There are happy endings, bitter endings and plain endings. If I could choose between the three, the one I would not choose is the plain variety.
Happy endings are amicable resolutions. Everyone likes happy endings. Even me. Bitter endings, meanwhile, are unpleasant. No one likes these.
What these have in common, though, is certainty – and that makes them easier. We may or may not know why they happened, but we definitely know they did happen and whatever they’re a part of is over. There can be no question about it.
Plain endings do not sting. They do not trigger smiles. They stimulate our emotions so little, it seems, we’re sometimes not even sure they happened at all. They came out of nowhere.
Labor Day 2012 marked several plain endings for me. After years of unspoken resistance to the idea, my parents are done with camping, which is a major deal considering they once considered doing it through retirement.
My family’s love for camping began when I was a child. What started with a small pop-up tent camper evolved into a flashy contraption the size of a mobile home permanently docked on waterfront property, complete with 40 feet of deck, plush landscaping, hand-painted stepping stones and an array of tacky lights hanging from the metal awning over the camper that demonstrated a small amount of self-restraint on the part of my mother, who scaled back on the quantity and tackiness a number of times at the request of my dad.
This evolution included my family in New York, where a half-dozen or more of these travel trailers loaded with wholesome individuals related to me invaded campgrounds across the central and western part of the state each weekend from spring to early fall for years and years. It began with the pop-up, moved on to a small hardside and became something that’s probably a better structure than a good number of actual homes. My parents loved it. Everyone loved it.
But when they moved South without the family and found a drastically different culture, camping wasn’t the same and their visits to the lake became less and less frequent. They resisted for several years, but the reality was this chapter of their lives had come to an end.
Eventually Mom and Dad decided what they needed was a bigger house with a pool and a fancy deck – and no camp. So when they sold their small house – the one they thought would be perfect for just the two of them until they retired, bought a motor home and traveled the countryside – they began dismantling the climax of their camping story. Someone’s going to buy their camper while someone else is going to buy the deck and take their spot on the lake. In another month, probably, the little house of which they were once so fond as well as their camp site will be gone from our lives. For good.
It’s only appropriate that it’s happening as summer draws to a close.
For years now, I’ve tried to find good that comes from plain endings. I’ve experienced a lot of them since college, when I moved from eastern North Carolina town to eastern North Carolina town with only my daughter, record player and calico cat in tow. A lot of folks would help me – a lot would become genuine friends – but the progression of life seemed to swallow these relationships as time wore on.
My time in these cities came to plain endings as well, triggering a dull, drawn-out pain that still lingers instead of a sudden, sharp sting I would have preferred. My fondest memories happened in Kinston, North Carolina – where I lived in a small, poorly-built cottage on a road named “Elijah Loftin” in the middle of nowhere with Kalista. My heart wanted us to stay forever, but life and its circumstances sent us packing with two weeks’ warning.
I wasn’t too surprised by then. I’d also wanted to stay in New Bern, N.C., and feel the cool air of the seaside town whenever I rode my bike from one retirement community to the next, but my career wouldn’t permit that. I also grew to like Wilmington, N.C., when I lived there.
By the time I made it to South Carolina three years ago, I’d become numb to the pain of plain endings. Not only does a relationship’s end come as no surprise to me anymore, but it’s almost preferred, as I figure it’s bound to happen sooner or later. The only constants in my life are Kalista, my record player and the damn cat.
But I retain the memories. I remember the names. I remember what I liked about them, how they made me feel and how fortunate I was to have them in my life at all, for they helped me grow into whatever it is I am today. I’m sure I’ll do the same when I think of Mom and Dad’s first house in SC or their time as campers.
Plain endings are not becoming less painful, but I’m learning how to deal with them.