How To Be Straight

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Breathe, Jamie.

“And now, we will welcome this class’s valedictorian, Miss Jamelle Brookes.”

Stand, Jamie. Walk. Walk over to podium. Take out your speech. Read it out loud. It isn’t that hard.

I did as the little voice in my head told me, standing up and walking to the podium, pulling out the short speech I had written.

Read the speech. Stop worrying, it’s a good speech.

“Hi everyone,” I began softly, as I had practiced. “You all know me, because there’s only like, 100 people in our grade, and after so much time, we all know each other.” Take a breath. You’re doing fine. “And, over the last many years, I have gotten to know many of you, at least on the most basic level. We have all been lab partners. We have been to each other’s birthday parties. We worked together in middle school to tape pennies to doors because we thought it would make it snow. We all laughed and complained about the same teachers, and fell in love with others. We all had squabbles, little wars, lots of picking sides, our own drama, from in elementary school when someone stole someone else’s lunch, to the battle we had this fall. Red versus white. Morals versus morals. That particular battle changed me in countless ways. It made me a better person, and it taught me some important lessons, not the least of which being that if you want something, you have to accomplish it yourself. No one will do something for you.

“I would like to thank my parents, who have always supported and believed in me, and who taught me that people aren’t always who they seem. Almost all of us,” I winked at my mother, “are chameleons around someone, we all blend into the background or become who people want to see. Sometimes it’s not always necessary. I think I learned that too.

“Thank you also to my best friends, who showed me you never have to be an outsider. That anything is possible, and that all you need to change the world is a cause that enough people know to believe in. There is always someone who feels just as lost.

“I would like to thank Izabel and Julia,” I smiled at Gracie’s parents, ignoring my father’s wince, “who have shown me so much of the world I thought was impossible.” Julia put her hand on her heart, smiling all sapily.

Finally, I turned back to the class. “Soon we are all going to go our own ways, and we won’t see each other again. No more labs, no more snow days, instead there will be college and/or jobs. We will exist in a real world, no longer in a sheltered word of safeguarded innocence. We will say goodbye. But we might remember these years, might remember each other. I will remember each of you, or at least try to,” smile sadly, “fondly, regardless of whether we butted heads occasionally. Thank you each for being friends and enemies and peers. Thank you all for being part of my life for so many years of it. Goodbye.”

“We have to all take a photoooo!” Dakota exclaimed. They sounded so excited, it shocked me. But I laughed and agreed, and we all lined up for the photo.

And so Gracie and Dakota and Celcilia and Sofia and Abbey and Shay and Jamie, (me) all stood together for a photo, one long line of black gowns and hats tilted just so.

We mingered, remaining in one group, and suddenly, after chatting with the old health teacher, Dakota started laughing. “What?” We all asked.

“We’re done!” They exclaimed. “We graduated!”

And then we all started laughing too. Because it was over. Because we were done. Because I was still a little shocked at not having to hide anymore. Because of all these things I threw my head back like a little kid. I opened my mouth and laughed, my shoulders shaking as I did. I laughed like they had told the funniest joke I had ever heard. I laughed like my life depended on it. Even though it didn’t. And it never would again.


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