They Met at Graduation

They met 45 minutes before the graduation ceremony. Donned in suit and tie, dress and heels. Hair gelled in place, skin glowing, eyes the color of the sun.

She stood in line and waited behind hundreds of her fellow post-grad to be’s. She sipped her tea while she waited and watched guests pass her by as they ambled down the hill towards the auditorium. Only forty five minutes left, she thought.

He was standing in front of her in line. He happened to turn around and when he did, he saw her – he noticed her eyes first, then the plastic cup pressed against her lips. “Is that tea?” he asked. She looked up, said “yep.”

“Smart,” he said. He smiled.

She thought he had a nice smile – nice eyes too. She moved a strand of hair behind her ear.

They talked about graduation first – how long they’d been waiting for this day, how excited, how relieved they were to have gotten through it all. Then they talked about their families, then their goals for the future.

He was thinking about law school, public policy. She wanted to be a writer.

The line started moving and they went forward together. They received name cards from a man in a blue suit at the entrance. They wrote down their names on the cards with careful, deliberate strokes. And then they made their way through the auditorium alongside their peers, eyes gleaming, name cards pressed against their chests.

She sat beside him during the ceremony. He asked her about what super power she would want and she answered, “I would want to control time, because then I could go back.”

They were sitting at the end of the second row from the front. When it was their row’s turn to stand, he turned around to say to her: “Ready?”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready,” she said.

She walked a step behind him, in line, then onto the stage. She watched him accept his makeshift diploma, shake hands with the commencement speaker, smile for the camera.

And then it was her turn – her turn to hold the paper in her hands, shake hands, grin and wave up at her family in the stands. Her mom’s camera was raised, pointed at her.

He watched her amble down the steps, down the carpeted aisle, and return to her seat beside him.

The remains of a smile still at the edge of her lips, she held the diploma in her lap – she ran her thumb over her name in print.

The chorus of applauses, one after another, echoed through the auditorium.

I’ve made it, they thought. We’ve finally made it.

 

 

Excerpts of a Conversation I Eavesdropped On

“I just have fond memories of New Jersey. I think I like change. Because I moved around so much. So being around the sun kind of bugs me sometimes, in a weird way.”

“Yeah because you don’t have a feel for the seasons.”

“Now that I’m older it’s probably changed. See, when I was younger I didn’t have to work in the snow.”

“I’ll be right back.”

“Sure.”

“Yeah, I’m going to church tonight because I’m going to play golf tomorrow.”

“Oh, I’ve actually never been golfing before.”

“Have you been to a driving range or anything?”

“Been mini-golfing.”

“Does your dad golf?”

“No.”

“Interesting.”

 

To Julia, 2007

A letter to my 11-year-old-self. 

Dear Julia,

Congratulations on winning the poetry contest! I’d forgotten about the contest, but Mama found a printed copy in her bottom desk drawer last week and she sent it to me. I enjoyed rereading it! I also read the note that Mrs. Kennedy left for you too – did you read it? In the note, Mrs. Kennedy told you to consider becoming a poet someday. You didn’t take that to heart though, huh? Because you thought poetry could only ever be a hobby. There’s no such thing as a professional poet, you thought.

Poets don’t make money, you thought. They can’t support themselves. So you decided to keep poetry as a hobby so you could focus on your academics instead.

You’re going to do really well in school, you know – you’ll get good grades all through middle school and then high school and then you’ll get accepted into a prestigious university. (No, I’m not going to tell you where! That would spoil the surprise. It’s a nice one though, trust me.)

But when you enter college, you’ll realize that you have no idea what you want to do with you life. You’ve spent the last few years devoting your time to things that SCHOOL wanted you to study, not what YOU wanted. You never gave yourself the opportunity to figure out what you really care about, so once you had the chance to choose – you got lost. You didn’t know which direction to take because you had no idea what you really wanted.

So you asked Dada, what should I do? And he told you to become a lawyer because lawyers love reading and writing and you’ve always loved to read and write. So that’s what you did – you chose to major in Political Science and focused on doing well academically again, since law school expects applicants to have perfect grades.

