Academic journal article Colorado Review: a journal of contemporary literature

All the Ways We Say Goodbye

Academic journal article Colorado Review: a journal of contemporary literature

All the Ways We Say Goodbye

Article excerpt

When you grow up in New Jersey, in the dim, gray suburbs of New York, you grow up with the knowledge that one day you will have to leave. You don't think to be sorry about it, because that's how it is. After high school, if you don't want to go to Rutgers, and you aren't smart or lucky enough for Princeton, you will be sent out of state, where you still have a shot at a good school or a swim team scholarship. Once you are out, you can go anywhere. But if you do, it will be very hard to come back, even though there are things you will miss--the malls; your old elementary school; and summers at the Jersey Shore, the fudge whipped in huge vats and the birds wheeling over the boardwalk.

Some of your more ambitious boyfriends will eventually find jobs in Manhattan. You know you could always marry one of them and live a glamorous few years in the city, but you know where that leads. When you have kids you will trade in your SoHo apartment for a condo in Hoboken, and eventually you will want a yard and you will buy a small house in Jersey City, and then a bigger one in Madison or Morris Plains, and you will end up just where you started--in some four-bedroom new-build just off the interstate, with nothing to look forward to but your book club and late night tv, and all that beautiful gothic promise of the city just out of reach.

That's why you try to get as far away as you can while you are young.

Still, wherever you go after that, it will be hard to call any place home. When you grow up with the idea that there is always something better out there, you can never, truly, stop wondering what's waiting for you somewhere else.

Your mother, when she was young, was able to get away, for a brief six years. She got onto the highway straight out of college, with two suitcases and a parakeet in a wire cage, and she drove. For a while, in the seventies, she worked as a nurse in Richmond, at the hospital where Patch Adams worked, until she returned for a summer to her hometown of Pequannock, and met your father, and never left again.

Still, when you are young, your mother's favorite bedtime stories are always the ones about Richmond. She tells you about the duplex she rented with the striped yellow walls, and the "Saturday Gun 'n Knife Club," as she called it, that filled the hospital beds on Sunday mornings. She tells you about the doctors she knew there, the ones who are married now, or childless, or divorced. She speaks about them as if there is still the hope that she can go back again, ten years later, and they will all be waiting for her, just as they were when she left.

From the time you are very young, you are aware that this part of her life--the part that's gone--will always be the best part. Still, you see her as a strong woman, shaped by these experiences, who has delivered babies the size of gerbils, who lived, and put her hands into the stomachs of dying men, and you love her for it.

You love your father too, but growing up you know very little about him, except that he is a good, quiet man, who sells insurance in Newark and always comes home by six for dinner. You know that he collects Lionel trains and owns a small, blue motorboat, which he keeps in the driveway and polishes when you have gone to bed; you know that he loves the dog he bought when you were nine, a cocker spaniel named Marty, and that he spends his weekends on the wicker porch chair reading novels, with Marty balled up under his slippers like a stuffed toy. All of his novels are bought from old library sales and still have the catalogue card on the back of the front cover.

But you also know that your father grew up in Morris Plains, only three miles from where you were born, and that he has spent most of his life in this town. You know that his failed tryout as a varsity football kicker still troubles him, and that the stories he tells of his past are tedious, nothing like your mother's--just Saturday nights at the Dairy Queen and racing his Corvair down Route 287. …

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