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No Good at Goodbyes: Leaving Behind A Place You Really Loved

How can you balance feelings of nostalgia with moving forward?

Scraps from a pinboard. Credit: Deia Leykind

I sometimes feel a fatal flaw of mine to be my inability to move on. However, I suspect that I am not the only one. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” wrote L.P. Hartley.

Yet that does not stop many of us from trying to claw our way back to it anyway, repeating to ourselves over and over the words and faces of the people and places that we used to know, in hopes of being able to keep at bay that ever-widening gulf between what was and what is.

And that’s because it can be incredibly difficult to let go of moments you really treasured that changed your life. Of course, they meant something to you, so why do they have to go? You finally got what you wanted…why couldn’t it have been forever? But languages change, both theirs and yours. Nothing lasts forever, and life reminds us of that again, and again, and…again. So how do we deal?

‘But daddy I love him:’ on not wanting to let go

My last photo of Trinity College Dublin, Front Square. Credit: Deia Leykind
My last photo of Trinity College Dublin, Front Square. Credit: Deia Leykind

Why must we leave what we love?

Taylor Swift’s But Daddy I Love Him, a track off her newest album The Tortured Poet’s Department, voices the pain of the dilemma humorously, yet sincerely. “They slammed the door on my whole world/ the one thing I wanted,” the speaker pines, her own desires placed in conflict with what other figures of authority, here her father and the outside world, ordain must be.

The song documents her flailing resistance. The speaker’s father might easily be conflated with the stubbornness of Time, and her beloved, the deliberately ambiguous ‘Him’, for a period, or ‘era’, in life that she is struggling to move on from. Losing a place, then, might not be so different from losing a lover.

On May 13th, 2024, I said goodbye to Dublin for the last time. Saying goodbye is a very normal part of life; in fact, we do it every day. When we leave the house, when we change our hair or our clothes, switch off the lights before bed. But it’s different when you know you’re never coming back, can never quite go back.

For me, Dublin was a promise. It was an opportunity to study abroad in a brand new city when I was feeling stagnated in a place that I was sure I knew much, much too well. It was an opportunity to go to a famous university that I had seen on TV (where are the Normal People fans?). Most importantly, I guess, it was the opportunity to be someone new. In a place where nobody knew me, it was perhaps the closest I have come to finding myself; or, at least, rubbing shoulders with her shadow.

I fell in love with a lot of things while I was there, and now that I have left, to go back to my original university and then my hometown, I am scared that I won’t be able to find those things again. I’m scared that they will be lost to me, and that I won’t know how to find my way back. I am scared to leave behind those moments, in case I never get to experience anything like it again.

‘The world’s tide is bearing me along:’ on having no choice

'Blue for You' roses
‘Blue for You’ roses. Credit: Deia Leykind

Now that it’s been a month or so since I’ve left, I find myself torn between wanting to hold tightly onto those precious memories of Dublin, and knowing that if I want to move on I’ll have to make space for new things in my life that, if I let them, might have the potential to be just as great, if not greater.

I don’t want to lose my memories. I don’t want them to grow distant and cold, like things from another life. But the irony is, that as Caleb Azumah Nelson reflects in Open Water, “Every time you remember something, the memory weakens, as you’re remembering the last recollection, rather than the memory itself. Nothing can remain intact.” The tighter you try to hold on, the further away it slips. This is no easy realization to have.

And so, time will pass, and you will inevitably begin to move on. It will happen, it has to happen. You look in the mirror and see that, though you swore you wouldn’t, once again you have changed. What you once lost doesn’t burn such a big hole in your heart anymore. You have remembered how to look out for new love again. Perhaps you have even found new love. Yet there is always a peculiar guilt that accompanies this moving on.

In her poem Remembrance, Emily Brontë writes “Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee,/ While the world’s tide is bearing me along.”

I first read those lines many years ago, but they have never made more sense to me than now. You feel you owe something of your heart to your past love, as exciting as the new places you are going are. Especially if it was your first love, as Dublin might be to me. You want to say thank you, but within that thank you, there is also a tiny little helpless sorry. I’m sorry it’s remembrance. I’m sorry you’re not still here.

So, what now?

Sunset from my window in Dublin, on the last day. Credit: Deia Leykind
Sunset from my window in Dublin, on the last day. Credit: Deia Leykind

I’ll still put on The Cranberries’ Linger and think of Dublin, just as I had listened to it before I had ever even been there, and thought of other things. I will probably continue to listen to it even as it begins to remind me of something completely different.

But that’s how we anchor ourselves in life, I suppose, as the waves around us seem to ceaselessly thrash in every which way. We clutch onto the lifeboats of what we love and continue to courageously paddle our feet into foreign waters. Yes, perhaps we do have to let it linger. Rather than holding us back in the past, perhaps this is in fact the only way to go on.

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