I’ve been blessed. I don’t know the pain of grievance. I’m not sure I know how to let go. I don’t know the true meaning of “goodbye,” and I’m not sure I ever want to.
A, J, Rina and I sat in the great hall for the La Casa Congratulatory Ceremony. Two lines of Latina scholars snaked their way in, coiled at the front of the stage, filled in the rows of reserved seats. Right as we spotted Erika walking past us on the stairs, her sleeve got caught on the railing and she tripped. The people around her all gasped in surprise and expressed concern, but she picked herself right back up and laughed it off. Rina and I went into a laughing fit out of adoration; her fall didn’t surprise us, to say the least.
Unlike my ceremony, La Casa was rambunctious. Though the students were equally unnerved by the scale of the event, family members and friends alike made sure their support was audible– like blasting a horn repeatedly and chanting cult-like gibberish. Surprisingly a lot of student made speeches too. I wondered how long they slaved over what they should say to their peers, going through the whole process of preparing a speech.
“Heyyy. Let me drink some water here before I start the water works,” said the most attractive doctorate I’ve ever seen. She wore a little black dress sort of thing, super straight and smooth hair (ironed?) and nude colored heels.
She wasn’t lying about the water works. For more half the speech she was in tears, her voice oscillating between a borderline bawl and furious compassion. Spirited passion. We couldn’t see her face clearly from our seats, but I imagined the audience she addressed could see her sincerity. I spaced out at the half way mark; the ceremony lasted 2 hours and a half.
A student speaker. Not as eloquent as the others, his stature a lot shorter in comparison. “Look behind you. Thank your parents, because of their hard work you’re able to be here today.”
What will I do without my parents?
A mother wearing a pink sweater wiped tears from her eyes and used the back of her hand for snot. I wondered if years from now, I would be as moved as her or if I’d end up bawling in the audience.
Once, my family and I were traveling long distance and we began our random tangents discussions as usual on random topics. “I don’t think I want kids,” I told them. For as long as I could remember, that’s what I’ve told them. “I hate them, they’re so weird and annoying.” Not a complete lie. Infants freak me out; I find their small size and features to be extremely alien and a little bit revolting. Their helplessness and fragility make me feel uneasy.
“How come? You’d make a good mom.” Coming from my own mother.
“I know,” I said hesitantly. “But the problem isn’t– I mean, I would worry like crazy. I’d be that mom that cries all day when their kid goes to kindergarten for the first time.”
“Nah, you’ll be fine. You get used to things like that,” Dad chirped in.
“I’d cry every day for no reason then,” I joked. “And what about when they turn into scary teenagers?” I shuddered at the thought. I despised my preteen and teenage years; too moody, lost and mopy. When I turned 10, I dreaded the thought of becoming 13. I told my mom, “Can I just be 10 and then turn 21?”
“I still think I’d want to adopt,” I said. Dad tensed up a little.
“Why not have your own?” Mom inquired gently.
“Because the thought of not having parents– I mean, it must be so hard. I have you guys, but those kids don’t have anyone.” I felt their resistance loosen. “There are a bunch of kids out there who don’t have any idea what it’s like to have a family, and if I could afford it– why wouldn’t I?” I tried to suppress the rising tide of emotions. Thinking about not having a support system, growing up all on your own… learning more about the world but without a safe space you can go back to. You must feel so lonely and afraid.
“It’s different when you have your own though.”
“I don’t know if I’m okay with being pregnant.”
“You’ll see– you’ll feel different when you find the right person.” When would that be?
“I don’t know. It’s like I care, but I’ll probably care too much. Like I’d suffocate the kid with rules or something,” I said with an unsteady voice. “I’d want them to be perfect or something. And what if my kid doesn’t like me or finds me annoying?” Don’t lose control. Don’t lose it.
My voice began to quiver. “I don’t know what I’d do with myself if they told me, “I hate you.'” The thought of a heartbroken parent, if it was me, was too much to bear.
“Just talking about it and you’re like this? You don’t even have a kid yet,” Dad teased, words of comfort disguised as a lighthearted joke. I reached for a tissue.
“You’ll have your husband,” Mom chimed.
“Yeah,” I scoffed. Another tissue. “If he still likes me then.” I couldn’t hide the contempt in my voice.
“Don’t worry, he’ll love you a lot!” I could tell Mom was trying to comfort me too because her pitch went higher. Fingers crossed that he’ll love me.
“I mean, he has to love you if you marry him.”
Love doesn’t always last forever. I couldn’t help it.
“Yeah, I must love him a lot then,” I laughed. I felt guilty for having the previous thought.
“But hey! You actually do care about children! It’s not that you hate them, but you just over worry. I still think you’ll be a great mom, it’s just not the right time yet. You’ll feel prepared when it is.”
“I’ll probably panic and read every book on parenting, then die of an heart attack!”
