Is the tomorrow
We worried about Yesterday
Graduation was overrated, but still, it had come. On the mirror were the stick-it notes, varied in color and size, a reminder for all mundane routines. Pick up dress from cleaners', change battery in camera, get a facial, and shop for… everything. An orange one on the dresser read, don't forget presents. The orange shade stuck out like a sore thumb, nearly unavoidable to the eye.
Most of the notes were already crumpled up or crossed out in blue ink, on their way to the trash bin. Shopping was done, prom was long past and the presents were purchased. All the notes could be disposed of. All except one. Well, this was mostly because it wasn't a task. It was more of a mission statement, or at least an adopted one.
Be nice, read the purple stick-it note, in perfect cursive handwriting, you'd think it was run off the computer. Long ago I'd read that mission statements were forged by your own hand, assuming that in this case, you'd abide by its rules. Not so here. This cryptic, perhaps all-encompassing rule was the creation of my sister, Gemma. She hadn't meant for it to be overbearing, at the time she was only being helpful. Or at least, helpful on her own terms. Gemma was the type of person who blew in and out of the house like the wind, making a mess before leaving again. Not that I was one to talk. My own bedroom was in complete disarray, clothes piling up on the floor and books threateningto bury my desk forever.Later, I told myself, casting a look at my prom dress that lay haphazardly across a cushioned stool. The yards of fabric brushed the carpeted floor, the vibrant color spilling all over the place. Throwing a brief glance at the mirror I put my procrastination to an end. My hair was done up as best I could, and my clothes were perfect for wearing under the graduation cape.
Although there was no real sense in wearing one outfit only in order to change into another, I slung an extra bag over my shoulder nonetheless.
Skipping down the front steps of the stone porch before the house, I doubled back on myself in order to lock it. The small shiny key glinted in the summer sun, silver on its matching chain around my neck. Originally, I hadn't wanted to wear a house key around my neck, but when my mother got the lock on the house changed the other year, I happened to like the small trinket. Most people tended to think it was an actual piece of jewelry rather than the real key to my home, but I let them. After all, there was no use in having kids know that if you misplaced your necklace, you were locked out, and they could go in.
As I pulled up to my high school I swerved neatly into a parking spot, narrowly missing the sidewalk. Gemma always said it was a miracle I had passed my driving test. I told her it was because there were much worse drivers around home, that in comparison to them, I could qualify as adequate, if not a remotely safe, driver.
Already from the lawn of the school it was evident that graduation had come. Streamers and banners hung from the building, bright colors flashing in the bright sun. Families teamed up for photos and girls in denim shorts ran around, chased by the guys holding open beer bottles. It looked like the event was over, but it hadn't even begun.
As I slammed the door of my Honda Civic shut with my hip, I shoved my feet further into my turquoise flip flops. I could practically feel the hot cement beneath the plastic shoe.
Blinking in the light, I pushed my sunglasses up on the bridge of my nose, brushing some loose wisps of hair off my face. Thankfully, there was a bit of a breeze.
"Hey, over here!" Carmen's auburn curls bounced around her shoulders. Handing me a metallic-blue graduation cape, I pulled it over my head as she said, "It's the day we've all been waiting for, girl. Smile!" at her order, I mustered my best grin, and replied; "I can't believe it! We're graduating!" more friends fell into place beside us, detaching themselves from the throng of students patrolling the green grounds.
A long procession of posing and smiling began, and wore on until I felt the materialization of a saying come true; fake it till you make it.
I was being sullen, I knew it, and being sullen wasn't like me. Sullen was for my mom's cat, chubby, (dubbed by myself,) who was nearly as old as I was. Scanning the school grounds, I felt just that. Old. High-school was over, ta-da, never to be heard of again. Soon I would receive my graduation scroll, my pass to freedom and adulthood, as if it were such a simple endeavor.
But I felt far from adult. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I felt I would never be, in a good way. I still felt the childish thrill of an unknown summer approaching.
Summers were never a time for traditional escapades. Last summer I counseled at a horseback riding camp, but was duly "kicked out" when my boyfriend came to visit and I failed to show the following morning. The previous one I had flown to Australia to visit my sister Gemma who was researching fossils or something. My grand-mother's birthday had come up after that, so my whole family booked a flight back home to throw an overblown party in Portsmouth.
This summer, I was up for grabs. No plans, no big events approaching. Newcastle was its usual quiet self, providing only a few promising events later in August. With the small population, it was hard not to know what was going on. Everyone was aware that my next door neighbors' puppy had been run over, and that a new kid moved in on the other side of town. His name was Rick, and he grinned when I crossed him on my way to the punch stand. Holding a big plastic cup in hand, he offered me a second one.
"Your folks coming?" he cleared his throat gently, sidling up beside me.
"Yeah," I nodded, accepting the too-sweet drink and looking around. No silver Lexus was anywhere in sight, but I knew that my parents would make it. It was my graduation, for heavens' sake.
