The Last High School Graduation

A cool breeze broke through the warming air, drifting the skirt of my dress to the side. I crossed my legs to try and cover myself some and shifted so the sun may not reach the pale winter skin I had forgotten to cover in sunscreen. In my hands a little pamphlet sat a bit crooked, its pages bookmarked as if by an owner before me, though I was nearly sure the perforation came from how it had been hastily stored in the box I grabbed it from. The pamphlet was important as it would be the first of many to bare my little brother’s name; the first of many to congratulate him for completing his school. And while I was proud of him, proud to be sitting in this stadium and listening to the growing crowd of excited families around me, I couldn’t bare to open the little packet or to see his name myself.

I didn’t consider it much when I graduated, first high school, then undergrad. It was the end, I thought both times, the end of an era and the beginning of another. I had the same thought there on the little fold-out stool at the stadium; an end of an era for sure, but not one I was all too excited to accept.

My little brother may not think it, but for years at a time, I have considered him one of my best friends. He has always been someone I can talk to about anything, and who would understand me just as I am. He was always there as a shoulder, as a confidant, or as a sounding board. And as we both became older and we spent more time together, the more I considered him so. My heart stung a bit as I sat in the stadium at his graduation waiting for him to take his seat and cross the stage. It stung cause I knew that, even though he would always be my brother, there was no telling that after this era if he would ever be as close of a friend.

I knew he would leave in August for school, and then that was that.

I couldn’t bring myself to open the book. I couldn’t bring myself to see his name there, to know when he would cross the stage. I couldn’t bring myself, even as I sat there happy and excited and so incredibly proud of my little brother, to accept that this was the end of an era. That he wasn’t my little brother, not really, anymore.

The short buzz of a text message pulled my eyes from the cover of the pamphlet and toward my phone.

“I don’t know if this is still your number,” I read through the harsh reflection on the screen, “but are you at graduation today?”

Every thought of my brother dropped and I read and reread the message again. I couldn’t believe it, staring at the short little question. It was my childhood best friend, reaching out for the first time in five years, since our very own High School graduation. The contact picture was still Mulan from when we went to Disney World together for our senior trip, the very last time I saw her, or even spoke to her for that matter. Her contact still held the poem she had sent me for my 18th birthday, and the list of her favorite things just in case her birthday came out of the blue. I had thought she had changed her number when she left Maryland, gone for good, but here she was, in bright blue buzzing my phone.

“Yes!” I responded as quickly as I could, hoping to keep her attention. “Are you here?”

She had moved out almost immediately after graduation. She wanted to be a Pixar animator, and she had the talent for it. She could draw anything you could think of solely from memory. When I was really little, she was the one who got me entirely fascinated by art and entirely enraptured in reading. She is who I blame for my need to write, and my goals for the future; she is a prime reason for who I am today. And when she left for college, I was devastated, but I knew she wouldn’t be who she wanted to be staying where she was. I knew she needed to go.

“I am here for my boyfriend’s sister,” Her message was almost instant. “I saw your brother’s name in the pamphlet.”

My last moments with her were on the flight home from Disney. We had been friends at that point for over 10 years. We had spent time living at each other’s houses and going places together. We had grown up side by side and helped each other get through elementary school and middle school and high school. Our parents still sent each other Christmas cards. And then one day, she was gone, off to art school in South Carolina.

“Would it be weird if I came and found you?” I asked after a brief pause. I could feel my anxiety surfacing a bit.

When she left, I did my best to keep in touch. I would reach out when she posted something new on Instagram. I wanted to congratulate her on every accomplishment, to be a voice of encouragement even if I was five states away. But life gets hard, and no one ever says college is easy, and soon my goal evaporated as my own struggles blinded me. By the time undergrad had ended, I tried to reach back out, but it wasn’t the same. I sadly accepted the fact that I had lost it, what I had, and I hadn’t even realized it.

“Of course not,” her reply took some time. “I am heading to the bathrooms, so we can meet there?”

I shot up from my seat, gave a few quick words to my mom, and made my way back up the stadium. The breeze seemed to push me from behind, excited for my encounter, anxious to see the reunion. I held the bottom of my dress down with one hand as I rushed up the stairs and looked around the stands for her, for any semblance of the best friend I had known.

“What are you wearing?” I rushed out a message, and she responded just as quick. “I am wearing blue.”

Everyone needs to accept that time will do its thing and dull the world around it. Every flower wilts and every rock turns to sand. And every friendship, if given enough time, will lose its strength. That was what I was so worried about with my brother, that we too would dull with time. That he wouldn’t smile at our stupid inside jokes anymore, or that I wouldn’t get to hear his snide remarks about mundane things. That we would lose that like I had lost with my friend. College taught me how much letting people go hurt, and how exhausted it made me. And an end to an era always means letting go.

A long blue dress made its way toward me, topped with the memorable curly bob of blonde hair. I could feel the smile on my face grow as she got closer. She hadn’t changed a bit. She still wore her clothes like a costume, still paraded herself like an actress. She still wore the smile of confidence I knew from elementary school and was as expressive as she was when we did theater. She hadn’t changed a bit, except for the tattoo that wrapped her arm, the heels she took extra time to walk in, and the way she grabbed at the waist of her dress when she didn’t know what to say. She was still there though, and she still gave me the biggest hug she could when I ran her way.

I cannot say the conversation was easy, but I guess years will do that; dull what was. But it was there when it didn’t have to be. And she was there when she didn’t have to be. And she found me when she didn’t have to. Five years were still five years, but somehow less than it had been before.

My brother was about to have the same day we did, and it was wild to even consider. This was the last day we saw each other, and the first day we saw each other again. And I realized that my brother would have many similar days that I would get to see and be proud of. He would be there, no matter the time. Good friends are always there, no matter the time.

We stayed and talked until the graduates began to make their walk to their seats and we had to go. I made my way back down to my seat knowing I may never see her again, with her living in California now, and yet a smile was still stuck on my face. It had been enough for me, for now.

My pamphlet was waiting on my chair when I got there, and with both hands lightly on the pages, I found my brother’s name. Bright and bold, he was there too, as he would always be.

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