First, big trucks start showing up on the streets, parked in front of the houses of your closest friends. The trucks are loaded with empty wooden crates, tall enough to stand in. A great gaping hole on one side of the truck exposes the innards of these rough crates, waiting to swallow box after cardboard box, each neatly (but probably incorrectly) labeled with your friend's name and onward post.
Men in colored shirts emblazoned with inane logos ("Moving your possessions here, there, everywhere!" "We'll take you there!" "Moving you across the globe!") toss cardboard boxes into wooden crates, nailing them shut while you watch. They see shoes and dishes, rugs and candlesticks. You see kids with flashlights running through trees, meteor showers high above a rooftop, secrets told after one too many glasses of wine. The things they see can be measured in kilos and pounds. You see laughter and tears and all the things nobody else can possibly know except for you and the people whose name is printed on the boxes. They are clear-eyed, careful but bored. You are misty-eyed and emotionally exhausted.
June. School closes and children scramble off of buses, bearing sealed envelopes to be hand carried to another school in another country somewhere. One small child clutches a handful of tissues while another tells the story of how she clung to her teacher, sobbing, until the bus monitor carefully peeled her off and guided her onto the bus.
June. People wander the halls of the Embassy, clutching check-out sheets 5 pages long, moving from office to office, working out the logistics of selling cars, shipping pets, paying traffic tickets, closing down phone lines. (Other people, having just arrived, wander the halls with check-in sheets, but you don't think much about them. Maybe you would have been good friends, but it's too late now. They'll get to know another city, one without you in it.)
June. People compare notes - which friends might be on the same flights out, or vacationing in the same cities? "Will you be in DC this summer?", we all ask, knowing the chances of meeting up are slim-to-none.
June. Every afternoon you hug another friend tightly, knowing she'll be boarding a plane in the early hours of the following morning, before you've even made your coffee. Planes fly out each morning, heading west for home leave and vacations, carrying away first one friend and then another, until finally it's the last night. The night when the Best Friends are leaving.
There's always a tight-knit group of people, parents and kids intertwined because of sleepovers or sports teams or jobs. And when the first of those families is scheduled to get on the plane, the rest of the families gather to laugh and mourn and try to stop the clock for just one more minute.
So it was for my group last Thursday night, with CL and STJ planning to leave us at dawn on Friday. We met at the Embassy for dinner and tried to squash in every photo, every hug, every last inside joke. The restaurant closed, tabs were settled, yet still we stayed on, nobody wanting to be the first to tell the kids to wrap it up. Because we, the parents, knew what tears would be triggered by the closing bell, and none of us wanted to be the one to ring it.
Tears. That's what happens in June. That's what happened on Thursday night here at the Embassy. Everybody crying and clinging to each other, not wanting to let go.
Me? I didn't cry that night. I usually don't, and I'm not sure why. I tend to wait until I'm by myself the next day, and some little thing goes wrong, like we're out of milk again?, and then I lose myself in the tears.
Dry-eyed, I drove CL, STJ and their kids home (they sold their car earlier that afternoon) and sent my mind far away as I hugged them both goodbye. Then I brought my kids home and started our bedtime routine, same as any other night but several hours behind schedule and with that bloody toe still to attend to. My oldest son asked: when will we see them again? And I was honest when I told him, bluntly: I have no idea when. I know we will see them again. Maybe in months. Maybe not for years. I just don't know.
I didn't have the answer he wanted, which was, obviously, tomorrow. We'll see them tomorrow, I wanted to say. But of course that would've been a lie.
I went back to their house early the next morning, after they'd flown out. I had to meet the nanny, who was there tidying up in their wake. I needed to grab some things from their house, things that still needed to be turned in at the Embassy. The nanny opened the door for me, red-eyed and clutching an armload of sheets. I couldn't walk in the house. I couldn't do it. She passed a bag to me on the porch and we wished each other well. I turned my back on the house and made it all the way back to my car before I started bawling. I sat there in the car, bawling and snotting and wishing to have all of it back again. But the truth is, once your friends leave, it's never, ever the same. You'll still stay in touch, sure. You'll still have the inside jokes on Facebook. But you'll never again have the intimacy that you once had.
Overseas, we move in and out of one another's houses with ease, not always bothering to knock. We share meals and kids and carpools. We share vacations and traumas. We share bosses and teachers. So much shared here that won't, that can't, be shared when you move on to new posts and new friends, new tragedies and joys.
More people fly out every day in June. We'll be on one of those planes any day now, and if we've done it right, we'll leave people crying in our wake, too.
There's nothing new to this story.
It's just June in the Foreign Service.
|Father and son...|
|Learn from my mistakes, people. Take the time to fix your hair before you take all of your last night photos. This woman here? My very first Jordanian friend.|
|Protip 2: When taking touching photos of people hugging goodbye, pay attention to the background. Giant telephone distracts somewhat from the focus.|
|Awww. Kids posing for a BFF photo.|
|...and the ensuing photobomb.|
|Kyra loves this man.|
|...but she may love this man more.|
|Two founding members of our UT club. Somehow I didn't get a picture of Paleo the entire night - imagine her there, please, coz she's my other UT hero.|
|The four musketeers. These guys are inseparable. And only one of them is staying next year, poor guy.|
|Okay. Starting to choke up now.|
|*sniff sniff this can't be happening*|
|Bloggers out there will recognize this couple, who kept me laughing all year long. Lucky to call them "IRL friends."|