"Yours here?" Rick pointed to where his mother, in high heels and a satin dress stood talking to a friend.
"Natalie!" A familiar voice called out behind me as I turned to see my father on the pebbled walk beside the green. He looked sleek as ever, with his hair combed aside, sporting a black suit and a shiny maroon tie. Other girls might have winced, but I liked it. It showed personality. In the drone hum-drum of his office back a few years - it seemed like a lifetime ago - he had barely been able to function; among other things, all the events required 'black tie'. I could still recall his mid-life crisis a few years back clearly. The long hours, the small talk he tried to conjure at dinner unsuccessfully, the fights between him and Mom.
After a good few months where Dad would come home, like clockwork, at 6:15 in the evening and just stare at the ceiling until the sitcoms came on and then the late show with David Letterman and the late late show with whoever it was, mom had offered, lightly, that he should see some councilor for what he was going through. It never was quite clear to me what had gone down at his job, or the office, probably because I was too young to understand, or really care. I recalled now with some shame how I ran from one party to the next, from one dancing recital to the following, waiting for him to get better. Back when things were really down, he'd skip dinner altogether and pad around the house in a shabby old bathrobe, the one I loved to rub my face in as a child, inhaling his scent. That, and his slippers. Later, though, he began going to Christy, a councilor for re-inventing yourself as a person, but it was called something else, more eloquently-put. Christy Moore's office was a pink pastel color, smelling of lavender and soothing oils with a framed photo of a young man perched on her desk. I recalled that I had wondered back then if it was a son, or an ancestor, or maybe a husband. The young man in the photo was stern, with just the hint of a smile in his eyes, dressed in army uniform. This amounted to not giving away much; there were a million wars, and even more soldiers; the man in the picture could be anyone. After a few sessions, when my dad started shaving again, smelling of aftershave and soap, I actually began to worry instead of feeling relieved; images shot through my head from all the dumb movies I'd watched over the years. Maybe he was falling for his therapist, I often thought, imagining them alone in her botanic-smelling office, cooped up after-hours and discussing his feelings. In reality, I knew there was no way that he would cheat on my mom.
Eventually conversations got picked up at the large, often-quite dinner table on different topics; over stuffed chicken breast and pea soup, Dad mulled slowly through news on the new neighbors, (there always seemed to be some), the prices going up at the local market, or the new up-and-coming department store that was launching in mid-December. The real change, though, was the following fall when I was starting high-school. Gemma was out of the house, beginning at a local college near home, leaving me with the fixed shambles of the family. Dad stopped going to sessions with Christy and began talking to executives about carrying out a project around the state, mostly architectural jobs. Running purely on black coffee and energy bars, my father joined, or more like created, a group of aspiring architectures in the city. It started out small, in a firm downtown with only five other men scrambling for a living, and soon was known as "Sawyer, Rollins & Davidson Inc." They even made it to the top list in the fall edition of Architect Journal in 2009. Since then, more or less, things had been okay. More than okay, even. This was why I constantly reminded myself at times like these, during the ordinary activities of the world, that through the tumult of the past few years, even simple, non-earth shaking routines were worth it.
"Hey, Dad!" I called over to him now, departing from Rick and approaching my father. "I told you it would only be a second, Hun. The intern took over the moment he got to the office." Sucking in his breath, he took a look at me. I smiled for real now, just as my mom rounded the corner, ever her re-invented self. Today she took on the laid-back mom, dressed in slacks and a pretty blouse, a suede purse dangling at her side.
She barely got a word out before Jennifer, blonde hair flying, shoved a camera in our faces.
"Say cheese!" she ordered with a laugh, and we immediately fell into the traditional frame; mom on the left, dad on the right with me in-between. "Go ahead, sweetie, we'll go in soon." Shaking her hair back after the photo was taken, Mom threw a glance to the auditorium, urging me to join my friends. As if on cue, my phone buzzed with my sister's name on the caller ID.
"Gemma's here," I showed my dad before picking up, and held out a finger to Jennifer, who was motioning for me to join her.
"Hi Gem," I picked up, a little breathless, "are you here? Should I come get you?"
My sister's laugh came through, shunning playfully, "whoa there, Brooke. You're a little energy bomb. I know the way around the high school. Just give me a minute -Tanner gotcaught up with his mom on the phone," I could practically hear her roll her eyes. "But we'll be one second. Did you end up buying that dress we saw in target? You know, the lavender one with the halter top?" when she mentioned this, I cast a look down at my bag.
"No," I admitted, allowing her a sigh of disappointment. "I found a nicer one in the strip mall in Portsmouth, the one next to the park." Nicer in my opinion, anyway, I added to myself.
"Please just tell me it's not made out of that flimsy thin material…" I saved an evil cackle to myself. Of-course it was made of the material Gemma didn't like. Furthermore, it was white, which was a big no-no according to my sister. On numerous occasions, Gemma had proclaimed white to be an un-wearable, fattening and altogether unflattering color. And her opinion wasn't one to pass up lightly. Since she was fifteen, Gemma was an aspiring model turned fashion designer. She was constantly scheduling interviews with agencies and companies, with hopes to be hired at any given moment.
