Does the Cap and Gown Make Me Grown?

Submitted into Contest #137 in response to: Write a story about someone forced out of their home.... view prompt


Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction Teens & Young Adult

She stood there, a can of soda clutched in her hand. The bathroom was the only place in the house where she could be alone. The condensation from the drink was cold, making her hands freeze. It was a good feeling. The cold kept her from getting stuck in her own head. She leaned over the sink, taking a tentative sip in the hopes it would keep herself from getting sick. It didn’t work.

           The noise from the party bled through the doors. Her party. Her graduation party. Amy sat the drink down, grabbing a rag from the sink and running it under some water from the spigot. She wiped her face, erasing the makeup she had put on only that morning.

           She had been fine up until she had walked out the doors, her classmates throwing up their caps into the air in celebration. Amy had been holding onto her diploma, chatting with her friends. She had actually been excited to take final pictures with everyone or to sign any yearbooks people had brought at the last moment. All the panic hit her when an older gentleman she didn’t even know came up to her.

           “So, what will you be doing now? Got any big plans for the future?”

           Amy finished wiping the makeup off her face, trying to do the breathing exercises she had found online. If she stayed in the bathroom much longer, people would start to get suspicious. She begrudgingly thought she wouldn’t even be in this situation if her parents had just listened to her request of not doing anything after graduation. She would have been content to just sit in her room, her precious items already packed away in boxes. Amy would have at the very least liked to say goodbye to her safe space before being banished for the foreseeable future.

           A knock on the door startled Amy, making her drop the wet rag into the sink.

           “You doing all right in there?” came the voice of her mother, a skinny lady that looked as if she would blow over at a strong breeze. “The Miller’s came to say congratulations, you know.”

           “Just give me a few minutes,” Amy replied, pouring the rest of the drink down the sink. If she put anything else in her body, she might just throw up. Perhaps that would be her backup plan to end the party early if things got worse. Amy flushed the toilet even though the bowl was clean, ‘washed’ her hands, and exited. Her mother was standing there, looking down at her with concern. She must have noticed her daughter's discomfort, but bless her, she didn’t mention it. Instead, she fixed a piece of Amy’s hair behind the girl’s ear.

           “Everyone thought your speech was very nice,” she said, leading Amy back to the sparse crowd. The party was made up of only five or six people, but seeing them just reminded Amy that she was leaving her hometown. She faked a smile, waved, but didn’t stop to speak. Amy’s mother continued: “I wonder which lines the journalist will put in the local paper. Your grandmother will want a clipping of it, you know.”

           Amy nodded, grabbing another drink and popping it open just to give her hands something to do. Her mother motioned to a small gift table. There were bags, cards, and oddly enough, a weird stone with her name on it.

           “Look what the Miller’s made for you! It’s just like the stone your sister got when she graduated. Isn’t that sweet of them?”

            It looks like a tiny gravestone, Amy thought. She tried lifting the thing off the table to put it on the ground, but it was too heavy. She gave up, wiping her hands on her jeans. “Yeah,” she said after a moment’s hesitation. “I’ll have to thank them.”

           Amy and her mother stood there, looking at the tiny horde of presents, in total silence. Amy’s uncle was grilling more burgers while her friend’s explored her mother’s garden. Amy had planted some of those flowers just this spring. Would her mother take good enough care of them while she was gone?

           “Amy, are you feeling all right?” Her mother pulled her into a side hug, rubbing her back with a strained grin. Strained, because she was embarrassed by Amy’s antisocial behavior? Or because another of her children were going off to college and probably wouldn’t return? “You haven’t really spoken to anyone much.”

           “I’m fine.” It was a conditioned response. Just as conditioned as her speech on stage, and the one she told to people when they asked her what her plans were. She was salutatorian, so she must be doing something grand, people probably thought. Best to tell them she wanted to be a doctor, so they wouldn’t ask questions. No one needed to know that she would rather become a writer, because that job would never make her any money, and the last thing she needed was anyone’s judgment.

           It wasn’t as if she could tell anyone she didn’t think she was cut out for life outside her own home. It wasn’t as if she could tell anyone that she wasn’t sure she would make it for more than a month.

           “Are you sure?” her mother asked once more. Amy nodded, putting on a smile that she hoped was believable.

           “Of course. I’m just tired. I think I’ll go have a burger, maybe. Is that okay?”

           “Well, go on and eat.” Amy had never been good at reading other people’s emotions, so she couldn’t tell what her mother was thinking. Her mother left to go talk to one of the other women, leaving Amy to stand by herself in the middle of their yard. Amy took another calming breath, then a sip of soda. She could do this. She was second in her class. She’d go to college and graduate and become an amazing doctor who would make enough money to look after her mother and father and sister and she’d never have to worry about anything as long as she had a plan plan plan plan plan—

            Got any big plans?

           Breathe. One step at a time, Amy. One step at a time.

March 18, 2022 18:56

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Deidra Lovegren
19:04 Mar 18, 2022

You have a wonderful way with authentic dialogue. I teach high school seniors and this is spot on. The pandemic has affected us all in lots of ways. I'm sure a lot of graduates are thinking this, too: "It wasn’t as if she could tell anyone that she wasn’t sure she would make it for more than a month." This is an important short story. Well done.


Sue Hunter
19:06 Mar 18, 2022

Thank you! I am thankful that many people seem to understand how difficult this transition--especially during the pandemic--is for seniors and college freshmen. I appreciate the feedback :)


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