Graduation day is upon Paige. For as long as I can remember, I was excited about my own day to graduate and what it would mean for my life. The parties were going to be epic, and I knew I would be devastated to leave my friends behind.
It was supposed to be a happy day mixed with just the right amount of sadness. Everyone would be wishing me well in my future endeavors. That was before. That me is gone. She died the night the Titanic sank.
This new me doesn’t feel excitement for when I officially jump into adulthood. Kinda already been there, done that.
I don’t care if I leave my friends behind and this day is only sadness because how do you go back? Once you’ve been on an amazing, life-altering journey, how do you go back to the life you had?
It all feels so insignificant. High school seems childish after everything I went through and I still have to go through another year of it. A whole year pretending life is the same, as if it hasn’t shattered so irreparably.
I survived and helped others survive the sinking of the freaking Titanic. I nursed hundreds of men during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I did something heroic and worthwhile, and now I was just supposed to go back to being the typical American teen during her senior year of high school? Nah, that doesn’t seem possible anymore.
Senior year is supposed to be the greatest year for me, but what can I hope for the rest of my life afterward? Could I hope to meet a nice man to marry and have kids when I know the man I will love forever died almost forty years ago? The ending of my junior year is just a milestone in a life that doesn’t belong to me anymore.
It’s nearly time for Paige to leave. We’re both wearing dresses Mom bought for the occasion several weeks ago.
“Oh, let me get a picture of you both!” Mom says as she snaps picture after picture.
Paige and I stand together and smile, but I know the smiles aren’t genuine. I’m comforted to know Paige is feeling the same as I am; lost.
Mom gives us a weird, knowing look and I panic, wondering what she knows, or what she thinks she knows.
“I have to go or I’m going to be late,” Paige mumbles trying to get out the door.
“We’ll see you there, pumpkin. I’m so proud of you,” Dad says, smiling a very proud smile.
“Love you,” Paige says as she walks out the door.
I go back to my room and sit on my bed just staring at the floor. My mom stops by the open door and knocks on the doorjamb. I look up, smiling slightly. She did notice something. Damn that ridiculously observant woman.
“Can I come in?” Mom asks. I nod, and she comes and sits by me on the bed.
“Are you okay?”
I want to nod and say yes, everything is fine, but Mom is looking at me so expectantly.
I’ve always been able to tell her everything that’s going on in my life. She’s a wonderful listener and I want so much to talk to her about everything that happened so I can get her advice, or at least her comforting words.
I’m fine until the moment she asks if I’m okay. That’s when the flood gates break open and I can do nothing but cry. Mom grabs me and pulls me to her in the loving hug that I wanted so many times.
“Is this about Paige leaving?” she asks.
I want to laugh at how low on my list of what’s wrong with me that is, though Paige going back to Hawaii leaves me feeling more empty than before.
“Sort of, but not really,” I manage through sobs. Mom lets go of me and looks me in the eye.
“You girls seem… different like something happened when we were gone. You know you can tell me anything,” Mom says and I want so bad to spill all that we went through, but I’m afraid she will think I’m crazy.
“Mom, I want to tell you everything, but I’m afraid,” I reply.
“What are you afraid of?” she asks.
“I’m afraid you won’t believe me because it’s so ridiculous,” I say.
“What if I promise to believe you?” she asks. I look at her with so much longing.
“I don’t know if you can make that kind of promise,” I reply.
“Olivia, if something happened to you or Paige, you have to tell me. If you need help, you need to tell me,” Mom replies sounding worried.
Her thought process is millions of miles away from the truth, and yet something did happen. It just wasn’t as horrible as she thought, or maybe it was.
“Something so amazing and scary and awful happened that weekend you were gone. We… traveled a little, and I met someone. He was the very definition of a gentleman and so sweet. He was wonderful to Paige and me and he helped us when we very badly needed it. It was him that made me realize how awful Brad is. When I was with him, I finally understood your stupid answer about how you know you’re in love,” I start.
Instead of saying something typically motherly like ’How could you know you loved him after only a weekend?’, Mom nods and waits for me to continue.
“I realized after a short time that he was my soulmate, but I lost him after something really bad and awful happened. Paige and I traveled again and this time Paige met a boy, or man really, that was so nice to her and encouraged her and Paige was so different when she was with him. She came out of her shell and showed someone other than us how amazing she is. Man, that guy loved her too. They spent all this time together, and Paige took chances and learned how to do stuff she never would do in a million years. If only you could have seen her. Everything was fine for a little while, but then something else bad happened and we both lost our soulmates, then we came home,” I finish.
Mom looks at me, and her expression is indecipherable. I don’t think she knows how to answer me.
“It sounds like you two went through a lot,” she finally says.
