Congratulations, or something like it

Most people remember their high school graduation, a celebratory occasion, lots of parties, time spent with family, maybe some pictures that will later be embarrassing . I remember mine was held inside in the high school auditorium, rain was in the forecast, and although there wasn’t much more that day than a few drops, that was the safe bet.

My father had moved out of our house right before my senior year of high school, and sometimes my mother would disappear for a few days, leaving $20 or so on the table and letting myself, my brother and sister fend for ourselves. I recognized this wasn’t okay, but by the time I was in high school, I’d long ceased to question her parenting skills, and assumed the role of caretaker for things that needed to get done.

At the end of the graduation ceremony, (since it wasn’t actually raining), people filed outside to hug, celebrate, and take pictures. I made my way through the crowd to my dad, saw my siblings. I craned my neck to look around, “Have you seen mom,?” I asked him. “No, I haven’t,” he said. Nobody had seen her, because she wasn’t there. He left shortly after, and I made my way through the crowd, stopping to see friends, and eventually standing there alone, watching the happy celebrations, picture taking, and wishing maybe one of these families would adopt me. I was embarrassed, and avoided the “Where’s your family?” questions, and it was too chaotic and busy for anyone to take much notice.

I wouldn’t speak to my mother for days after, I didn’t think “You should go to your oldest child’s high school graduation” was something you should have to tell a parent. I vaguely remember her making some excuse, and  I stared blankly and walked away, the way she often did when I questioned her behavior.

In the weeks that followed, and no doubt in guilt, she planned a surprise graduation party for me, but like most of her undertakings, it was a disaster. Not enough food, no organization or order, and I know everyone just wanted it to be over so they could find someone to buy them beer and go drink in the woods somewhere, a favored activity among many of my high school friends.

In a moment at the party, my eyes caught hers at the back of the room, and a wave of sadness washed over me, it still does when I think of it. I saw someone struggling, someone sorry, and my heart softened. It’s always been the way with our relationship, vacillating between being so angry I can’t speak and so heartbroken I want to hug her. In the moment that night when my eyes met hers, my heart broke for both of us, because I knew she had the best intensions and wanted to help me, but couldn’t, and I realized neither of us wanted the cards we’d been dealt.



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