But that won’t make you happy. In fact, it’ll even make you sad, frustrated, and hopeless.

Now, I know that this definitely does not sound like very good news, but don’t worry, you won’t be sad forever. Because at the end of your 2nd year in college, you’re going to make a life-changing decision – you’re going to take a creative writing class! This class will give you the chance to write again. But not academic writing – CREATIVE writing. You’ll get to write a poem, a short story, and a creative non-fiction piece. You’ll write a poem and your professor will compliment it in front of everyone. You’ll thrive in that class. Your passion for creative writing will be rekindled. And then you’ll realize that writing is the only thing that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Not law. You want to be a writer, Julia, not a lawyer. I need you to understand that now, while you’re still 11 years old. Imagine how much you – we! – can write in ten years. A lot!

So even if you don’t like the stuff that you write, write anyway. Even if you don’t think that you can support yourself as a writer, write anyway! Because you are born to be writer and you will want to be a writer for the rest of your life. Trust me on this.

Because now that I’ve finally decided to devote my life to writing, I’ve never been happier. And I want you to be happy, Julia. I want us to be happy.

From,

Julia

Butterflies, Forest Sprites

I believe that the greatest pleasure in life is a good nap. That, and sunsets. Oh, and blackberries too. I’d eat blackberries for breakfast and lunch and dinner if I could, but they’re so hard to find these days… The other sprites in the forest love blackberries almost as much as I do, so the blackberry bushes are always bare – if a sprite finds a blackberry, he takes it. A sprite will never share his blackberries, ever. Which is annoying. I don’t share my blackberries either though. Why would I?

But see, that’s why naps are so nice! Naps aren’t like blackberries. Not a bit. I can take a nap whenever I want. And I can take as many as I want! I took eight naps in a day once. I promise I did, I’m not making it up. Ah, I remember it was a lovely day, that day I took eight naps. I remember it being warm. Really warm. Maybe that’s why I slept so much.

Oregon doesn’t usually get that warm. Oregon is chilly for the most part, even during the summer sometimes. A few winters ago, I got so fed up with the wind and the sleet that I thought about moving. I considered California – I have a friend who lives in the Sequoias that I could stay with. He always talks about how nice the weather is. I admit, I would enjoy nice weather for a change.

But I’ve decided that I don’t want to move. For one, I’m lazy. And, two, if I moved I’d have to leave my friends – and we’ve been together for hundreds and hundreds of years. There’s no way I could leave them. So that’s why I decided not to move in the end. I guess I can tolerate the cold – it’s much less painful than leaving.

And there’s another very important perk about living deep in the forest – no humans anywhere! None at all! It’s just us Sprites here in the forest. (Well, and the birds and the butterflies, and the pinworms.) I haven’t seen a human being in several decades! I’m so glad. Human beings are awful things. Awful is a good word for them. And smelly. They smell absolutely terrible. And they make such a mess of things. Oh, and they complain a lot too – and about such useless stuff.

One time a tiny human sprung up on me and tried to put me in a jar! I still have nightmares about it actually… I was playing with a pinworm when the ground suddenly became very dark. A shadow! I expected to see a large boar or some other fat animal, but when I turned, I was face to face with a tiny human. When the tiny human saw me, it grinned a malicious grin. I remember being frozen in terror, I couldn’t move. And then the tiny human bent down and I noticed that it held a small glass jar in its hand. Luckily, Francis – one of the other Sprites – came to my rescue. Francis threw an acorn at the tiny human’s head. The tiny human blinked a few times in shock and then began to cry. Humans make such ugly sounds when they cry. And they’re so dumb too! It just sat there and cried and cried and Frances and I threw some more acorns at its head and then we left it there.

