Man, oh man.
Just look at this for a sec, if you will.
It's a picture of me and my friend and classmate, Holly. It's from graduation day of High School, sometime in late May or early June of 1988--almost 21 years ago.
Holy shit! That's a long time. It's longer than I was old in the photo.
I really feel like I can take this photo and call it the beginning of a big long reel of a movie loaded up on the projector. It's right there. I can almost jump right into it and inhabit the clothes, the hair, the smile, the mischief.
My diploma I have clutched in my left hand, along with a balloon that I can only assume my mother gave me. She was always one for layering acknowledgement of the importance of the day on whoever she cared about. That balloon, to me, now, represents my innocence. I'm sure I let it go outside somewhere to float up in the ether and perhaps get caught up in an air current and be swept away over the ocean. It's still out there somewhere. It's not biodegradable. It may be in several pieces and unrecognizable, but its existence--failing evaporation by fire or acid--is clearly for certain.
The diploma might as well have been tied to the balloon. Although I did learn quite a great deal in high school, nobody ever made me prove that I had indeed completed my studies. It more or less proved to be a receipt for the four years my mom paid my tuition: a big, heavy, maroon, calligraphy-embossed receipt. It made her happy, and I did--and would have done--anything to make that woman happy.
But the eyes, they say so much.
My eyes exclaim that I'm happy to be with my friends, but I'm aware that our daily scheduled meetings are to be no more. We used to love to bitch about how much it sucked to be cooped up in school for 6 hours a day. Now I had all the time in the world to try to make sure I didn't lose touch with them. I can tell from the look on my face that I'm going to meet them later in the day and celebrate with any number of things the law would have frowned upon. I can tell from the look on my face, and from remembering the look on my mother's face when I stumbled up the stairs later that night. That poor woman.
I can see that I'm excited to be released from my studies and happy to be able to pick and choose my focus for the coming college semester. But I have no real interest, nor clear cut plan of action as to what I want to learn about. So far it seems things have turned out as they should have. But it's as much a matter of luck as intention that I can sit on my couch and type the memories which rely on the laws of hindsight.
The red tie. The color of trouble, soaked into a swath of fabric cut and sewn into the shape of conservatism and constrictive conformity. I would eventually learn to enjoy wearing a tie, but it would take a good twenty years--twenty years I'd spend constantly adjusting and attempting to free myself from its noose, only to realize that its occasional use can impart earnest, effortless individualism and confident elegance amidst a sea of threadbare T-shirts.
And that smile. My mother was always telling me to smile for the camera (though I don't believe she took this particular photo). Strangely, almost every time I was asked to smile for a photo I had been doing so moments before the frame had been assembled. The camera is like a giant buzzkill that knows everything about you and is the world's biggest gossipmonger. You don't want to get it mad or it will hold it against you for life. Something about that smile, though, tells me that I had been exuding that joyful vibe before, during, and well after that camera's shutter anxiously clicked open. I didn't need to be prompted.
Many people I know tell me they hated high school. They say it was hell and they can't believe they made it through. I can't commiserate with them because I had a damn good time for myself. Even then I was aware that we created our own heaven and hell, and the power of our mind and the facilities of our senses could be harnessed for whichever road we wanted to ride down. I look at this photograph and realize it's as important that I made it through to graduation day as it is that I made it through to the day--14 months ago next week--that I decided to change the things that needed changing and adapt to move upward and onward in my world.
And twenty one years later I can still remember standing in the halls of Bishop Connolly High School with an arm around Holly (who looks radiant, and even more thrilled than I to be done with this phase of our lives), holding my hard earned diploma in my other hand, with a balloon that cried "Graduate" from its mylar surface--a balloon that was about to fly higher in the air than the farthest flung cap could ever hope for.
In fact, I didn't even have to send it in any one direction.
I just had to let go.
Thanks for reading.
And a big thank you goes out to Holly Emidy for supplying me with the photo which began the projector rolling again after a long stalled delay.