We all travel for different reasons: to escape, to learn, to find ourselves, to lose ourselves. Victoria Loustalot travels to find her father. When she was a young girl, he was dying from AIDS and took his life to end his suffering. And he left behind a lifetime of trips untaken. In This Is How You Say Goodbye, Loustalot retraces some of his steps and also takes some of the trips they would have taken together.
Cambodia is a place her father had dreamed about visiting. She goes there for him, as
much as for herself. She describes Angkor Wat: “I looked up at ceilings covered in lotus designs and others where the sky shone through cavernous holes. Wall, roof, and floor had crumbled in places and everywhere stone was eroded and deteriorating, creating shadows and depth, ghosts, a heightened sense of two worlds almost touching.”
Her father had studied abroad in Stockholm and the city immediately resonates with her: “It’s urban and rural, neither diminished. Color! The Swedish textiles are whimsical without being unsophisticated. […] I love that instead of heat lamps, outdoor bars and restaurants have piles of thick blankets stashed in corners; grab one when you need it. I love the cardamom buns and the coffee that is not messing around. It’s like the Swedes just do life better than the rest of us.”
A trip to Paris was to be Loustalot’s gift from her father, so when she finally goes, it is for herself, not in his memory. In spite of years of anticipation, Paris feels distant to her. It doesn’t have the same immediacy that she experienced in Siem Reap and Stockholm. “Paris is tall, dark, and handsome, but it also feels a bit like walking through a museum. Everything is behind glass, and you’re not allowed to touch anything. Even in the summer it’s just a little uncomfortable. A little too cold—like a restaurant.” (For the record, I don’t share her feelings about Paris!)
Loustalot weaves the sections about travel together with sections about life with her father. By travelling, she fills in some of the gaps in his life story and gets a better picture of the man he was. This is one of the many things that makes travel so amazing—even if our loved one stood in a particular spot many years ago, we can go for ourselves and literally see what he saw. Loustalot takes this a step further and also sees what her father should have seen.