Finding the Beauty in Goodbyes

Paros, Greece - Europe Travel

My friends and I made our way giggling in a tuk tuk to the party. The night before we had danced on a moonlit beach, Leos in hand, swaying in time to the palm trees and chill electronic beats.

“Wow, you seem to be doing so well. If I was in your position, I would not be this okay right now,” one of my friends said to me, when I mentioned my abrupt breakup from two weeks ago.

I shrugged my shoulders, “I guess I just want to be happy. I don’t want to be sad over something that wasn’t meant to be.”

The humid air was electric, full of possibility. I felt good, happy even, to be with my two new girlfriends, who made me laugh and forget about any lingering sadness.

We were some of the first people at the bar, and we cheersed to the fact that we got first dibs on the glo-paint before anyone else arrived.

We painted ourselves with funky neon designs, admiring each other’s artwork and how we glowed into the night.

I don’t remember seeing you walk in, just that you were suddenly there. I felt you looking over at me. Your head turned as I made my way near you, telling my friend I wanted to be closer to the speaker.

You moved behind me and asked me where I was from. I almost didn’t turn around, your question was quiet enough to barely be audible. I could’ve kept dancing, walked off, gone to sit on the beach.

Instead, I turned and flashed you my American smile, “I’m from California, how about you?”

I learned you were French and that you were traveling around Asia for the next few weeks. This was your first time in Thailand.

I don’t remember when we left the dance floor, but we found ourselves sitting by the edge of the crowd, talking animately, trying to make sense of each other’s accents over the loud music.

You kept looking at my lips, and I thought of what it would be like to kiss you and put my fingers through your dark curly hair.

But I wasn’t ready for that yet. I told you I had to go, leaving you with a way to contact me and a quick hug goodbye.

I didn’t think you would actually contact me, our time together that night was brief, but you asked to meet at the same bar for drinks the next day.

I turned you down, told you I had plans already. But really, I just sat and watched the sunset by myself, cherishing the time I had alone before heading back and joining my friends at the hostel.

You were persistent, asking to meet up for dinner in Ao Nang, since we were both going to be there in a couple of days. I reluctantly said yes, but invited my girlfriend to come as well.

A couple of nights later, the rain was pouring down in buckets as a group of us laughed over mojitos. Your eyes rarely left my face all night.

We danced in bars and played pool until the early morning. Finally, you said you had to go because you were waking up in a few hours to move on further north.

Neither one of us made a move that night. I thought maybe I had read you wrong, but when I texted you to say safe travels, you told me you were counting on seeing me in Koh Phangan in a few days for the Full Moon Party.

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My friend and I gleefully ran around our hostel getting ready with half of our neon outfits put together, a beer in one hand, glitter rubbed on our eyelids, and looking just as ridiculous as was required for the festivities.

We were running late, you had texted me twice already asking when I was coming to your place to help paint you.

But, I had already made plans to meet up with a Canadian guy who I had met on the same island we had a week ago.

When we got to his hostel though, all I thought about was that I wanted to see you again. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was something that intrigued me about you.

Before the hour was out, my friend and I found ourselves hanging off the back of a speeding tuk tuk to Haad Rin to come find you.

We got there just in time before your friends left for the beach. We laughed as we tested out our art skills, our paint-smudged fingers lingering on each other’s sun-kissed skin.

As our huge group made its way down to the party, smaller groups started breaking off. Eventually, your friends decided to go one way, while mine went another. You surprised me by coming with my group, and stuck by me for the rest of the night.

We grabbed buckets and ran to the nearest dance floor, making our way to different stages. We danced for hours with the sand between our toes, and hundreds of drunk partygoers next to us singing along to the music, stumbling, and playing with fire.

At one point, I felt your hands on my waist and I turned to face you. There you were, your deep green eyes shining, a slight drunk smile, and a knowing look on your face.

There was a pause as we looked at each other, as if we knew this was a moment, the turning point.

You bent down and kissed me, the last week of build-up overflowing through us. Your lips barely left mine for rest of the night, our bodies in tune as the full moon shined down on us.

Around 5am, my friend and I decided to call it a night. You looked wistful as I gave you a kiss and ran off with her. Hoping, maybe, that I would stay with you.

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The next three days we were inseparable. You came to visit me at my hostel every day even though I was on the other side of the island.

The night after the party, we took a walk on the beach and ended up talking for hours. When our conversation tapered off, I looked up to see you already looking back at me.

You kissed me softly, and then passionately and all at once. From where we lay, the palm trees framed the stars perfectly, like something out of a cliche romantic comedy.

Our days rolled into one long montage of travel memories. We celebrated Songkran, soaking each other with buckets of ice cold water and riding around most of the island with American-sized water guns.

We partied in the jungle and danced until our bodies grew heavy, not making it back until the sun came up. We ended up at a private party with a group of hilarious English boys that night, and had plenty of stories to laugh about in the coming days.

