Quiet Good-byes

By Albert Chen

November 16, 2002

When she says “good-bye” to me, she always says it with a quiet voice. No matter what the conversation is about: food, movies, jobs, ethics or philosophy, the calls always end with the quiet good-bye.

We’re not going out, so it is probably unconscious that she does it, but her “good-bye” is the kind of voice that makes you think she misses you and will miss you. It is the kind of voice that makes you feel lonely and wonder about your priorities.

You may be thinking that I have feelings for her, and you would be correct, but our relationship is a friendship and the evolution of even that has been slow. I have been busy trying to get ahead, she is consumed in wanderlust; and time has just never seemed to find its way for us.

*          *          *

She invited me to Europe, twice, and both times I did not go. Once my grandmother had passed away, and the other, I was unemployed and impoverished. Both times, the person she ended up going with became her boyfriend; do I kick myself? I used to. But I have come to believe that things happen for a reason, and that the happiness I feel on any given day is the sum result of all the decisions I have made before then. No, I don’t regret, not often at least; but there are days that I wonder about the “what if?”

We can be fools in our decisions but the end result is the life we lead. In my life she, and I are friends and I do not know that it will ever become more. There are days that we are not in each other’s spheres and our lives run in opposite directions. When things seem to have subsided and the distance and time has brought things to a good place, we will talk or see each other and the feelings return and the quiet good-byes tear at me.

*          *          *

I make no fantasy that she is my soul mate meant to be together with me. I have felt such feelings for other friends, quietly missed my opportunity and watched them find other people, get married, have children. The feeling passes. I have met people already married where chemistry surfaces, where feelings are so strong that they consume for days, months and sometimes years, but in taboo, they are made to go away and become opportunities-never-to-have-been. The feeling passes. So I make no fantasy about my friend, only that she has found her way into the majority of journal entries for nearly three years. I said I do not regret, but I do remain hopeful.

Life is supposed to be “okay.” We are supposed to be well adjusted and “okay.” We are supposed to have the reasonable mask to the world, understand and be “okay.” But other people besides me must have times when they are not “okay;” it can’t be just me that sits alone in an empty apartment, eating fast food, watching TV and waiting for the phone to ring. It can’t be just me that is well adjusted by day and contemplative at night. It can’t be just me that is tired of the single life.

It’s called “dating,” meeting people, sizing each other up, assessing, evaluating and discarding at will. In younger days, dating was about finding a social circle, experimenting with new things and finding that company staves away the loneliness. In your thirties, dating becomes about marriage and the stakes are higher – the bar is raised. Everyone you meet becomes a potential partner instead of a potential friend. Everyone you meet is no longer finding friends, but assessing you for marriage. It is not “right,” and is remarkably distasteful when you think about it, but it is reality and it is life.

I have been set up recently, met women on planes and at social functions. I have spent time going to movies and to dinners and to coffee and drinks. I have spend intimate times with women whose company I enjoy, but in their thirties, or near thirties, they assess in two weeks and discard for the next candidate – no matter how well we were getting along. I think the reason people rarely make lasting friendships in their thirties is because they are too consumed in the hunt for a partner.

Marriage is the thing for them. Someone to grow old with is the thing for me. It’s different. For me, it takes longer than two weeks to understand that this is someone to grow old with; for me I need time to get to know one another, to enjoy each other’s company, to argue, and to fight to find each other’s boundaries and to know that no matter how much arguing and fighting might happen, that we will always find ourselves together again. I think that is friendship; first friendship and from there I want to find romance. It is not that way for most people and that is probably why I am alone.

I have hope for my friend and me, though at the rate I am going, she will assess someone some day soon and not discard them and then she and I will never find the time to be together.

I can’t play the game, but I want the prize; and for this, I am a fool.

*          *          *

Romance and being a romantic is not the same thing. In romance, there is passion, intimacy and company. Being a romantic means a wish for the passion, a desire for the intimacy a lack of the company.