“So much and now we’re home and it all feels so insignificant. I’m not sure how to go back to my life now. I don’t feel like I’m the same person,” I say, wanting that motherly advice now.
“Well, maybe you’re not the same person anymore. Everything that happens in our lives shapes and molds us. Sometimes an event so big happens, it remolds us into someone we don’t recognize anymore, but that person is still you and it’s not always a bad thing. This new version of you, the one that went through the things you went through, is still you. You just have to figure out how this new you fits into your old life. Maybe you won’t be the student body president or be all that involved anymore, but that’s okay. You will find your place in this life again. Maybe, someday, you’ll make it back to where you want to be and you’ll fall right into that life like you’re the missing piece in a puzzle, but right now you have to try to make yourself fit into the life you have,” Mom replies.
I stare at her with so much confusion. How can she give such perfect advice when she doesn’t even know the whole situation? I start crying and Mom holds me again.
“You’re so amazing, you know that?” I say to her. I can feel her smile against my head.
“I try,” she replies, and it makes me laugh.
“Come on, it’s time to go see your sister graduate. She’ll find her place too, just like you will,” Mom says getting up and pulling me to my feet. She wipes the streaks of makeup off my face.
“I love you,” she says and hugs me.
“I love you too, Mom, and I missed you so much.”
I stand in my place in the graduation line. I’m in the back, given my last name. Olivia comes in and walks towards me. She hugs me tightly and I can tell something happened.
“I’ve been excited for this day,” I mumble. Olivia lifts an eyebrow.
“Really?” she asks skeptically. I smile sheepishly.
“Once I’m off on my own, I won’t have to pretend everything is all right or that I’m okay. Honestly, I’m a little depressed, but I just want to wallow in it for a while without the questions,” I reply.
“Me too. I’m lost and I don’t know how to go back to how life was before, but I just had a wonderful conversation with Mom and I feel better,” Olivia says.
“You don’t have to go back to how life was before. We lived through time travel, a sinking, and a bombing. Those are life-changing events on their own. There’s no way to go back,” I begin. Olivia nods, knowing I’m right.
“This is who we are now. We probably won’t always be so depressed or lost, but we will never be the people we were and life will never be the same,” I finish.
“Mom said something to that effect, too. She said we need to figure out how we fit into this life now.” Olivia hugs me tightly and leaves to go sit with Mom and Dad.
I put on my cap and gown. I’m a high honors student, so I have cords for that and Honor Society along with an extra stole for high honors students. My tassel is hanging off to the right.
I take a deep breath, then exit my place in line. They asked me to play Pomp and Circumstance while the students walk out to take their seats. I go sit off to the side and make sure my cello is tuned. I can see all the students waiting in line.
I play the typical graduation song as I watch kids I’ve gone to school with since we moved here go by. This is not the first time I’ve played since we got home, but right now, I feel almost normal again.
When my fingers lie against the fingerboard and I can feel my muscles working every time I slide the bow across the strings, my body is suspended in ecstasy.
The song ends, and everyone is seated. I get ready for the next song they asked me to play.
“Please stand for the National Anthem,” the lady at the mic says, her voice clear.
Everyone stands, and I play again. The girl sings with me in a clear voice.
The last notes ring out and it’s quiet for a moment before applause starts again. I put my cello back into its case and take my seat with the rest of the graduates.
The principal, Mr. Hall, speaks his usual words of encouragement as we begin our new lives. Blah blah blah. A few others speak, and then our valedictorian takes her place at the mic.
“My fellow graduates, so much has happened over the four years we’ve been together. Some of us have been together a lot longer than that. Most of us have known each other since grade school. We have forged strong friendships with each other and my sincerest hope is that going forward with our lives, we keep these strong friendships. It will be hard to transition from teenagers to adults. While we have been preparing for it for four years with a lot of help from our parents, teachers, and each other, it will still be a difficult thing. We will find ourselves calling our parents, asking them how to do very basic things that we never had to do before. It will be helpful to have friends we have known our whole lives to talk to so we know we aren’t alone. Where ever this life takes you, no matter how far, there will always be fond memories that will unite us together. Don’t hesitate to use bonds and memories to make it through the hard times ahead. I know many of us will go on to great things. Brad Janson is going to UCLA to play football. Tracy Beck is going to medical school. Paige Wells is going to Hawaii to study music. As we can already tell, she is very talented in the cello and I know we will hear her name in the future,” begins Miss Valedictorian.
It’s my sincerest hope you don’t hear my name in the future, I think to myself as I roll my eyes.
