“Closed forever,” the sign reads on the door of the big Barnes and Noble on the corner. One day, the store is packed with people looking for bargains among the bare shelves and the rummaged-through pile of esoteric cookbooks. The next, the windows are covered and a sign on a flimsy piece of computer paper taped to the door announces, “Closed Forever.” Something aggressive announces itself as well. Perhaps the sign was created, by a now out-of-work disgruntled employee -- the last to leave. The one who was given the assignment to turn off the heat and the lights, to lock the door for the very last time and oh, by the way, to post a sign saying we have gone out of business. In fact, isn’t that the more traditional wording in such circumstances? Something handwritten like: “Going Out of Business. Thank You to all of Our Customers who have Supported us through the years!” Even if the closing store is part of a national chain, the reading of this traditional type of sign invokes feelings of sadness, compassion, and regret. One is saddened that the business could not withstand the economic downturn; one feels compassion towards the employees who toiled there but now face financial hardship; one regrets that one did not patronize the establishment more. “Closed Forever,” however, invokes a different response. A sign without punctuation, it seemingly takes no emotional position on the matter. It is a sign that does not say a proper good-bye or explain anything. It is final, it has the last word, it offers no engagement with the reader. It does not acknowledge our years of shared interactions and memories. One feels like a spouse who comes home to a quiet house to find her partner’s closet and bureau empty and an heirloom once cherished together missing. Only a hastily written note on the entryway table, “Gone Forever” is left behind. Forever is a rigid word that nothing can follow. Its permanence ironically signalling the impermanence of things. Perhaps the author of the note was angrily commenting on the impermanence of our times. What exactly is closed forever? Paper books? Shopping in brick and mortar stores? Neighborhood haunts? Places to kill time browsing picture books between appointments? Sensory experiences of discovery and pleasure that come from whiling away hours among rows upon rows of books? Therapists have long known that saying, “goodbye” is hard. How endings occur reveal much about the leaver and the left behind. There are good endings that celebrate what has been shared before. There are endings that fizzle away subtly -- both parties tacitly agreeing to pretend not to notice that they are no longer how they once were. Then, there is the door slam, the angry rupture like the one down the street at the bookstore. Its “Closed Forever” signaling the ever foreclosing of closure. (This post originally appeared on 1/11/12 at sallyrudoy.com)
Several days after the closing of the store and the posting of the aforementioned sign, Barnes and Noble finally put up a formal, "Going Out of Business" sign on a window. Curiously, they left up the "Closed Forever" sign on the front door.