Like most people who are good at leaving, I’m very bad at being left. I never would have been one of the crowd holding ribbons tied to a ship, calling bon voyage to invisible friends on the deck before the ribbons snapped and they all sailed away. I won’t even go to the airport with a departing friend, not because I don’t care for them but because sniveling on my way back home is so unattractive. I’m the sort of woman who’s packed two suitcases, given everything else away, and left people I care about more times than I care to count but who cried for a week each time a son left after he’d visited my new home. (In my own defense, that new home was far across the International Date Line–visits from people I loved weren’t a matter of “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop in.” )

These past two years have felt like a very long period of departure but a sneaky one. Nobody ever thought the absences would last this long. One day I had lunch with a friend and the day after that came the isolation era. In the months before, I came home from trips to see friends with no idea that it would be years before I’d see them again. 

I’m a slow learner. Only now, one-quarter of the way through 2022, do I feel the sorrow that didn’t erupt in 2020 because back then I was certain that shelter-in-place was a temporary state. “If this virus lasts for more than a month, I’m going to go insane,” was one of my prevailing thoughts. Two years later, although some may find this debatable, I’m still of sound mind but I’m holding an unresolved grief, with new forms of departure looming into view, deepening an unhealed scar.

A correspondence that has sustained me for years has slowed to a trickle, with that friend fading into an unfamiliar distance. My oldest son is preparing for a new job that may take him to another city and will certainly ensure his absence for long stretches at a time. In what I still insist on calling “normal times,” these things would simply be little glitches that are part of life, calling for an adjustment, not mournfulness. These days, when loss is still an open wound, I feel depressed. I feel sad.

Turning to my usual opiate, I’m mentally constructing a packing list. I have an air ticket. It’s a trip that will last only for a couple of days and no passport stamps are involved. But if every journey begins with a single step, who knows how far and how long this one is going to be?  Unfortunately, for the drug to be effective, I need to know how long it will last.

In one of the Scandinavian countries, they call this period of time “nearing the end of the tunnel,” when thoughts of suicide seem frighteningly close. In childbirth it’s called “transition,” the point at which women in labor decide they don’t want to have this baby after all so call the whole thing off. People who deal in cliches opine that it’s always darkest just before dawn. The only brightness that I can find is I’m neither suicidal nor wracked with labor pains.

I know this blanket of sadness is going to lift, that impending changes will settle into the new normal, but at the moment only one thing feels set in stone. No matter how much I love you, I won’t go with you to the airport. But although you’ll never see me do it, I promise I’ll cry.