I am known for leaving places unannounced. Parties. Bars. Gatherings. My friends, after picking up on the habit, began to take wagers on how long it’d be before I disappeared once we all arrived at a place.
The term for this is the Irish goodbye.
Here’s an example: let me set the scene. It’s the last few weeks of my senior year of college. My friends, all of them (I’ll let you hypothesize about how many that means), and I have just entered the local dive bar after waiting in line for longer than said dive bar warrants. But we’re in, we’re ordering Red Bull vodkas (because we are college kids, for at least a few more weeks), and we’re ready to have a good time. But not me. I drink my Red Bull vodka and slip out the back door, pretending that I’m going to take a piss. I keep walking.
I’m not Irish, but I’ve read James Joyce’s Dubliners and I like Jameson–I like to think that’s close enough. I’m also a self-proclaimed king of the Irish goodbye. It’s not that I don’t want to be wherever my friends are–well, sometimes that’s it, depending on the venue from which I will inevitably leave early–but I just don’t like to be in one place for too long, I think. And there’s something nice about a late-night walk home, a little drunk, knowing that you’ve just dropped out of the night’s festivities without warning. Not only are you saved the stress of finding your friends, shouting over the music to let them know you’re leaving only so they can peer pressure you into staying, but you get to ponder and reflect. To shuffle around and get lost a little bit, just take in the night in a heightened booze-induced state. Maybe it’s just that I like to be alone, but I’d take a buzzed walk on a brisk spring night over a night at a sticky dive-bar surrounded by people dancing any day of the week.
You find things that way. On one walk home I found a baseball. I threw it, retrieved it, threw it again. I kept myself occupied for close to an hour, just wandering the empty streets, throwing the ball around. I kept the baseball as a token of that night. It’s one of my fondest memories. Another night, I walked home early, called a friend, and we smoked cigars outside of my front door. He, too, was drunk. He threw up. I got him some water. That’s another one of my fondest memories. We had some good talks over the puke-puddle.
The thing about the Irish goodbye is that it makes you understand that you’re not really necessary for people to have fun. It’s humbling. Sure, do I bring a certain element to the night if I stay? Absolutely. Is the night a wash without me? No. And it goes both ways. My night isn’t a wash if I end up spending it by myself–so if I feel like leaving, I leave. Over coffee the next morning, my friends might tell me I missed out, that I should’ve stayed. They’re free to think that, but I doubt–except under extreme circumstances–that I missed anything at all. Nothing that won’t be repeated in some way or another, at least.
The Irish goodbye provides a seamless exit. You don’t interrupt somebody else’s fun, and you get what you want–which is to leave. In a way, it’s the most respectful way to say goodbye–to not say anything at all. When I’m on the other end of an Irish goodbye, I feel a glow of respect. I feel admiration for he who left without making it known. I know that he, somewhere, is walking home, kicking rocks on the sidewalk, content with having left early. And I’m content in his contention.
The scene from Good Will Hunting comes to mind, when Ben Affleck tells Matt Damon that he hopes, some day, he’ll knock on his door and Matt Damon just won’t be there. No goodbye, nothing. It takes a special type of friendship to want that. The Irish goodbye.