Monday, January 15, 2018

High School Graduation: Times Past--Uprooted

This post is in response to Irene Waters’ blog post, High School Graduation: Times Past. And at Charli Mills' Carrot Ranch, here. I was part of what the MTV, or Boomerang Generation. Makes sense...

Here's mine: 

My senior year in high school was lost in a cross-country move. Friends, classes, proms, senior plans, ceremonies, and thankfully, senior pictures. All of it was lost back in 1992. 

It began that summer when my dad took a job in Texas. Ii may as well have been Mars. Give it a chance, was the mantra that summer. My dad kept saying it as we loaded up and began the 1,400-mile journey. It was just the two of us in that rig of a moving truck--packed to the gills with our every rattling possession. My stepmom and little sister followed behind with the pets.

Against it all, I arrived at New Braunfels High School on a blazing hot Texas day. It was August for crying out loud, and I was, feeling like a lousy freshman, a new face in the halls as all the other seniors were cruising through classes with easy smiles and big plans. Socially awkward and shy, still sixteen and about as mature as a fetus, I didn’t make it long. I asked to go back. I begged to go back. And by Thanksgiving, my father caved. I could go live with my mother in Virginia. 

A bittersweet moment, I’ll never forget that predawn trip to a San Antonio Greyhound station. The vast, black silence that sat like a passenger between us as we parked. I knew how much it hurt him, for years we'd been inseparable. Now it was coming to an end as the morning sun stretched over the Texas landscape. I think we both knew that bus would put more than miles between us.

My head against the window, a dull brown autumn landscape scraping past. Through chimney smoke and Appalachian fog, the bus wound its way to Virginia. Change came over me, and as hard as it had been to leave my dad behind, it was a buzzing anticipation that kept me wide awake for the entire thirty-hour ride.

Now her age, I can only imagine that collision of a lifestyle change for my mom when I moved in. A single mother to my eight-year old half brother, she worked nights and swing shifts as an emergency room nurse. She didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to deal with my comeback tour. I was free to run amok.

Amok I ran. I caught up with all the friends I’d left behind. I partied. I got in trouble. I reveled in good old, grunge-fashioned, Pearl Jam angst. And returning home in the middle of the school year, it was easy to get lost the shuffle. There was no cap and gown. Only bad decisions. Only suspensions.

Math was forgotten. Spanish was dropped as the curriculum was resettled. I took gym class, again. With such a light load it was easy to keep my grades intact. I drifted, right up until late in the second semester, when a fatigued assistant principal--a man to whom I own my sincerest apologies--noticed that my grades were just fine and you know, it might benefit us all if I simply stayed gone until exams. Just go.

To be honest, anything I learned that year came from those long days with my feet up on the couch, lost in the turn of the page, the house completely still as I discovered that suspension time was great for plowing through required reading. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Tortilla Flat. Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Native Son.

When I returned for exams, my American Lit teacher pulled me aside and tried to get through to me. Small college was an option. Community college. I had potential, she said, pointing out that Native Son and Brave New World weren't required reading. I shrugged it off, pouting, looking to the floor, the cinder-block walls, anywhere but to those code-cracking eyes of hers. She was trying, but I was too far gone. I wasn’t college material. I was sharing a bunk bed with an eight-year-old.

Graduation came and went. On the following Monday, I pulled into the school parking lot, left the car running and bounded the steps with youthful invincibility. I strolled into the lobby, soles slapping as I passed empty classrooms, a few teachers here and there, whistling show tunes as they boxed up their things. 

At the admin office, I stated my name and, duh, why I was there. After some searching, the receptionist returned with a leatherette folder. I checked the name, that the card stock paper indeed stated that I’d successfully completed the required courses for graduation. Then I slapped it shut, spun off, and walked to my car where I promptly pitched it to the backseat.  

Another sentiment lost on me. 


  1. Pete that was fantastic. I hope you are writing your memoirs. You've left me with where did you go from here.
    You've made me think of choices we've made in our lives and how when we are young we can make choices that are perhaps not the best choices but they mould us. I guess being a Dad yourself you have even a greater understanding of how your Dad felt when you went back to your mothers. Thank you for joining in. I really enjoyed your memories.

  2. That passage describing the moment between you and your Dad is powerful. I also felt the empathy you developed for your Mom upon reaching her age and realizing what a difficult transition that must have been for you all. You write so well!

  3. Thanks guys, I had a lot of fun sifting through those long lost memories. And you guys are right, the world is so much different once you become a parent!

    1. It's like we get a brain reset when we get a child!