Our caps were black. And our gowns, too. The only color to break up all that dark hung in the threaded teal lines of our tassels. And the chintzy gold ’94 emblems that hung like a proclamation alongside.
It stung like a sham. That wasn’t my year. Those weren’t my people. Not even my school. No matter what their silly diploma said.
My school was across the street–the two connected by thick white lines of a crosswalk, yet still worlds apart. Across the street, I’d been something. Before.
But arguing with those two pink lines only gets you so far.
It had been my choice, to cross that street. To lay down my crimson poms. To leave behind my prospective yearbook superlative. To give up my spot on the senior lawn before I’d even had the chance to stake a claim.
On my last day I carried a pink slip from one class to the next. With one eyebrow raised my teachers signed the dotted line. The shift of my eyes confirmed for them the rumors.
Across the street they filled my arms with books. Atop the stack was a flimsy softcover: Bringing Up Baby 101. Or something like that.
Soon, there came focus where it hadn’t been before. Fewer friends meant more time on my hands. The credits stacked up. And then one week before the deadline I turned in my final five. A crackly voice interrupted overhead with the announcement. Liberty High School is proud to announce its most recent graduate: Darcie Ezell. Congratulations, Darcie.
Under other circumstances it would have meant freedom.
They asked me to deliver a commencement speech. Technically I was valedictorian, though I’m not sure their usage of the term would hold up under scrutiny.
The podium hid the bulge of my belly. What it failed to hide was the broken smile of a girl gone wrong. She stares back at me in pictures from that day but there is too much distance between us; I can only recognize bits of her. The teensiest pieces.
If I could, I’d leave a single pink rose on the seat of her car that morning. Pink for her baby girl. I’d leave a note, too: you’re stronger than you know. Trust me.
Something tells me she would.