I waited for this day, for this one thing to complete me. To wrap up seventeen and three quarter years of my life and set a pretty bow on it in the form of a graduation cap. I waited for this one sheet of paper to tell me that I had done something right.
I sat in my assigned seat, along with my classmates, in alphabetical order in front of the gym. The ones up front were in order by achievements, their faces lit with the relief of scholarships and graduation parties with gifts and family and friends...and getting out of this town.
I was numb. I had waited for this moment, but now, I didn’t feel good inside. I didn’t feel complete, didn’t feel achieved. I felt like I’d slid by and barely made it, which was exactly what I’d done. I despised school. I was in the early release program for students who work after school, so we got out at 1:00 instead of 3:00 like everyone else. I was barely here and when I was I didn’t want to be.
I know I sound bitter. Believe me, I know. But I was seventeen, graduating a year early, and on the fast track to being valedictorian or whatever else, but things happened to me that I just couldn’t handle. And so, there I was, sullen, slightly unhappy and skidding by.
The ‘things’ I speak of, well, number one was that my mom left. She was an upstanding, stay at home mom, PTA loving, frugal grocery shopping, coupon clipping guru of the community. And she just left us, just like that. She decided out of nowhere that my dad had been holding her back all these years. She didn’t love him and she needed time to start a new life, without me there to pester her. So she did.
She moved to California along with every cent in my dad’s checking account and the one supposed to be for my college fund. I wanted to laugh at the Cali cliché, but I guess it didn’t suit her for long. She moved somewhere else, but I refused to speak to her anymore when she called. All she ever talked about was how sorry she was, that she just couldn’t do it anymore, that she was happy now, that I didn’t know what it was like to live with my dad. Yeah right. I’d counter that I was the only one still living with him and she’d hang up.
I was sure her newest boyfriend, who was ten years younger than her, could console her.
So here we are, present day, graduation day. I was waiting patiently for the m’s to roll around so I could grab my diploma and hear the one person that’ll be in the stands clap for me, my dad.
I glanced up in front of me to see Kyle looking back. He smiled. “You look like you’re in your own little world back there. You ok?”
“Yeah, I’m just ready to be done with this.”
He turned more fully in his chair, putting his arms on the back of it. “Come on. It’s graduation day. Shouldn’t you be happy?” he reasoned. I just shrugged. “You wanna do something tonight? My parents are throwing this lousy party for me, but I’m looking for an excuse to leave early.”
“I don’t want to be your excuse, Kyle.”
He paled, his brow bunched together. “Ah, Mags, I didn’t mean it like that.” He sighed. “My party is from five to seven. I’ll have plenty of time to do something with you, I just didn’t want it to seem so much like a date, you know,” he explained and looked at me bashfully. “In case you said no, again.”
“Oh.” I felt an inch and a half tall. “Kyle, I…” I was this close to telling him no, once more but I thought about it. I had always told him no. I hadn’t been on a date in a year, ever since my life fell under my mom’s pointy heels. He was always sweet to me and he was probably leaving soon anyway for college. What could it hurt? “Ok. Yeah, we can do something.”
“Really?” he said shocked.
“Yeah. What time do you want to go?”
“Is your dad throwing you a party or something?”
“No.” Ha. Yeah right.
“Oh. Uh, how about I text you? I’m sure it’s fine, but I've gotta ask my dad for the car. Mine’s in the shop.”
“Ok, let me give you my number,” I said and started to pull up my gown to reach my pocket.
“I have it.” I looked at him curiously and he grinned. “I asked Rebecca for it a couple weeks ago. I was going to call you, but I never, uh, got up the nerve.”
He looked a little embarrassed and I couldn’t help but giggle a little at his obvious hand-in-the-cookie-jar expression. He was nice looking. No movie star stud, just a normal, light brown hair, brown eyed nice guy. We’d hung out a lot over the years in our group of friends, but never alone.
“Well, maybe you should have.”
“Would you have talked to me?”
I didn’t want to lie and I didn’t want to give him false hope, so I just smiled and shrugged, hoping to pull off a little flirt. It must have worked; he grinned wider. “Ok, I’ll text you tonight.”
“Great,” my mouth said, but my head was already dreading it.
Then I saw the people ahead of him start to stand one by one as their names were called.
“Kyle Jacobson.” He looked back and grinned at me once more as he made his way on stage. There were still about eight people before me. I watched him make his way to the stage and saw his parents and a large group of others stand and applaud loudly for him, a couple whooping and hooting. He grabbed his diploma and then made a show of muscles. Everyone laughed as he bounded down the stairs. He was a crack up. Everyone liked him and voted him class clown in superlatives. He was popular, but never really dated anyone. He was always nice to me though. I used to hang out with that crowd, before everything happened.
After my mom left, my dad was lost. He went a little ‘nuts’. He quit going to work and got fired from a job he’d had for over fifteen years at the school board and now works at the wood mill for a quarter of what he made before. So, I had to get into the work release program and get a job because we had no extra money for anything other than food that I needed or wanted.
When I told my mom all this, when I explained how I had to get a job to help and how Dad was so destroyed by what she’d done, she said it was good for us to experience a little bit of heartache and hard work for a change. That was it. That was the last straw.