"I spoke with the blah blah blah in New-York today," she would announce on countless occasions. I was deathly allergic to all the fashion advice, talk and general babble on the subject and had thus blocked out any brand names, companies and famous designer titles. I barely knew what Valentino was. Or who he was. Was it a person, or a company, or a magazine? Where I was seriously lacking in fashion knowledge, Gemma was always happy to pitch in. Although recently, her buzz and craziness was taken down a notch, thanks to Tanner. Tanner was a computer whiz, formerly a student of art history in university. You could always count on Gemma to surprise you.
Surprise!" a sudden jab at my side made me jump. My sister, dressed in a flowery chiffon blouse and fitted pants stood radiating at my side. Her light brown hair was tied up in a twist, making her look at least five years older that her actual age, which was twenty-two. "Gemma made it, Jane." My father steered us all towards the auditorium. "Why don't you go ahead and pull on that hideous cape, get this over with, huh?" he threw at me good naturedly, looping his arm around Gemma's shoulder, immediately trying to catch up on the latest.
I scoffed at being ignored for the first time today, saying "okay, but when you take a picture, do me a favor and only capture my face…" I laughed when he shook his head diligently.
"No way. Do you think I'm going to pass up this opportunity to embarrass you in front of all my colleagues at work? I'm going to carry a picture of you in that high-light shade of blue in my wallet!" I threw back my head, shooting him a cross-eyed look. I knew he didn't mean it. Taking in a deep breath, I was overwhelmed by the sensation of endings. I loved endings, partially because it was an opening to something new. The school year was too structured for me, too conventional, no room for improvisations. And now, it was over. It was amazing how twelve years of learning could be summed up to one piece of paper, a scroll of accomplishments. Without a blink, I felt more than ready to receive it. On the stage, a wooden stand stood adorned with a garland of flowers, the principal behind it. I pushed through the crowd to stand beside Jennifer, who was holding Kris's hand.
"Hey," she whispered, "you ready?" I smiled, nearly snorting. "More than ever."
Graduation was one of those things, along with prom, that you played and replayed in your mind's eye, imagining what it would be like; would you be the girl to fall and roll on stage, or miss the kiss from your homeroom teacher, or trip down the stairs and break your ankle/arm/head.
But like reality, there was no drama. Quite curiously, a lump formed in my throat, a threatening bubble that I couldn't manage to push down. My eyes began to tear up the moment thevaledictorian, Jenna White accepted her place on the stage and looked far into the audience, blinking rapidly. I was almost worried she wouldn't say anything, or start stuttering, but she did neither. Her sleek black hair was pulled back from her face, her Asian features evident.
I was the only one biting my lip dramatically as the words tumbled out. A girl who once couldn't utter a single word without second-guessing herself was completely self-absorbed with her speech. It was clear that she had written it. The clear analogies, the slightly nerdy quotes plastered a silly grin on my face. It was a pleasant surprise.
"And so," Jenna was almost breathless, clenching and unclenching her hand, still staring feverishly at her paper, "that's was we did. To brave the undertow, we learned to hold hands, and now we'll do it one last time, as the graduates of New Castle High, year 2011!" we all stood up and tumbled over each other, grabbing our square hats and tossing them up into the air. The next few minutes were a blur of clapping, hugs and congratulations. When I finally mounted the three small steps to the stage, I shook the principal's hand - very businesslike style. Two firm pumps with solid eye contact the whole way through, all of five seconds worth.
And then, just like that, it was over. The faculty was done talking; I'd never have to hear them again. No more pep-talks with Ms. Richmond, the guidance counselor on various tedious topics, such as failed paperwork, options for college and my obvious refrain from health class. I would never have to sit back in my chair like a little kid, nodding dumbly at, oh yeah, "grown-ups". Because I now joined the club. As a high-school graduate, I had just passed my commencement successfully and was free to do whatever I wanted. Almost. Hard to admit but true, I never thought that at thisanticipated moment I would look back with a little ache inside at the period of my life that had just passed in a blink. I looked around at my classmates; some I had never spoken to in my life, others I wished I knew better. Some I would miss terribly. It was such a simple procedure, leaving high-school. I always knew the day would come, but now that it was here it felt surreal. Like I was half floating, half sinking, my mind departed from my body, a detached experience.
"Hey Natalie," a familiar hand was suddenly on my shoulder. I expected myself to tense up, or tear away, but instead I found myself turning to face the boy I loved. The boy who broke my heart. There he stood, chocolate-brown eyes searching mine, a grin making its way to the surface. When I didn't meet his gaze, his eyes shifted to my dress. My sister was right; the white color made me self-conscious as I quickly stepped away, masking any emotion from escaping.
"I need to go," I managed to mutter coherently before looping around him and towards the car. Seeming to take the hint, he didn't follow me. But I didn't need to turn back to know his eyes did.