I’ve seen a few humans pass by since then, but only a few. Maybe one every 15 years or so. Imagine living in the Sequoias… Apparently humans love the Sequoias because the Sequoias are so tall and humans are fascinated by things that are taller than them. I don’t think I could bear having to tolerate the human smell everyday. And if I had to listen to them jabber on about nonsensical things all day long I’d go insane, I really would. Just imagining it makes me cringe!

Wait… You’re not a human, are you?

 

Lavazza Beans

His jacket always smells of ash. I don’t mind; I find it comforting. It reminds me of a fireplace, or a bonfire pit. Today he’s smoking American Spirits. When he smokes an American Spirit, he only smokes half. He says they’re so harsh, half is enough. He says they taste minty.

Sometimes, he talks about quitting. He’s been saying he’ll quit since last August. He says he needs to quit, he wants to quit. Once a month he says that this time he’s really going to quit, for real. Once, we made a bet – I said to him, if you don’t smoke a cigarette in three weeks, I’ll buy you a bag of espresso beans. And not just any kind of espresso beans – the organic, fair-trade, local kind; the kind you get at those independent coffee shops with cherry oak tables and hand drip coffee.

For the next three weeks I thought about what type of beans to buy – they needed to be good, smooth, strong, so that every time he took a sip of coffee in the morning, he would remember that he does not need to smoke to survive because once he went three weeks without a cigarette and he survived.

I chose Lavazza because a bag is 80% sweet arabicas and 20% robustas, which I guess are the two best kinds, but I didn’t buy it in the end because he smoked a Newport a week after we made the bet.

 

McConnell’s

I’m six years old and I want to go to McConnell’s.

My dad decides to make it a family outing, so we all go – dad, mom, Nathan, and me. I climb into the Barbie car and back it out of the garage. I push the lever to reverse, press onto the pedal and look behind me as the Barbie car inches backward. I shift to D and then I drive forward.

I’m driving down the street at five miles per hour, but it feels like fifty, at least. My brother sits in the passenger seat and my parents walk beside us, hand in hand. It’s a short walk to downtown – seven minutes at most. I know the route by heart. I can follow it with my eyes closed.

I drive through the neighborhood, onto the sidewalk and past the Edwards Cinema. I park outside McConnell’s and the four of us funnel into the ice cream shop. I order vanilla ice cream with marshmallows mixed in. I don’t really like vanilla or marshmallows because the marshmallows freeze up too fast from the cold, but I’ve never ordered anything else before. I feel sick after I finish, but a good kind of sick.

Reno, 2009

It’s September in Nevada – the air is sticky with heat. The sun is brighter in Nevada – and hotter. My cousin Megan and I sit inside the hangar to avoid the sun for a while. We try to talk over the roar of engines echoing against the metal walls. When we get bored we step outside and look up at the airplanes zipping above our heads with a zzz, about to complete another lap. They have many more to go. I think about my dad and my stomach knots – it’s his race next and I’m a little worried. He’s a good pilot though, I tell myself, he’ll be safe.

My mom and Nathan and Kalli and I don’t usually go to watch my Dad, Uncle Bill, and Grandpa fly at the Reno Air Races, but this year we do. I don’t know why – maybe because I’m thirteen now and Nathan’s ten so we’re old enough to watch over ourselves. My mom and Aunt Dawn and Grandma Marilyn are playing cards in the shade behind the table with the t-shirts on display. I wonder why anyone would want to buy a t-shirt with an airplane on the front.

I ask Megan if she wants to ride our Razor scooters and she says yes, so we pick them up (hers has a pink bow, mine’s gold), carry them past the airplanes on display, and through the throngs of spectators. There are lots of middle-aged men with red baseball caps and khaki shorts, their cheeks the shade of their hats. Megan and I ride down the runway, side by side. The runway is long and straight and the asphalt is smooth – the wheels glide over the surface like bread on butter. And I push faster, faster, until I feel like I’m floating. I’m moving at the speed of the airplanes above my head. “It’s the Eberhardt girls!” I hear someone say as I sail past. My cheeks flush with pride, proud to be an Eberhardt. I reach the caution tape and then turn back. I want to wish my dad good luck before his race starts.