Well, it appears that I missed my first scheduled post. >.< Sorry, but I was BUSY. Anyway, this story has been on my heart to write and…. yeah, we’ll see how it turns out.
Disclaimer: Although the setting of this story is very similar to the one I grew up in, it is not necessarily based on that setting. None of these characters based on real people, and none of these events are based on real events. In other words, while this story might relate to my life in some ways, it is entirely fictional.
i straightened my tie in the mirror, trying to remember the last time I even bothered to put the thing on. then i remembered the funeral, and it all came crashing down on me so quick that I wanted to just throw the stupid tie off and forget the whole thing. or something dumb like that. before anyone could walk in, i washed off my face a little so that no one could see how my eyes got all puffy red the way they do right before I cry.
funny. i hadn’t gotten all emotional like that in a long time. it made me want to forget about the graduation and just stay home like i wanted, but i promised them i’d be there, and though they can be kinda lousy, they’re all i really have. if i’m honest.
so i walked out the bathroom door and went over to the kitchen to grab one of the muffins mom made. she’d been trying to make a lot of my favorite foods ever since i lost all that weight last year. it’d worked some, but i was still skinny as a pencil. when i walked down the hall, i could feel dad glaring at me, even though he had his face stuffed in some old newspaper.
figured he’d be kinda mad today, considering the circumstances, but i didn’t really want to think about all the ways i’d earned the title of world’s most disappointing son. failing my junior year and not graduating today was just one thing on the list. when i ran into mom in the kitchen, she gave me this kinda sad smile that made my insides all twisty turny. i was used to disappointing dad, but letting mom down really hurt.
“oh. you’re going.” her voice sounded surprised when she said it, which made it all worse.
“i said i would.” well, we both knew that didn’t mean much. i said i’d do all kinds of things. like graduate, for starters. “you?”
“i’m afraid i can’t joseph.” seriously, she’s the only one who called me that anymore. she put on a fake smile and pushed a plate of muffins at me. “i have a bible study today.”
yeah, figured it’d be something like that. always some bible something or other goin’ on with her. and of course my parents wouldn’t get off their butts for this. who’d go to a graduation their kid wasn’t apart of? well, a lot of people I guess, but not my folks.
“i can’t be late.” i grabbed a muffin and acted like i was in some big hurry, even though i had plenty of time. i think she might’ve called out one last thing to me, but i didn’t hear. i just wanted to get graduation over with as soon as possible.
“Essie, do you have any waterproof mascara?” I asked my older sister, who was using the same mirror as me. The twins (Abby and Grace) were using the other one.
She smiled and handed me a grey tube, keeping the other hand on her curling iron. (Essie was always the more put together one) “Afraid you’re going to cry?”
“Oh I know it,” I answered, wresting the old thing open. “My golly, I’m going to bawl and bawl to no end. I just don’t know how I’m going to make it out alive. Agh! I got some on my nose.”
She laughed, pulling the curling iron out of her hair and letting a perfect blond lock fall to her shoulders. “Here.” She took a tissue and dabbed at my nose. “I don’t know how you manage, Ruth.”
“Well I don’t either,” I groaned, making another feeble attempt at applying makeup. (Without mascara, my eyelashes are invisible.) “I make messes wherever I go, and I’m probably going to make a mess today somehow.”
“You’re not going to ruin anything. Just relax and have fun. It’s your day.”
“Easy for you to say. When you graduated from high school, you got through your entire valedictorian speech without a hitch.” I screwed the mascara cap back on, examining the clumsy makeup around my blue eyes. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
Essie turned to smile at me, which just showed how perfect her makeup turned out. (People told us we looked alike, but she was much prettier.) “I stayed put together for the speech, but you should have seen me after the ceremony. It was pretty bad. But you don’t have to worry about ruining a speech…” She stopped short, realizing what she said. Without saying anything else, she started fixing her hair. (It was already perfect)
I pretended like I needed to get something from my room, hiding my face so she wouldn’t see. I ran down the hall to my room, almost tripping on my little brother on the way. (That’s the problem with big families; you’re almost never alone.) When I reached my door, I shut it behind me and sat with my back to it, relieved that no one was there.