“I’d like to take a minute to thank the people who have gotten us this far. Our teachers for putting up with us. I know some of us were not so easy to teach, but you stuck with us, anyway. Our community for giving us all the opportunities we’ve had to give back. Most importantly, I would like to thank our parents. I know I would not have made it without mine. They were there teaching us from the very moment we were born, handing the reins off to the schools and teachers. While the school taught us math, English, and science, our parents taught us more important things. They taught us how to be good people, how to deal with sadness and rejection. They were always there being our personal cheerleaders through every stage of life and this time is no different. They are all here tonight to cheer us on as we pass into adulthood. They will still be there cheering us on as we continue our education, when we get married, and when we have children of our own. So thank you, parents and teachers.
“I would like to leave you with one final thought. Denzel Washington said, ’Nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.’ If you don’t know what you want to do yet, take risks. You might fail sometimes, but eventually, you will find what you were meant for. Congratulations class of 2019!” she finishes to the immense cheering of the graduates and family and friends of the graduates.
Surprisingly, her speech makes me feel a little better. I know I won’t be keeping any of the friendships. Acquaintances is a more accurate description of my high school relationships. I don’t have many friendships, but the ones I have aren’t strong enough to withstand how much I changed.
Our parents have always been our biggest cheerleaders in life. They suffered through the years where I played the same song over and over again and not very good either until I became a decent cellist to listen to.
They always supported Olivia in all her endeavors, too. I know they will support us if our choice is to go back.
Mr. Hall calls out the names of this year’s graduates. One by one, students cross the stage to get their diplomas. The last thing we will do here. It takes a while, but eventually, Mr. Hall gets to me.
“Paige Elise Wells!” My name reverberates through the stadium, and it’s more attention than I care for. I walk up the stage just hoping I won’t trip. I don’t need that to be the last thing everyone saw. They made fun of me enough throughout high school to last a lifetime.
When I get off the stage, I flip my tassel to the other side, marking the end of my high school life. There aren’t many kids after me, and when the last kids take their seats, we stand collectively as a class.
“Congratulations to the graduates of the class of 2019!” Mr. Hall calls out.
There’s an explosion of cheers from my classmates. Everyone throws their caps up into the air. It’s impossible not to get caught up in all the surrounding happiness.
Parents start flooding the field. Before long, my parents and Olivia find me. Dad hugs me tightly and I can tell he’s been crying. My mom comes up next and whispers in my ear.
“I know something terrible and amazing happened to you, and I want you to know you can always talk to me. You’ll find your place again.” I look up at her and smile.
“Your playing was just beautiful,” Grandma Wells gushes.
“Thanks,” I reply before I’m pulled into another hug by someone else.
“Are there any parties you guys are going to tonight?” Mom asks. I was going to say no, but I don’t want to be home tonight.
“Oh yeah, there are a few. Is it all right that we go?” Olivia says. That is not at all out of the ordinary. Liv was always going to parties.
“Sure, sure. You guys have fun tonight,” Dad says.
Mom, Dad, and the rest of the family go home not long after. I go get my cello and we make our way to the car.
“I don’t want to go to any parties tonight,” I say as I put the cello in my trunk. Not that I ever wanted to go to parties before.
“Me neither, but I don’t want to be home. How about we just go somewhere?”
Olivia and I go to a place we frequent when we want to be alone. It’s a hill we have to hike to get to, but it has an amazing view of the strip. It’s pretty to look at when it’s all lit up in the night.
“I want to go back,” I say when we sit down against a tree.
“Me too,” Olivia replies just as quietly.
“I’m going to try to go back. I don’t know how, but I need to try,” I say. I feel like I’m pleading, like I need her approval.
“I’ll try too, but until then, I’m going to take Mom’s advice and try to figure out where I fit now,” she says.
That makes me feel a million times better. I don’t know how long it will take, but we’ll both try. That means it’s time to say goodbye. I don’t know if I’ll see Olivia again before I go.
“I’ll miss you,” Olivia says. I smile, feeling like I’m losing my best friend.
“Maybe by the time you see me again, you’ll be the older sister.” I laugh, but then, in all seriousness, I say,
“You’ll have to wait decades before you see me. I won’t have to wait.” Olivia nods solemnly.
“I know and I will miss you every day, but I’ll be happy to know I will see you again. After 1941 we will be in each other’s lives until we die,” she says.
“Until you die,” I reply quietly, knowing Olivia would likely die decades before me.
“Well, I would have done my time without you so that will be your time without me,” Liv says, trying to stay positive. I hook my arms around her neck and pull her to me.
“I love you,” I tell her. I know I don’t tell her nearly enough. If our relationship wasn’t strong before, the adventure we had gone on forged an unbreakable bond between us.
“I love you too, Paige,” she replies.
Olivia lays her head on my shoulder as we sit here staring at the millions of lights late into the night. It’s our last night before our lives head in different directions.