The Madonna Timeline: Song #54 ~ The Power of Good-bye ~ Fall 1998


{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Dear —-,

I should have known by the way it started how it would all end. It was fall – no romance of mine that started in the Fall has ever lasted. Certainly not one that began at the very time Madonna was releasing ‘The Power of Good-bye’ from her yet-to-be-topped ‘Ray of Light’ album. I can look back with fondness and tenderness at what once hurt me so badly I had to put it from my mind.

We were both so young then. I don’t think we realized how young we were. We thought we knew it all. We had the whole world at our fingertips – and we had each other. That’s what really mattered to me. That’s the only thing that mattered to me.

Your heart is not open so I must go
The spell has been broken I loved you so…
Freedom comes when you learn to let go,
Creation comes when you learn to say no.

The wind is drifting through an open window, curtains moving slightly in the breeze, and the moon peeking through the blinds. We laid in the dim light, you sitting up slightly, my head on your chest as it rose and fell with your breath.

“This is… perfect,” you whispered.
“What is?” I asked.
“This… night.”

I wanted to see years ahead – but my head – or my heart – could not. Something blocked it. There would always be that fogginess that fall. It would obscure us from seeing one another, and we embraced it because I don’t think we were ready to see each other. I didn’t think I could let you see me, because surely if you saw – if you really and truly saw – you would not stay. So we let the fog linger, creeping into the bedroom in the night, and even in the crisp cool mornings. It was better than way.

You were my lesson I had to learn
I was your fortress you had to burn
Pain is a warning that something’s wrong
I pray to God that it won’t be long…

On my way to work I stop along the sidewalk to pick up some blood-red maple leaves that have fallen in the night. I will dry and preserve them in the pages of a heavy book, then frame them for your birthday in the Winter. I already know this. I know, because I will want to remember this fall – our first together, our only beginning. Somehow, you know too, and in our embraces and our nights together, we cling tightly, desperately to each other, to the idea of us, forging a bond in the colder days to come.

There’s nothing left to try
There’s no place left to hide
There’s no greater power than the power of good-bye…

There was happiness that fall, even as the plaintive notes of this song played in the background. Madonna cried for lost love, while we wept for finding it – two very different points on a very similar trajectory. Cozy nights in the condo, intimate dinners by candlelight, the occasional show, and lots of walking in the fallen leaves. An autumn in Boston is magical, and we wrapped our coats around us merrily, huddling against each other and tumbling along as one slightly awkward but giddy mass of first-love.

Your heart is not open so I must go
The spell has been broken I loved you so
You were my lesson I had to learn
I was your fortress…

Our relationship was based in the night. Days were usually spent at school or work, and even the afternoons were getting darker earlier. Your apartment was always cloaked in dim candlelight – a somewhat claustrophobic corner room, stultified by waxy smoke, buried in the ancient labyrinthine layout of Beacon Hill. I stayed there only once during the day, after you had gone off to class, and in that light I looked around and wondered at your life. In those days, simply being in the space that you occupied was precious to me. I rolled over in bed, curling into your pillow, but it would never be home to me.

I’d walk along Charles Street and imagine you doing the same thing, tucking this tiny corner of Boston into my pocket and keeping it there, next to you. When we would fight, when a gray rainy night threatened to tear us apart, I would return here, lost in the cobblestone of the centuries, eyes skyward and soaking up the tears of clouds, where they mingled with mine, where I crumbled. And then the acts of apology and forgiveness – which I never quite got right, neither giving nor receiving – acts I still find daunting and terrifying in their own way. Somehow the fall cushioned us, with its fallen leaves and gray hazy days. The very fog that kept us in soft-focus, the buffer between us, had also bound us in swirling ropes of safety and, yes, love. It kept us together because it was too dreary to be apart.

There’s nothing left to lose
There’s no more heart to bruise
There’s no greater power than the power of good-bye…

It would not be enough to sustain, but we would not talk about it then.

Learn to say good-bye…
I yearn to say good-bye…

You had the power to do what I could not do. You had the power to end us. You alone had the power of good-bye. You wielded it kindly, and forcefully – and I will always be grateful for that. I did not have the strength to do it. I did not have it in me to finish us off. But somehow you knew, and somehow you did it.

Thank you for being the brave one. Thank you for setting us free. Thank you for letting us walk away before there was someone to blame.

If no one else understood, I knew that.

There’s nothing left to try
There’s no more places to hide
There’s no greater power than the power of good-bye
There’s nothing left to lose
There’s no more heart to bruise
There’s no greater power than the power of good-bye.

Song #54– ‘The Power of Goodbye’ – Fall 1998
Back to Blog
Back to Blog