I am finding myself thinking, “When can I see you again?” about her. I find myself gathering the courage to ask if we will be more. It is an odd feeling, like feeling grown up. It is like marshalling forces that you don’t know you have at the end of a marathon, it is like waiting to jump from a plane. It is not obsession, it is not a crush, maybe this is love, maybe this is dating and just the game.

I read something I wrote years ago. Like a thought on a cocktail napkin that I kept and forgot; I don’t know when it was written, because I did not remember I writing it – But it had instructions for living life on it; on a single page the only thing that was written was this:

“The secret of life is this: Live life.”

And you know what? I find it very profound. In adolescence we wonder too much, think too much, decide and don’t do enough. Adulthood, I am finding is doing what you say you will do – executing instead of contemplating, being declarative instead of wondering. To do less is to be less. To be less is to not have grown up. “Live life,” and have a life to live.

*          *          *

It is too late to call. I am full of anticipation but it is eleven o’clock already and I will have to wait until tomorrow. I somehow have faith that even though I will broach the subject, we will remain friends regardless of what happens. It is no different than fighting or arguing.

I can’t sleep. It is like waiting for a big exam or a trip to Disneyland, there is excitement and anxiety, a feeling of  “I must talk to her now, “ and “I want to start the rest of my life today, now.” The anticipation is manic and my mind races at a million miles an hour.

Working out just put more adrenalin into my system. I thought for sure it would tire me out. I am tired, but my mind is not. I am not sure what to do. When I would get this way as a child, my mother told me to lie down, that the rest did not only have to come from sleep.

A new infomercial on TV – I couldn’t lie down. I think of what I want to say in my mind and go over it again. Thinking of her makes me smile and want to cry at the same time. Its late; two o’clock.

Instant noodles, sure death when you are studying for finals, bad for you if you are trying to lose weight at three in the morning, but surely something to put me to sleep. I don’t have any milk in the refrigerator. Warm milk is supposed to be a soporific, but I just can’t drink it anymore.

Four am. I have headphones on, listening to music, trying to sleep. At this rate, I am not going to be able to get up in the morning.

I give up at around five and promptly fall asleep.

I wake with a jolt at seven and though I am exhausted, I can’t get myself to close my eyes again. The morning light is really bright. It is too early to call, so I go take a shower and have some breakfast.

It’s seven thirty and time moves very slowly.

It’s seven thirty-one and time moves very slowly.

It is seven thirty three and time moves very slowly.

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I know it is nine o’clock. I wipe the sleep from my eyes.

It is still really too early to call, especially on a weekend. When phones were first invented there was a window of time to call that was appropriate. Later even in the fifties, it was impolite to call during meals and after eight. In our current age of cell-phones and two-way pagers, the window has opened, but you still have to be cognizant of people’s habits.

Telemarketers are supposed to call no earlier than nine in the morning and no later than nine at night. They no longer respect the meal times though.

People sleep in on weekends, so I wait until ten. By now I am not sure what to say anymore. The mania from the night and the morning has calmed and I am now only sure that I want to talk to her.

At ten, I call but get the answering machine. I hope she does not have caller ID and don’t leave a message.

At eleven, I call again but the phone just rings – usually this means that someone is on the phone.

At eleven thirty I call again but as I am dialing I get a phone call in the middle of it and I answer.

It is her.



“Good morning.”

“Good morning.” I am feeling pretty stupid at this moment. A million things pass through my mind. I think of what I had planned on saying and think of how to work this into the conversation.

“I checked my caller ID and saw that you called.”

“Um, yeah.” It is the opening, but I don’t take it. The moment stretches and then passes.

“What are you up to this morning?”

“Nothing, I just got up. I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Want to go to the zoo?” We didn’t do this kind of thing and the fact that she was asking was amazing, bewildering. I want to talk to her more to tell her how happy this makes me.


“Wanna get lunch first?”

“Sounds great. What do you want to eat?” I don’t care; she could have said elephant and I wouldn’t have cared. Whatever she wanted, we were having lunch!

“I don’t know, let’s play it by ear. I’ll be by in half an hour, okay?”

“Okay, see you then.”

“See you.”

“Bye.” I say.

I wait for it.

“’bye,” she says quietly.