I knew I was overreacting, but I wasn’t upset that I had finished middle of my class, even though I should have had a chance at salutatorian, maybe even valedictorian. Burying my face in the skirt of my dress, I fought back the tears welling up in my eyes. The whole day felt surreal and wrong, like we shouldn’t even be allowing it to happen after what happened last year. (But there’s no pause button on life, and the world doesn’t have enough time to put itself back together when tragedy strikes.)
“Drew, if you don’t get off the sofa, you’re never going to make it to my graduation,” I told my little brother.
He yawned. “I can’t Fred. I’ve got senioritis. Like you.”
I laughed. “Dude, you’re in sixth grade. If you have senioritis now, you’re in serious trouble. At least I didn’t get it until I was a freshmen.”
“You got it and you’re still valen—valetori- something.”
“Valedictorian,” I corrected, pushing him off the couch. He was still wearing his space ship pajamas, the ones I passed down to him. I was a little embarrassed I ever wore them now. “But I never would have made it this far if I didn’t learn to overcome the seniorities and work.”
“Okay,” he groaned, dragging himself off the couch and jumping up the stairs to his room. Old Drew. All he ever wanted to do was become like me. If only I was really worth living up to.
“Valedictorian,” I muttered under my breath, turning to straighten my bowtie in the mirror and smoothing my bright orange hair before running through my lines again. Hey, maybe I was being a little self-conscious, but today was my day. After everything I’d earned, I didn’t want anything to go wrong.
As I practiced my role of happy-go-lucky, 4.0, Bible-reading valedictorian, I started to wonder what would happen if I showed the real me in this speech, the Fred that wasn’t so pretty. I couldn’t help but picture it—everyone at Jude Christian Academy looking at me with disgust, my family crying with disappointment, and, worst of all, my classmates looking at me with these faces that told me they knew all along.
“It’s not true,” I muttered. “I worked hard. I deserve this.” But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the valedictorian tassel didn’t really belong to me.
From above, I watched the community of Jude Chritian Academy filing into the room, chatting and laughing as they took their seats. I wondered how I should feel about the place, the international Christian school that used to be my home. But I stopped calling it home long before I found my real home.
My eyes scanned the room, searching for familiar faces. I caught a glimpse of my mother, smiling as she talked to my old English teacher. Her grey eyes, the ones I inherited, had a sad, distant look in them.
But no tears.
Noticing the empty seat next to her, I searched for my father. No sign of him. My eyes flitted to my mother’s left hand, which bore a tan line around the fourth finger.
I didn’t feel surprised, or even disappointed. Ever since I was old enough to add two and two I knew they didn’t really love each other. My Choice gave them the excuse they had always been looking for. Perhaps they’ll see it that way one day.
Then I looked behind the stage, where the graduates stood, adorned in awkward blue gowns. They laughed and hugged each other, whispering about nervous butterflies and plans for college. If I still had pain, I’m sure I would have felt at least a twinge of sorrow at the sight. I could be standing with them, getting everything they have if I had chosen differently.
Out of curiosity, I searched for the person wearing the valedictorian tassel. Then I saw it, draped around a pale neck holding a head of red curls.
Had I not been well beyond bitterness, I would have felt it then. Despite what everyone said about the students at Jude Christian Academy loving and caring for one another, I knew he would have done anything to rise to the top and get that tassel. Anything.
If Fred got valedictorian, Ruth should have made salutatorian. The thought gave me some hope as I searched for her rosy cheeks and blonde hair. But when I found Ruth, I saw her dressed just like the other graduates. So she didn’t make it. Pity. She deserved recognition more than any of them.
Although I knew he wouldn’t have any academic awards, I looked for Joe, too. I looked into the face of every one of them two, three times without seeing his brown hair and dark blue eyes. If I could have felt upset anymore, that would have upset me most of all. As much as I wanted to have him near, I didn’t want him to end up like me.
I wondered how they felt today, doing this without me. Most probably would have ignored my absence, but I knew I must have haunted the consciences of some. That was why I Chose to leave, after all. Even though I knew now that I had made the wrong decision. Suddenly I felt the urge to wave, just to see if I could get their attention, if they would see me.
But I knew I couldn’t. I was a ghost to them. I always had been, in away. I flitted about the halls without being there, joined in conversations without speaking, seen but never noticed.