My high school graduation was bleaker and funnier than any scene in even the highest quality of dysfunctional family dark comedies. My sister too young, my parents too wrecked already by the impending divorce and its rumbling presence in our silent huge house, the notion of a graduation required sentimentality and an overall capacity for emotion that none of us could fathom. Walking across the stage to take my diploma, I reminded myself that this was no big deal and it was not at all disappointing that we would not be celebrating.
After the ceremony, my class shuffled into a big huddle on the front lawn while my mom looked at her watch. We collectively flung our caps into the air, and it looked cool, but then the sky went black. It started pouring. My classmates rushed inside laughing. My family halted, standing in the storm for a second, and tried to decide if we should go in with all the people or if we should just go home. We decided to try to be a part of it. There was a reception in the ugly grey lunchroom. The room was filled with the booming hum of giddy graduates and their hugging families. There was a melody of camera clicks happening. My dad and sister, aching to conjure normalness, put on smiles and suggested we check out the cheese plate. The three of us hovered at the edge of the joy, chewing dryly on swiss cubes. My dad took a picture of my sister and me, the sole image from the event.
Eventually we looked around and realized that we didn’t know where mom was. We wandered around the reception, peering at all the moms to see if they were her. She had disappeared; it was time for us to give up and go home. We were wordless in the car. When we got to the dark house, she wasn’t there. She came home right before we went to bed and it was a few weeks before I found out where she’d gone.
But now I’m graduating college. Four years as an undergrad were like watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly after being given an experimental dose of meth. Things happened that turned me from an angst-driven adolescent into a poet and then back into an angst-driven adult disillusioned with poetics. Beautiful and ugly things happened on a beautiful and safe campus. I found out I wanted to write just as I suspected and that I also wanted to teach, which I couldn’t have expected. I fell in love. I made friends who gave me my feelings back.
The final week is approaching and it’s going to be during the warm phase of New York, when the cherry blossom trees have sprouted. I want it to be perfect.
A buddy of mine who graduated last year told me that there are “commencement events” in store. There’s a boat that has an open bar and chugs around Manhattan. Apparently everyone in the world knows that this is called a “booze cruise,” but I’d never heard of the concept before. According to him, “everyone gets drunk for free and makes out with the people they’d always secretly wanted to make out with. But like on a boat. It’s kind of boring. But you should go.”
In theory, nothing is more romantic than this. This is the kind of romance that I am a sucker for; it’d be like the best John Hughes movie ever, and I’d give anything for the opportunity to feel like Molly Ringwald for a night. But I have no secret crush to at long last kiss. Every crush I had in college was never a secret and I’ve kissed already all the important ones. When your flirting technique is most akin to transformers-style morphing into a bulldozer, you leave little room for the fulfillment of cinematic crush-confessing fantasies at the end of the year. I can’t decide if this means I lived my college years to their PBR-flooded fullest, which could be a good thing, or if I should be full of regret because now there is no romance left. All I know is that instead of making out with someone at the Booze Cruise, I’d rather reach back to high school and hit up a five year reunion to seduce one of the Minnesotan straight girls I used to crush on when I was sixteen.
What I want out of my graduation this time around is bigger and quieter than a kiss; I expect my stomach to drop when I hear my name called and to feel shaky when I cross the stage. I want the gown to drape on me with a heaviness that makes me all too aware of the significance of the occasion. I want to wander the reception on the lawn with my now-happy family, alongside all the other families, soaking in the weather. I can’t wait for my dad to tell me he is proud of me. I want to take more than one picture with my baby sister, who is no baby anymore, applying to her own colleges soon.
I will have a graduation party in my new apartment, which is a dream apartment, it has exposed brick and is off an express train. I want light to pour in and to fill the room with bowls of chips and my dad and sister and all my friends. I can’t wait to see my family shaking hands with my friends. It blows my mind still that my friends and family haven’t met each other yet, after years of loving them all at once. I already know which friends will like my dad’s jokes and which ones will intrigue my sister.
Maybe there will be a picnic in Central Park and walks on the waterfront. There will be brunches, and ideally hugs, and cheese that tastes good. We’ll walk the campus. I’ll pass the dorm where we inexplicably pulled the fire alarm at five in the morning and later found out we’d interrupted our best friend’s virginity loss. Pass the weeping willow tree under which I’d flung my arms around an insane Southern girl who was accidentally leading me out of the closet. The swing sets where we smoked cigarettes to feel cool and where one time I punched my best friend. I’ll pass these landmarks with my family and say nothing about them.
They will hug me because they’re proud of me and I’m also proud of myself. The truth is, I don’t know what my graduation will be like, or how it will feel. I only know that this time, I will feel it- I will experience feelings about it, and I can’t wait for that. It will be a proper goodbye, I will be surrounded by all the people I love, and this time no one will disappear.