“What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us end up in parentheses.” – John Irving
The worst dream I ever had in my life was when I was a boy, probably six or seven years old. I remember it vividly. I dreamed it was the middle of the night and I was standing on the unlit landing at the top of the 2nd-floor staircase in the row house where I lived with my sister and my parents, looking down into the foyer. The light was on down below and my mother was preparing to go out the front door. “Where are you going?” I asked, a note of panic in my voice. “I have to leave,” she said. “But I’ll be back in the spring.” In my dream, I knew it was the beginning of winter and so it would be three or four months before I saw her again. The prospect of not seeing one of my parents for that long a time seized me with an unspeakable dread. Decades later, in real life, I still remember the power of that dream, and it disturbs me like few things ever. I woke up sobbing in my bed and my parents, who must have heard me having a bad dream from their bedroom, were sitting beside me, my father rubbing my back.
There are few things (if any) more painful than the departure of a loved one. At various times in my life, I have feared someone would leave–a family member, a dear friend, a girlfriend. The irony is that any review of my life would be sure to note my own many departures. I was raised in upstate New York where my parents and sister still live, but I have since lived in southwestern Virginia, Alaska, Sri Lanka, the Washington, DC metropolitan region and Denver, Colorado.
Perhaps the best way for me to avoid having someone leave is for me to do the leaving.
Departures and Arrivals in Green Bay Outsiders
For close to a year and a half, I have been working hard on a new novel, Green Bay Outsiders, and it is just about done. My edits are wrapped up and I’m about to send it to my editor. I expect it to be published within the next three to four months. Of course my long-time readers know that I have, several times already promised to publish Green Bay Outsiders by a certain date and have ultimately watched said deadline whoosh by without a published book. As an author with only a few years of online writing experience, I’ve learned the hard (and somewhat embarrassing) way how longs things can sometimes really take. But I mean it. By late March or early April, the book will be published.
One of the joys of wrapping up a book is that, ultimately, the critic comes out of hiding. I’m not only an author but, having been trained at one point to become an English professor, I also have a compulsive tendency to attempt to analyze and interpret whatever I happen to be reading.
This includes my own books.
Green Bay Outsiders is a story about people who leave, and it’s a story about new people who arrive. It follows a group of recent college graduates who are taking their first steps into the so-called real world. The five friends, who have known each other through their years as undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay and, for some of them, through high school, have moved their socializing from the classrooms and off-campus housing to Friday night happy hours at a downtown, fictional bar in Green Bay called Bar D.
As the novel opens (you can download the first scene for free here), however, one of the friends has picked up a new boyfriend from outside their tight-knit group, another friend they went to college has been banished from their Friday nights due to an ongoing lack of appropriate social skills, and the novel’s protagonist, Carl Daniels, is on the verge of admitting that the promising future he’d long envisioned–a stable job, family, stability–is no longer as attractive to him as it once seemed to be. He’s about to cause an even greater upheaval within his circle of friends.
Within that short description, you can already read the departure of one friend and the introduction of a stranger. Carl, himself, is threatening to break their bonds even more by rejecting not only the routine they have established for themselves as a group of friends, but also the affection of one young lady from within their group who wants a romantic relationship with him.
Later in the novel, Carl Daniels meets two Border Patrol agents who recently arrived in Green Bay. Someone else with whom he is very close unexpectedly (and jarringly) leaves. And when, toward the end of the book, the young woman who has fallen for him ends up socializing with some people whom Carl doesn’t know, he knows that life is creeping into their midst, that college is over and that change and upheaval are inevitable and can be terrifying.
Change: All About People Coming and People Going
Change can take many forms in life but when we grow and develop, we may occasionally find ourselves leaving, heading down some new path toward some new goal. And sometimes when other people leave us, it can be because they have found a path forward which no longer includes us. Change is, very often, about the departure of some people but the arrival of others.
The latter part of that last statement should serve as a kind of comfort whenever we go through the turbulence of change. Despite whatever we feel when we have lost people (which can hurt horribly, even when we are the ones who have left) is that, inevitably, other people will materialize to take their place in our lives. And whatever change we have just gone through inevitably reflects of some kind of personal growth and development, so that the way we relate to the newly arrived people will be different from the way we related to those who came before.
I have often described in my blog that Green Bay Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel. A coming-of-age story typically describes a story about someone living through their teenage years or early 20s. But real life isn’t like that. Change never stops; change never ends. People will always leave and other people will always show up. It is the way of things.
For that reason, we are always growing. For that reason, we are always coming of age.
What is one of the hardest changes you have had to go through in your life, which involved leaving someone or having someone else leave you? Leave a comment below.