Eighteen years ago, on a cold and eventually snowy November day, my goddaughter D was born. Her mother Beth called me at 6am and told me she was on the way to the hospital. I wanted to go immediately, but I had my English midterm that morning. I rushed through it, and explained that my sister was in labor and I had to leave immediately. My professor was understanding. I think I got a B. I wonder how I would have done if I had taken my time. Kevin, my brother from another mother, drove me to the hospital. After a little bit of a wait, she was here, in the room with us. 30 seconds of miracle amidst an hour of gross. I loved her from the moment I first laid eyes on her. I love her still. She is clever and talented and beautiful, and now she’s a high school graduate.
Yesterday, Mark and I went to D’s graduation from Mt. St. Mary’s, and it stirred up some feelings. For one thing, I am well acquainted with her school, as it is where my mother went, as well as worked at for several years. She always hoped I would follow in her footsteps and be a “Mountie,” but to be honest I had no desire. I ended up at a rival school, Sacred Heart, which I think broke her a little inside. I mean, if my hypothetical daughter went to Holy Angels (were it still around) there would be consequences, so I understand. My mother also loved high school, which is not something that I can relate to.
My high school experience sucked. For one thing, I was unmedicated. Anything before my first prescription for Zoloft is a wash. (Well…Zoloft was a wash too. Long live Celexa.) For another thing, just as things seemed to be going well for me, I was diagnosed with diabetes in my Junior year. This, plus depression, plus a budding obsessive-compulsive disorder, made me into a miserable human being. I walked away from high school with a diploma and a handful of friends. I have few happy memories, and many of the ones I did have, have since been tarnished. High school was the worst.
But my graduation was not.
My graduation was a triumphant day. My graduation was a “yay we did it!” for some and a giant “fuck you!” to others. There were many people who did not believe I would reach that day, myself included. One woman who did not believe in me tried to congratulate me, and I walked right by her. No thanks to you, lady. I did this. Team Brigid did this: my parents who supported me, my friends who loved me, my teachers who tutored me.
I don’t remember who the valedictorian and salutatorian were. I don’t remember who the speaker was or what they talked about. Something about coming home again, in that our high school was like another home. Psh. I was busy goofing around with Jaime and Christina. We were seated by height, and Jaime, who is shorter than me, wore heels so that we were the same height and could sit next to each other. Christina just happened to be seated behind us. We whispered and joked through the whole thing, and to be honest if anyone had noticed we wouldn’t have gotten our diplomas because they were strict about that. I mean they literally said that if there was any problem whatsoever you wouldn’t get your diploma. Me, I lived on the edge. I made shadow puppets with my friends under the stage lights.
When I got my diploma (well, when I received my diploma holder. The real ones were in the basement being held hostage in case we rioted,) I stopped at the edge of the stage and smiled for pictures. The pronounced us graduated and we threw roses in the air. Then we walked out the way we came in, and went to the basement to get the detained diplomas. Once it was in my hand, I came upstairs to find my Team Brigid waiting for me. I felt so proud, and so happy, it was overwhelming.
D’s graduation reminded me of all this, as it was very similar to my own, from what I do remember. I hated high school, but I did learn a lot, especially about being a woman in a man’s world. I remember the building fondly, and my teachers, and my friends. In two years, it will be my 20th reunion, and my friend Chelsea and I have already made a pact that we will go to it. It will be the first reunion either of us attends.
It blows my mind that high school was 18 years ago. It kills me that D has been here that long. She’s proof though, that there’s life after high school, that all those things that seem so crucial to you when you’re young teach your heart how to grow, heal, and love more than you thought you could. I finished high school, and that autumn my goddaughter was born, and it was a miracle. Since then, life has been about moving forward, not looking back. I hope that she, and her fellow graduates, know that there is a great big world out there that will surprise you and shock you, but they’re ready for it. I thought I wasn’t, but all in all, I think I’m doing ok. They will, too.