Farewells aren’t easier with practice

Laurie Schmitt, I miss you. Laurie was a high school senior when I was in seventh grade. She was one helluva basketball player. But her grades weren’t good, so she got kicked off the team and spent her senior year riding the bus home with me. We talked about stuff, and I fell in puppy love for the first time. Of course, I was 12 and she was 18, so I knew it would never work out.
The final day of school that spring I knew I’d ride the bus with her for the last time. I thought about that ride all day, and I made sure I was in the second-to-last seat, as always, when she arrived. She sat in the back, and we talked. She gave me her senior picture, which I would look at every night before I went to bed that whole summer.
But when she said goodbye, all I could manage was a forced, broken “see ya.” The “see ya” was inaccurate. I never spoke with her again.
I’m no good at endings, and I hate farewells.
I spent most of last week overwhelmed by boxes. Every June the same thing happens: My lease expires, I find a new place to stay, and I scour Cub Foods at 4 a.m. for boxes. I take them, I fill them with my stuff, and I leave. End of story.
Of course, I’m not the only one consumed with cardboard. On Sunday I was driving on Washington Avenue as I came up behind a Ford Escort carrying boxes and boxes and boxes for a driver whose origins were identified by a “Carleton College” bumper sticker.
I passed him and waved. He waved back. See ya. Funny how, after the exams have passed, everybody’s left with boxes in their back seats and lists of goodbyes almost as long as the roads they travel. And we say we’ll keep in touch, write letters, call. We have the best intentions. But the roads are long, and we don’t know where they’ll take us.
Where did you go, Doug DeNio?
Doug was a couple years younger than me in high school. He stayed with his mom for a few months in a house outside Motley, Minn., where they had moved after living in Wisconsin, where they had moved after living in Ohio, etc. Together they lived off Doug’s disability checks, part of a settlement he had received after his father accidentally shot him. Doug always wore a bandanna around his head, and he spent hours in his alternative-ed classes writing lyrics he hoped Axl Rose would someday perform.
Doug didn’t hang out with too many people, but I’d sit in the parking lot with him every once in a while over lunch hour, listening to metal bands while he told stories about his life. He always said he knew that if he was in a real tough jam he couldn’t get out of, he could write Axl, and Axl would help him out.
Then, one day, Doug moved. He told me before he left that he was going to Miami with his mom, and he gave me an address. I said, “See ya later.” I meant to write him a couple times, but I never did. Then again, he probably wasn’t in Miami too long. He and his mom moved around a lot. I wonder if Doug ever wrote Axl; he never wrote me.
That’s OK. I left him with a “see ya.” I’m no good at endings, and I hate farewells.
All my boxes are carted off now. I’m staying with a friend who has generously provided me housing until I start traveling for the summer, followed by whatever comes next. I have plans, but they change. In the meantime, I have boxes in my car and a list of postcards to send. But I don’t know what the postcards will say, and I don’t know what I’ll be saying when I return. Until then, it’s “see ya.”
And whatever happened to the Concordia Cobbers of 1995?
College graduations are important rituals. Commencement speeches, mortar boards, and diplomas all comfort individuals who need to feel that they’re leaving as part of a community. The pomp and circumstance gives a reassuring message: “You’re not alone.”
I got my B.A. in English and history at Concordia three years ago. The Friday before graduation all the seniors gathered for a banquet, where we watched a slide show while “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs played in the background. “You’ll know how it was meant to be / See the signs, know their meaning …”
We all had our plans lined up — jobs, travel, grad school. And, of course, we’d keep in touch and always remember Concordia. So none of us said goodbye. See ya. It’s only been three years since then. I’ve contacted only one person who sat at my table, and that was two years ago. Graduating seniors, beware. Don’t follow my example. I’m no good at endings, and I hate farewells.
But this is the farewell column, a time-honored tradition followed by opinions writers. It’s a pretentious tradition, especially for me, with my sage wisdom acquired after only one year in the Daily ops section. One year is nothing, and there’s an element of the ridiculous in the spectacle of a 20-something making self-conscious, all-knowing “back when …” statements. Then again, intense self-absorption encourages the illusion that, every week, people take time from their days to read and think about what I write.
What I’ve enjoyed most about column-writing, and what I enjoy most about journalism, is the opportunity to tell stories. Stories give life meaning, and a well-told story can communicate values, identities — life itself. They make people think, and they make people act.
Journalism is a great way to learn new stories. I talk to people, learn what they have to say, and write it down. In a column, I tell my own stories. Sometimes I’m happy with how they’re told; sometimes people write back and tell me my stories are really dumb, and I secretly agree with them. Then they tell me their stories, and we keep growing.
But I think there’s another reason I keep writing: I’m no good at endings, and I hate farewells. Writing keeps things alive. I lost Laurie’s senior picture a long time ago, but I still think of her sometimes, just like I think about Doug and college classmates and guys from Carleton and people who will go out of their way to drive me home at night. Telling a story isn’t the same as keeping in touch, but it’s a way of keeping something or someone real. I’m not sure that’s always healthy. But it keeps my fingers on the keyboard.
Thank you for reading some of my stories. They weren’t all as good as they should have been — there’s never enough time or space to do them justice, and the unnaturalness of placing a thought on paper when that thought can change the next day is truly maddening.
It’s the end of the year, and people are heading off in their directions and saying their goodbyes. Most people, I suspect, are as bad at them as I am. So I give up. No farewell, no neatly resolved ending. I’ll just say, “see ya,” and figure out what’s next when I unpack my boxes. It’s time for someone else to talk.

Alan Bjerga’s column ran on Wednesdays in the Daily. He can be contacted at [email protected]