The First Three Goodbyes

Goodbyes are always tough, especially when you move around a lot. They are especially hard when they consist of a back and forth between two countries, and in particular, two cities. You feel like a tease, someone who nestles in close enough, and then suddenly pulls himself away when comfort and connection is forming. You return to start from the ground up, and when you feel that this time it’s going to be different, you cut free once again.

Between the ages of 9 and 23, I moved between Pakistan and Australia four times, and within Australia and Pakistan twice. Each arrival made me anxious. Each time I left with satisfaction that friendships had been forged, but with the underlying uncertainty about whether I would get such intimate moments again.

The first time I moved from Karachi to Perth was when I was 9 years old. I was informed about this a few months before we left by my mother. Too young to process what that meant in all its entirety, I didn’t make much of it. I didn’t tell my class fellows about it until a week before leaving. To them Australia was just kangaroos, koalas and the rough outback so at most there was some concern for my exposure to the elements, whilst most of my schoolmates felt this was just a short holiday, perhaps a slight extension to the three month summer break we got from May to August every year. We would all return with exciting stories of new experiences and unexpected adventures so they were expecting me to regale them with tales of meeting Aboriginal people, sheep rearing and Ned Kelly on my return.

Cordial goodbyes were exchanged, I was bid farewell from school and off I went. I either didn’t realize how different Perth was going to be, or didn’t think I was going to be there long enough to feel the difference.    

The second move was from Perth to Karachi three years later. I was on the cusp of completing 7th grade in a private school I had recently joined. The previous two years had been rough, as the transition from Karachi to a public school in Perth was an ordeal best put behind me. The private school brought with it a more understanding cohort and set of teachers, as well as a supportive environment in which I was able to forge strong friendships.

With this group of friends, our lunch time ritual was to play football, which was sadly dependent on the acquisition of a ball from the sports bucket — essentially a game of Russian roulette. Every time we peered into that bucket there was a good chance that the ball was missing, deflated or in tatters. One day, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I brought a football to school and instantly became the patron saint of the beautiful game. I went down in my group’s books as the person to nip chance in the bud. On my last day of school before I headed back to Karachi, one of the boys came up to me and showed me the new ball they had acquired. It was a poor substitute. Both my ball and presence on the football field would be missed. For 14-year-old boys, that was as sentimental a goodbye as it could get.

The third time I packed up shop was three years later when I moved from Karachi to Perth. I had slotted back into my old school, the one I had gone to before leaving for Perth, so I was back amongst familiar faces, including ones I had been seeing since nursery and kindergarten. My move back also corresponded with an induction of new kids, so there were plenty of unfamiliar faces as well.

I was put into a class where I knew only a handful of people. To start from the ground up once again, build shared experiences and memories, and catch up on lost time seemed like a terrifying and exhausting prospect. Much to my benefit, I was proven very wrong. New faces meant new perspectives. I now reflect upon this time as one that was thoroughly enriching.

As my last few days approached, I started zoning out from academics and chatting to people in class. I reflected on the new friendships I had made and for the first time realized the meaning of my departure. On the last day everyone signed my shirt, which I held onto for years. It’s still probably tucked away into a cupboard in my house in Karachi. I also came home to a surprise from eight of my best friends who were sheepishly hiding in the guest bedroom. We spent one last afternoon stuffing our faces, having fits of laughter, and jumping on the trampoline outside. That goodbye was definitely the hardest.

After these came many more moves. They were all memorable and sentimental but it was these first three which were, in retrospect, the most instrumental in helping me reflect on my home and friendships. Each time I said a new goodbye, the memories of the last one would come flooding back — the guilt that I hadn’t embraced the moment, the feeling of contentment that I had made friends for life, the experiences I had locked into my memory, and most of all, the sadness that this all was all coming to a grinding halt. Those three farewells also helped me realize that goodbyes don’t have to be permanent. In fact, they can fuel reconnection. I make a concerted effort to stay in touch with my close friends and travel as much as possible to spend time with them in person. I do so because I know there’s a marked difference between putting the phone down and hugging someone goodbye.