It rains on graduation day; my English teacher calls it “sympathetic weather.” I convince myself that this is not the end, but the beginning of my very own coming-of-age novel/movie. My friends and I are the Holden Caulfields, the Cher Horowitzes, and the Veronica Sawyers of the world. We are each trying to discover our unique selves.
We will officially leave middle school behind in just a few hours. The air is thick and hot with our simultaneous breathing as we crowd together under the awning of Brooklyn College (our own school’s auditorium isn’t big enough to hold the 400+ graduates and their families). We were supposed to be inside ages ago, but the heavy doors are still shut. “LET US IN!” my friends and I scream to no one, throwing our umbrellas at the building. Soon almost everyone around us has joined in. The doors finally open. We crowd in, yelling, much to the dismay of the teachers waiting inside.
Thirty minutes later we are all lining up to go onstage and receive our diplomas. One of my best friends, Sydney, is starting to hyperventilate. “I can’t do this,” she whispers. “I’m not ready for this. I mean, physically, yes, obviously, but not mentally.” I grab her by the hand and lead her away from the loud voices and laughter of our classmates.
“It’s fine, OK?” I say, even though I haven’t fully convinced myself yet. “I know exactly how you feel. Really, I do.”
“It’s just that I fit in so well with you guys. Next year, I’ll have no one.” It’s all sinking in—we won’t be together next year in; we’ll all be scattered across the city in different high schools.
I feel my eyes begin to well up even though I promised myself that under no circumstances would I cry. I was afraid that if I became emotional I wouldn’t be able to stop. Sydney is speaking the truth, and I can’t help agreeing with her. “What am I going to do next year?” I say. “You guys let me be immature one minute, serious the next. You don’t think I’m weird. I’ve never felt this way before about any of my friends, and now…” I’ve always wanted amazing friends like these, and now that I have them I have to leave them behind. I might not find the same bond with anyone in high school. Before the ceremony even begins, I am crying next to one of the only people in the world who I feel understand me. It feels like graduation is not actually happening—how can we be graduating already? Throughout the ceremony, I laugh at funny memories that spring to mind and come close to crying again. I hug my friends, my teachers, my mother—but nothing feels real. If someone were to pinch me, I would wake up. When my name is called, I clutch my diploma with sweaty palms.
Our school’s prom is held in an Italian restaurant a couple of blocks away from the school. I am 45 minutes late. When I walk in, everyone else is already there, sitting with their friends. I can tell it’s going to be bad. I stand there awkwardly and pull at my dress while I try to casually scan the room, only to lock eyes with my former crush. If this were a romantic comedy, he would walk up to me and smile at me and ask if I want to join him. But this is real life—my life—so I end up running the other way until I find my friends’ table. He saw me, but hopefully he just thought I was trying to find my friends. After that, everything goes downhill.
My prom date is ever later than I am. Right after he arrives, he quickly disappears. He reappears a while later, while I’m dancing with my friends.
“Guess what?” he says, grinning.
“Wha—” I begin.
“I’m dumping you!” he says before running off. I watch him put his arm around a girl I’ve never seen before; he leans in and says something to her, and they both erupt in laughter.
“Oh my gosh!” says a friend, letting out a shocked laugh. I muster up a tiny, crooked smile as I struggle not to cry or go over and punch him in the face. I feel like someone has punched me in the stomach—not because I liked him, but because I have once again become the loner watching other people be happy.
My best friend reaches out and pulls me into the dancing masses, but I can’t bring myself to dance—it feels too stupid now, especially since everyone else is using “dancing” as an excuse to grind against one another. “I have to go,” I yell over the music. I run to the back of the room and sit with Sydney.
“This is so dumb,” I say, grabbing a handful of ice from the bowl in the middle of the table and popping it into my mouth.
“Agreed,” she says. She gives me one of the earbuds sticking out from her iPod. We sit and listen to “Handlebars” while everyone around us runs around, dancing and hopping from one table to the next to visit their friends.
Someone throws butter on the dance floor; everyone is forced to sit down for three minutes as it gets cleaned up and our assistant principal yells at us about this “butter incident.” This is one of the first good parts of the evening; the situation itself is hilarious and for once, no one is grinding.
I spend most of the rest of the night being forced to listen to people recount how so-and-so kissed them, and how exciting it was to make out.
But then at the very end, things pick up. My favorite songs are playing and I’m dancing with a small group of my friends. THIS is how I want to remember middle school—I want to remember the happy parts, the ones that made me want to stay, and the ones that made me feel lucky for the experience. I think of all the laughter we’ve shared, all of the jokes we’ve told one another, how the fun we created shaped this experience for me. I want to remember the beautiful times. ♦