When I read about the latest flash fiction challenge to write a 99-word story about goodbye, I thought it would be easy to pair a story with one of my review posts. As Norah kindly pointed out in the comments, the theme chimed with my reflections on two novels about how conflict in attachments to place can impinge on family. But I thought it might work better alongside my review of What Belongs to You, which is much more clearly about attachment, until I read another novel on a similar theme for that post. But it’s left me, with an approaching deadline, a brain elsewhere and a desire not to be left out, with almost too many ideas, although none of them yet confined to 99 words. But you can trust that, although I don’t know at this moment how I’ll get there, I will get to a flash as otherwise this post would not exist.
Teenagers are colossal nostalgics – as evidenced by all those soupy pop songs about difficult goodbyes – which can seem strange given that they haven't actually lived all that long. But the adolescent has an enormous amount of emotional work to do in leaving their childhood, while also forging a new adult identity, as explored in my debut novel, Sugar and Snails. The theme crops up in slightly different form in my next novel Underneath – to be published next May – when a man has an extreme and disturbing reaction to his girlfriend’s goodbye.
Being a writer is a suitable occupation for people who don’t find it easy to say goodbye. Yes, there’s the repeated trauma of leaving one’s characters and the wrench of letting a project go when it’s far from perfect – and some writers describe grieving after publishing their novels – but there’s always another one to take its place. Also, unlike many jobs, there’s no need ever to formally retire. As both my novels, albeit with some overlap, have taken seven years from inception to publication, I’m going to have to keep at it long after any formal retirement age if I’m to meet my ambition of publishing more novels than my shoe size.
Attachment theory can help explain the difficulties some of us have with goodbyes. I wrote about attachment in relation to Sugar and Snails and about attachment in general in my post on self-compassion, where I shared a video, which I was pleased to see again on Norah Colvin’s blog. I like it so much – if it’s possible to like something so harrowing – I thought I’d give it another airing. It shows clearly how attachment insecurity isn’t reflected in how much goodbye upsets us, but in how much we are able to say hello again afterwards. Some of us get so stuck in the mindset of loss and abandonment, it’s hard to give it up even when the lost relationship is restored.
One of the things I identified with in Charli’s post was her reflection that, while we might be tempted to avoid the pain of loss by avoiding attachments, it doesn’t really work. If we lose something we love, pain is inevitable; but if we avoid love for fear of losing, we’ve lost before with left first base. Ah, the poignancy of the human condition – what a treasure trove for the writer to explore.
Okay, so here’s my flash. It might not be what you expected after the preamble. It’s certainly a surprise to me!
Friends said we were made for each other. Looked good together. A perfect fit. Do you remember when the rot set in? When you lost your warmth? Now I go out, and you stay home.
It hurts to move on from what we had together. Yet there’s life enough in both of us to begin again with someone new. So one last kiss, old grey cardigan, then it’s the charity shop for you.