That morning, I wrapped my arms around your waist and rested my head on your back as you brought me home on your scooter. It was one of my favorite memories from Asia.

You ended up staying an extra day on the island, just so we could rent our own bungalow on the beach.

We played mini golf, ate bugs, and drank Thai red wine for hours on our little porch. Me swinging in a hammock, we talked about past relationships and how we ended up here.

That night you told me I was someone who would be easy to fall in love with. You said how happy you were to have met me. The specks in your eyes reflecting the light, your face had a longing to it that drew me in and almost made me believe you.

I tousled your hair and didn’t say anything back, not knowing how to respond, or if this was just something you said to girls to make them feel special. It was daunting how sure you were about your feelings for me. I still had no idea what to think of you.

The afternoon you left you were quiet, sad even. You put off leaving until you were about to miss your boat, then kissed me hard before walking out into the bright sunlight without looking back.

I thought that would be the last time I would see or hear from you, but it wasn’t.

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You started messaging me everyday. Our communication soon grew to novel-worthy messages back and forth. Getting to know our individual personalities, quirks, and daily struggles over words on a screen.

After a couple of months, our chats became less frequent, but we still talked every few days with a fervor that was usually reserved for old friends and lovers.

I thought about you often. You, in turn, told me that I was your favorite part of Asia, that most days you thought of getting on the next plane to come see me. That you loved my mind, my writing.

You talked about how much you appreciated me, and how rare that was for you. Most of all though, you were adamant about seeing me again.

Even though you were already back in France, you were the first and last person to wish me happy birthday when I was in Laos, saying you wished you could be there to celebrate with me.

I remember drunkenly falling asleep that night, after having just run through the mud during a monsoon rainstorm with my friends, and finally thinking how glad I was to have met you too.

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It was almost exactly four months later when I saw you again after we said our goodbyes in Thailand.

You called to say you were outside my guesthouse, and I realized how much I had forgotten the sound of your voice, how thick your accent was.

I ran downstairs to gave you a big hug. You were tanner than the last time I saw you, but more formal. There was an awkwardness after all this time that was almost indiscernible, but it was there.

We caught up about the recent wedding you had been to on another part of Greece, but I don’t remember you asking me one thing about my life on Crete that first day.

I didn’t think too much about it. We were giddy to be with each other again, the awkwardness dissipating quickly as we talked more.

I was simply happy to be with you. The warmth of your body near me, arm around me, as we dozed in and out of sleep in our little room.

We had nine days ahead of us, anything could happen.

Things started to unravel by the second night. You were still talking about the wedding, and with a laugh, alluded to the fact that you had probably slept with someone the day before you came to see me.

I changed the subject and pretended like I didn’t care.

The next few days were much the same. The slow realization sinking in a little more each day, that this wasn’t the same version of us from Asia, and that a lot can change in four months.

One night, I convinced you to watch the sunset with me, but you seemed so bored and restless that I took your hand and we made our way back to the car in silence before the sky was at its peak.

I could feel how much you were itching to go from the moment you got there. Maybe you didn’t realize how numbered our moments were. Or maybe you didn’t care anymore.

Our last night together, I watched with blank eyes as you told me everything I already knew. You didn’t see this going anywhere, maybe you never had.

In the morning, I almost left without saying goodbye, but I couldn’t bring myself to leave when I put my hand on the door.

Instead, I touched your shoulder and found you already awake. You had a pained look on your face and a deep sadness in your eyes that I had never seen before. It was the first time I saw you feel something since you arrived.

You knew this was it. That this was goodbye.

As I stared out the window on the bus back to my guesthouse, I realized how sad I was too.

Not so much about the build up that had amounted to nothing, but more that the person who I had spent those magical days with in Thailand, never really existed. Not really. Maybe you realized the same thing about me too.

We were always meant to be just two passing ships in the night, on the way to new destinations, new adventures.

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I saw you again a month later in Paris, your tan gone but your easy smile still there. I gave you a French hello underneath the falling leaves in Montmartre. You seemed nervous to see me, like maybe you thought I wouldn’t show.

We sat at a cafe terrace, you drank espresso, I drank tea. The scene was so wonderfully French, it was almost funny. Like we had come full circle and made it into another romantic comedy, but this time in an indie film where the protagonists don’t end up together.

We caught up about life and where it had taken us since Greece, you kept checking the time to make sure you wouldn’t miss your flight.

Finally, you said you had to go. We walked a few blocks together before saying a quick goodbye. I kissed both of your cheeks and told you I didn’t know when I’d see you again.

You gave me a half smile and said, “somewhere in Europe, I guess.” I nodded, knowing this was probably the last time I’d see you, and wished you safe travels.

I turned and walked off without looking back. The fall leaves swirled around me, the last bit of magnetism between us already flowing into the breeze. At that moment, I didn’t feel sad, I just had the simple feeling of being free.

I made my way up the steep cobblestone streets, and smiled.

Taking in the beautiful Parisian afternoon, I thought to myself, this is life. This is what makes it meaningful.

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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