June 23, 2014 by Melanie L.
At age thirteen, I stood with my mother at the back of a packed funeral home to say goodbye to a plump-cheeked art school (and Hebrew school) classmate. She had been plucked by angels straight out of her yellow school bus on an ordinary Wednesday morning following a freak collision with a 35-foot I-beam perched precariously atop an all-too-small truck.
It was my first goodbye. I kept my head bowed and stared at my shoes. I felt the weight of my mother’s hand on my shoulder. But, I couldn’t say goodbye. I wouldn’t say goodbye. Instead, I said “hello” every time an ephemeral memory of paint and palettes flashed in my mind’s eye, or every time I passed the spot where she had sprouted wings. Years of “hellos” and no “goodbyes” buoyed my spirits through two decades.
Until one year, I rejoiced with bitter-sweet nostalgia when the township rerouted traffic at that fateful T-shaped intersection and crowned the new one with a traffic light. After several passes through the new intersection, perhaps only 100 yards north of the original, I found I could finally say “goodbye.” And so I did with a gentle kiss on my fingers and a tap on the interior of my car roof. No matter the strength of the connection, I have found that saying goodbye is tangled and confusing.
The weekend before last, I lost someone else.
Someone very young, ten years my junior to be exact. Someone I did not know well, nor see often, but who nonetheless was extra kind to me during a difficult time. He helped me adjust to a new apartment after my divorce. He rescued me from a mysteriously soggy carpet, a leaky sink and a dead mouse.
One day in particular, after my then two-year-old daughter begged him to be picked up, and he obliged, he broke from his otherwise professional demeanor to ask thoughtfully, “What is the hardest thing about being a mom?” On that same occasion, he stayed a few extra minutes after official business on a Friday evening – a sacrifice the rare twenty-something will make – to light Shabbat candles with my children.
Best of all, though, was his sunny, disarming disposition. He began all professional emails to me with, “Hey, Neighbor,” and always, always flashed his brilliant white smile nestled beneath his jet black coif dusted prematurely, albeit perhaps clairvoyantly, gray. In his own way, he helped ease my fears and tensions of starting a new life in a new apartment. He made me feel welcome in my new neighborhood. Clearly he embodied the tenets championed by OCF Realty, a company dedicated to a community-centric approach.
How do I say goodbye to someone like that?
I’m not sure I know how, yet. But I started by pulling out a kitchen chair and saying, “Hey, Neighbor.”