apartment door. He wants to go with us to the airport, but I say no. I want my last image of him to be in his cozy little place. Can I do this? Can I leave my baby so very far away from me? I gather every ounce of strength I possess to hold back the flood of emotion that threatens to break me, cripple me, and keep me from being able to even walk down the hall. I hug my boy one last time. He hugs me tight, his strong, young arms enveloping me. “Goodbye, Mom,” he says. “Thanks for everything. I love you.”

I cannot speak—the tears flow. All I can do is cling to him and try not to embarrass him too much by blubbering.

“Goodbye, Sweetheart,” I manage to croak out at last. It is, indeed, the hardest goodbye of all.

Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 26 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.