Features, Column

A Columnist’s Last Goodbye

Hello. My name is Archer Parquette, and this is my last column. It’s a column about how to say goodbye—not just my personal goodbye after three years of writing borderline-insane, frequently idiotic, award-winning columns, but the real defining goodbyes, the ones that matter. This is the last thing I have to say, then I’ll leave you all alone.

To talk about goodbyes and the landslide of sentimental crap that goes with them, I have to go back to my first goodbye. Stripping away all the overwrought moments of emotion and feelings and crap, here’s what happened.

On Dec. 25, 2001, my grandfather collapsed onto the couch and was too weak to stand up again. I was only five, but he was my closest friend. My parents were great, but they needed to raise me. At the time, I had yet to revert to the silent, reserved, emotionless shell of a man I am now, which meant they had to keep me from farting in public, asking strangers about the viability of an orc-hobbit friendship, and getting into fights with ponytailed little asshats who tried to steal my paper fox at the library.

My grandfather, on the other hand, was an absurdly nice man who sat on the couch, played board games with me, and followed me on tricycle rides around the block—when my parents tried to discipline me, he would say, in his heavy Italian accent, “Shut up. Archie can do what he wants.”

This made his rapid decline in health all the more confusing and unpleasant. Seeing him pass out at the table, get carted away in an ambulance, move back and forth between hospitals, didn’t make any sense. My parents took the time to explain it, but there’s only so much about death you can explain to a kid in kindergarten.

In February of the next year, the whole family was at the hospital after any possibility of my grandfather’s recovery had been exhausted. I was still under the impression that he would come home at some point. Why would anyone stay? The cafeteria sandwiches tasted like used jock straps and the nurses looked like they had been sampling a bit of the morphine themselves.  

My dad took me home early that night, while my mom stayed behind to be with her father. I remember waking up sometime, seeing my mom’s silhouette in the hallway, and hearing her whisper something to my dad. My grandfather was dead.

Time passed fluidly in that little-kid way it does, and a few days later, I was back with my kindergarten class in the cafeteria, where we were about to play a game involving a large red ball. I was intrigued by this large red ball and, might I say, pretty excited to see where this game was going to go. Would we throw the ball? Hit it? Perhaps catch it? The possibilities were endless, and I was a growing boy ready to explore the world. Then one of my classmates pointed behind me, and asked if that was my dad.

It was. He was picking me up early for the funeral. My classmate thought my dad’s large red glasses were funny looking, but was too scared of my dad’s classic scowl and angry shoulder hunch to do anything more than whisper that to me. I met my dad at the door and we left. To this day, I still wonder what thrilling game my class played with that large red ball.

At the funeral parlor, we met up with my mom, uncle, aunt, and grandmother. Up to this point, I was still pretty uncertain about the whole “death” idea. It didn’t make much sense, when you really thought about it.

This uncertainty was cleared up real quick, when I walked up to the coffin. You see—I had been told about the body, but I didn’t realize that “body” meant my grandfather’s actual corpse covered in makeup. In what might be the biggest display of emotion I have ever shown, I sprinted away from the coffin across the entire funeral parlor, leapt onto a chair, buried my face in the seat cushion, and refused to come back out.

That was it—goodbye. The hospital visits, the absence, the dwindling moments, hadn’t prepared me even slightly for actually facing the end of something and the end of someone. It was over, and no matter how many condolences, memories, friendships, and happy moments came afterward, nothing would change that. He wasn’t coming back. That time wasn’t coming back. On to the next thing—which in this case was learning and reading and super-competitive pickup football and playing the most badass 4-foot-tall blacksmith ever to walk the earth in our school’s yearly play.

The end comes abruptly, and no amount of warning is enough. I learned that for the first time at the funeral. There’s no way to stop the completion of my time working on this paper, to stop my impending graduation, to stop everyone from falling away with time. That’s why no matter how long this column is, it won’t be enough. I have to end it.

You’ll have to end it too at some point. Your “it” is likely not a series of college newspaper columns in which you project an exaggerated version of yourself for comedic effect, but you have your own stupid crap that’s rapidly coming to an end. If you’re a senior, you know what’s about to happen. Everyone else, remember that time is chasing you down, and you don’t want the end to reach you before you’ve done what you needed to do. Separation and change—from people, places, states of being—are going to hit hard, and then … who knows?

Your future might be bright. You can move on from every passing stage in life, and push valiantly toward some great gleaming goal or whatever other inspirational crap you want to believe. I hope you do, and wish you the best.

Me—I am not optimistic. Then again, I never have been. You might have guessed that from the 600 or so words I just dedicated to death. I am overwhelmed with regret and fully expect to make a series of horrendous post-grad decisions leading to my eventual career as a taxidermist somewhere in the northwoods. Maybe someday I’ll improve myself—maybe I won’t. The only thing that’s clear is that one thing is ending and hopefully whatever comes next isn’t horrible.

This is the last you’ll hear from me in this newspaper, but hopefully not the last you’ll hear from me ever. Even if it’s a dumbass blog filled with grainy pictures of paper scraps caught in spider webs and badly-thought-out ramblings about the latest book I read, I’ll probably be out there writing something stupid. There’s a lot more I could write in this column, and God, I really want to keep going here. But I’m just delaying that inevitable moment. Delaying and delaying and delaying with as many clauses and conjunctions and stupid gags as I can pull.

All right, enough. Here it is.


Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Staff

December 3, 2017