“You are the first generation…” Four years flew by, just like that.
For a moment I was horrified that I might relapse into my past self. Have I become good at hiding my flaws? Am I just trying to be the person others like to be around instead of being myself? Maybe I really have changed too, but how different can you remold a solidifying piece of clay?
Suck it up, you’re a big girl. I blinked my tears back. Tried to think about other things, tried to concentrate on the speaker’s words, at the walls, at the alumni on the stage– but everything became more and more muddled. My parents, my identity, pride and time… What was going on? I needed todosomething, Anything but Cry in public.
“A lot of us grew up listening to Kanye West,” the closing student speaker from Chicago assumed. “One of the most famous lines from him is ‘shoot for the stars, cause even if you miss you’ll land on a cloud.’ And I know a lot of ya’ll like this because of Facebook and Instagram, you know who you are–” Laughter. “But what we forget is what comes after.”
“‘Shoot for the stars, and even if you miss you’ll land on a cloud’,” he repeated. “But pick yourself back up and shoot for the stars again, because we are far too young to give up on our dreams. We are the new standard, class of 2014!”
An explosion of applause and cheers. I later looked up the song because I was unfamiliar with the line. It actually goes, “Reach for the stars so if you fall, you land on a cloud.”
But hey, you do what you gotta do to make it work, right?
When I saw Erika, I greeted her with a hug, a little regretful that I didn’t buy her a $30 bouquet at the entrance. Real proud of her accomplishments and honored that she wanted me to be there, in that moment.
After the ceremony, we all went to Wendy’s and had a long discussion about the Other World; hauntings, superstitions, ghostly stories and experiences. The group eventually parted ways and Erika, Rina and I went off to meet another group of friends. Rina was one of the few who wasnt graduating. She came to our school as a year-long transfer student from Tokyo, japan. Through a school organization ive gotten to known her and spend an obscene amount of time working with her.
Our group mingled at the bars until 2 pm closing time. People talked about getting food. I wanted Jimmy Johns but it seemed that a mexican restaurant was more popular. So in the end, everyone from the group went one way, Rina, Erika and I in the other.
I walked hurriedly in front of the two, eager to get my sandwich. They probably had to take two steps for each one of mine (they’re both 4″+ shorter than me). I didn’t hear their usual girly talk after taking a few strides. Odd. I looked back and saw Rina’s head buried in erika’s arms. A long hug? A thought voiced by Goofy.
My instinct to run kicked in. The closer they came towards me, the more certain I was that they’ve both been crying. Now was the time to avoid being caught in the crossfire.
“Don’t cry,” I said firmly. I turned and looked Erika right in the eyes; she has these big doll eyes and long, thick lashes. Her eyes glistened, tears brimming. I became afraid. “Stop crying,” I insisted.
“This is so sad,” her face contorted to a frown. “I don’t want Rina to go.”
Rina burrowed her head against in my jacket, her petite hands around my waist. “I don’t want to leave,” her voice muffled. Erika rushed to hug the both of us.
“Come on, really? Don’t cry, or I will too.” Someone began to sob. It was a waterfall effect.
The times we spent laughing together, goofing around in empty classrooms and spamming each others Snapchats– worrying about exams, work and boys– the early hours we spent practicing dance routines, our weekly board meetings, carefree coffee breaks and the few study sessions– all of that didn’t occur to me at the time. What was present was a feeling so enveloping that it carved into my body and made it hallow; I felt robbed and weak. I felt wronged but not justified in my accusation.
We huddled at the intersection of a major street. Hundreds of people streamed out of the closing bars in groups. No one was enough of an asshole to poke fun at us, no one stopped to look. Joyful chatter surrounded us while we cried our eyes out. So much for not crying in public. I couldn’t help but laugh in the middle of our embrace.
Erika: What are you laughing at?
I felt like a huge polar bear; I was able to wrap my arms around them both, my hand stroking their heads and trying my best to bring that Coke-Cola happiness. “Stop crying– you’ll see each other again,” I kept repeating. Despite the heart touching moment, I couldn’t help but ask: “Is my make-up running?” I was wearing eyeshadow and black eyeliner.
“Yeah,” Rina looked up and nodded. “But it’s okay, we’re all a big mess right now.”
We held onto each other a little tighter, not wanting to let go. It was as if our embrace could slow down the hands of time, draw out each second to its full capacity and make the moment last forever. Were we crying for each other or for ourselves?
Eventually we separated. I waved to them as they headed towards another direction. Then in my stubbornness, I crossed the street and went into Jimmy John’s.
The first thing I told the cashier: “Sorry about my face.”
I bought a #2 and a big chunk chocolate chip cookie.
On my way to the bus stop, all the way until I got home and pulled the covers over my head, I choked back sobs between mouthfuls of sweetness.