Bryan couldn’t believe his mother was still trying to baby him. Today was his high school graduation and she will still fussing over him. He was 18 for goodness sake, he just wished she would stop fawning over him. In a second hand suit with a polyester tie with cap and gown in hand, in just over an hour he would be crossing the stage to receive his diploma. Finally, he was out of school, not that it hadn’t been fun, because it hadn’t. Bryan was a square peg, not for round holes, but there were no holes that fit him where he had grown up and went to school. At last he was going to be released from the confines of the cliques, the entrenched ideas and the frustrations that come with being an awkward teenager. Bryan was not unique in this, yet he felt like he was meant for better things, like he was meant to be somewhere else. His younger sister was the exact opposite of him. Anna, was 2 years his junior and never seemed to miss a step. People seemed to naturally be drawn to her. She was like a blossoming flower and he saw himself as Poison Ivy. Yet, in a few moments, that would no longer be the case. He would be set free and allowed to spread his wings like he had been planning for a year.
The graduation was pretty much uneventful. The school had been toilet papered during the night, but the custodial staff had it cleaned up before the ceremony started in the gymnasium. Out of 150 people his class ranking was 50. He wasn’t at the top of the pile academically, but he wasn’t at the bottom either. He walked nervously across stage and got his diploma, then exited the stage. It was all pretty anticlimactic, after the speeches were made, the graduates were released. Bryan was met by friends and family outside the gym. Several photos were taken , his mother was teary eyed and doting over him. He really wished she wouldn’t hover so much, it drove him nuts. That being said, he was looking forward to the graduation gifts waiting back home for him. The well wishing broke up at the school and his family and friends retired to his home. A party ensued and he received more congratulations and presents. Then by 6 pm it was over, he was free. His mom and dad had cleaned up and put things away. His sister was staying over at a friends house for the weekend. Bryan’s parents were going to see a movie. They told him to leave a note if he was going to be out late. It didn’t resonate in his mind at first, but that struck a cord when his mom and dad left and there he stood alone at home. No one looking over his shoulder, free to do what he liked. In a kind of simmering frustration Bryan plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. What now he asked himself, what do I do? That was sort of a loaded question given decisions he had made over the past year. He knew that he had to put the past behind him and move forward. Some of his decisions excited him and others terrified him, all he knew was that he was going forward and there was no turning back now.
Bryan decided not to take advantage of his new found freedom yet. He ordered a pizza and stayed in watching lame science fiction movies. That was one of the things Bryan enjoyed doing, that playing video games, swimming and riding his bicycle. Despite the fact he had a car, Bryan loved his ten speed. He felt kind of free when he was riding it. It let him feel like he was moving forward. You could feel the wind blowing through your hair and would occasionally get a bug in stuck in your teeth. That being said, he was going to miss it. He only had a few weeks left before he started on what he hoped would be an epic journey, a journey that would define who he would become and what path his life would take.
Bryan went to bed and woke up not knowing when his mom and dad got in. He slept until 9 am then had to get up because he still had choirs to perform around the house. He didn’t have a job anymore because he put his notice in a week before graduation. While he loved working at food world, he didn’t see his future on the produce aisle. Early in the school year, Bryan had a conversation with his parents. His mom and dad asked him to start planning what he was going to do in just 7 short months. The conversation was actually a mute point, Bryan had been thinking about tomorrow since he was in middle school. In the 7th grade he had taken a field trip to the space and aeronautical museum. That day he was overwhelmed with the technology and all of the wonderful things and people that were there. Since then he had been planning, he had been thinking about nothing but the day he could graduate and become a part of that world. That is why the decisions he had made, earlier were now going to lay the foundation for his future. That is what both terrified and excited him.
At the beginning of his senior year, Bryan looked back at what he had done in high school. He saw his accomplishments and disappointments. He saw where he had excelled and where he had not done so well. He was a pretty good student, but not outstanding. He knew that this would be the last year he had to make his mark. He worked hard on his science project and even made it to the state finals, but only came in 3rd. To him that didn’t seem all that good, but there were people watching who knew potential when they saw it. As he was packing up his demonstration on how to convert waste gas into useable fuel as a renewable energy source, a man in a shiny white uniform approached him. He had been startled at first, but calmed down when the man held out his hand and introduced himself. He was a lieutenant commander in the United States Navy. Bryan was a little cautious at first, but as the man began to compliment him on his project, he relaxed. The commander asked Bryan a battery of questions about his project. He answered each one quickly and with completeness that was indicative of his detail oriented nature. The commander just listened and when he had finished asking his questions, Bryan looked at him and asked why he was so interested in his project? The commander told Bryan that he was a recruiter for the military and was always on the look out for bright young minds with great potential. He gave Bryan his card and told him that if he was interested he could stop by and talk. That began Bryan’s journey towards a decision that would shape everything to come in his life.
Two weeks passed quickly for Bryan, him mom and dad were quiet around the house, his sister still took jabs at him, but she was really trying to hide her sadness. One day she came into her big brothers room and they sat down and talked for like two people for the first time in a long time. She asked him why he had to do this, he simply said that he wanted to go somewhere other than here. She tried to understand, but was having trouble comprehending why her brother wanted to be an officer in the Navy? When they finished talking, Bryan gave her a hug and she left. He then sat back and began to think back to the meeting in the commanders office, the photos he had showed him. The visit to the air base and the conversations with the pilots. The people he talked with seemed like rock stars to Bryan! Flying fighter jets, getting an education in science, how cool was that he thought. Two of the pilots were also candidates for NASA’s astronaut training program. Bryan had asked 20 questions about that part of the tour. The man and woman aviator who were selected told him that only the best and brightest could get there. Getting into the naval officers corps was only a stepping stone. Long hours of study, hard work and dedication went into becoming an astronaut. It didn’t matter about that, Bryan knew from that point on what he wanted to do. He knew the future he wanted for himself. After the tour, he spoke to the commander and he told him that if he was truly serious about joining the Navy as an aviator, then his journey would begin immediately. Bryan started looking for colleges with Navy ROTC programs as well as preparing his package for the Naval Academy. He didn’t make it into the naval academy, but he was accepted to two good schools with engineering and science programs that both had Naval ROTC programs. He took his acceptance letters to his parents and told them what he had planned, his mother was as she always was, a bundle of tears, but his father seemed to show a sense of pride to Bryan, something he rarely saw in his dad. Once they told him it was his decision, he took the two letters to the commander at the recruiting station and the process began. Then on his 18 birthday, Bryan went to get his final physical and take his oath. He signed the papers and now he was on his way. When the time came, he asked his dad to drive him to the bus station, his mother and sister decided not to come. As Bryan got out of the car to board the bus for basic indoctrination for the ROTC program, his dad broke down and said that he was proud of him. Bryan couldn’t help but get emotional as well, but this is what he wanted to do. This is who he wanted to be. Never looking back, he boarded the bus, looking to his future and what he could possibly become.