The curvy girl looks perfect standing there, soaking up all the love from her family. Her maroon graduation gown is unzipped, showing her little black dress underneath. I can’t help but let my eyes drop down to her legs, taking in her smooth, creamy skin. It takes all my will to grab my water bottle and head into the auditorium without stopping to greet her.
The lighting in the auditorium nearly blinds me as I search for the seat number on my ticket. R22. I mentally prepare myself for the fact that seat R23, reserved for Eva, will be empty. It doesn’t bother me much anymore. I do worry, however, that Samantha will look out on her big day and see that empty chair, and feel crushed. After all, we did everything we could to inform my ex about Sam’s graduation. We bought the ticket, emailed her, called her, and texted her, all to no avail. A weird instinct tells me to fold the chair and put it away in a janitor closet somewhere out of sight, but I sit down and sip from my water instead.
Eventually the masses file in and the ceremony begins. A young man takes the podium and talks about how their generation has seen it all. The advances of technology, race wars, pandemics, even a car sent into outer space. But above all, what matters most are the connections we make along the way: our family, friends, mentors, and peers. Human connection, not technology or business, is what drives life after all, he says.
I glance over at Samantha, half expecting to see her on her cell phone or chatting with the girl next to her. I am shocked, and quite delighted, to see her listening attentively. Maybe I don’t give my daughter as much credit as she deserves.
The principal begins to call the graduates to the stage one by one. They shake his hand and accept their diploma, promptly descending the stairs on the opposite side and flipping their tassel to the left of their cap as they do. Some do this modestly, while others let out a yip of glee. One young man even takes a leap of faith, jumping over the stairs entirely while enthusiastically thrusting his fist into the air. The faculty seems agitated at this, but I’m sure it happens every year.
Tilly gets called to the stage and stops to smile at her family as she receives her diploma. I’m sitting not too far behind them and so I decide to give her a little wave, figuring she’ll be so wrapped up in the moment that she won’t even notice me back here. To my surprise, her face lights up and she waves back at me. I let out a little laugh. Knowing Tilly as I do, I’m quite sure that this impulsive gesture will make her nervous once she realizes what she’s done, very publicly too. Realistically however, the room is so busy that no one will notice, and they’ll just assume the wave was to her family. Plus, nobody is looking for anything out of the ordinary between us.
They finally call Samantha Nelson to the stage. I stand up and cheer, snapping a few photos on my camera, newly purchased for the occasion. A sweet innocence shines on my daughter’s face as she swings her tassel over, giggling to herself the whole way back to her seat.
In this moment, I can see all the versions of her: the little girl wearing the blue checkered dress chasing bubbles in the back yard; the sassy pre-teen modeling the new boots her mom bought her around the house, stopping at every corner to swiftly turn and flick her hair like the supermodels she watches on the internet; and the newly born woman entering into the world. My heart contracts, and I realize I’ve come to love my daughter for everything that she is.
The ceremony eventually comes to an end and we all stand and clap as the student body gleefully exits the room. The audience begins to file out row by row after them, being herded like cows towards the hallway where, from the sounds of it, the cattle have gone wild.
I exit into the hall in the hopes that I will be able to quickly find Sam. We have dinner reservations downtown that I do not want to miss, and I already know how hard it is going to be to rip her away from her friends. But this thought is side-lined when I catch Tilly out of the corner of my eye again.
Two minutes to say congratulations is fine, right? It’ll probably take me longer than that just to get Sam away from Rob and the rest of her posse. Plus, Tilly will be over the moon at the prospect of sharing a piece of this big day together. Even if it’s only for a minute.