Graduation Day Blues
A Coming of Age Nightmare
I remember standing in a stuffy little textile shop, thinking angrily to myself, I hate this ugly fabric. It does nothing at all for me.
It was more than just the fabric I hated in that moment, if I'm honest. It was everything.
The whole ordeal I was going through was embarrassing and stressful, and it reminded me of just how different I was from everyone else. I was graduating from eighth grade and making that uncertain transition from middle school to high school, you see. And my mother and I were marking the occasion by shopping for my graduation dress.
What a milestone it felt like then! There was something bitter-sweet about the time. The ending of the school year was always such; we’d part ways with our friends (and enemies), reminding each other we’d meet again in the fall. September was so far away it was almost unreal. But even so there was an unspoken truth that September was not always guaranteed. Your parents could make you move away at the drop of a hat, or maybe you might be in a different class next year. Then the dynamic might change…friendships might change…we’d all seen it happen a million times before.
That year the summer brought apprehension with it. Because middle school was over, and we were not only parting ways with each other. We were saying goodbye to our childhoods. High school was only a few golden months away.
When we walked across the auditorium stage on Graduation Day we would be one step closer to adulthood. I was looking forward to that ceremony. I wanted middle school to be over. It had not been a pleasant ride for me.
I was that girl you see. Overweight. Early acne breakouts. Frizzy, uncontrollable hair with Coke bottle glasses. I had no fashion sense to speak of; and my parents, my dear sweet South Asian parents, were big believers in what was then referred to as “Unisex” clothing.
I was awkward with the other kids and felt very much a pariah even at the best of times. I was at the top of the class in terms of grades and at the very bottom in terms of social graces.
I was a '90's movie trope.
And I wanted desperately to use those precious summer months between eighth and ninth grade to reinvent myself.
Truth be told, my Great Plan was pretty much just a makeover. I would demand a visit to the salon and get highlights and layers in my hair. I would ask for contact lenses and start choosing my own wardrobe. I had three whole months of glorious summer to exercise and get in shape. And then when my first high school year started I would be a Brand New Me! And that Brand New Me might actually be…dare I say it? Just a little bit popular!
So that graduation meant a lot to me. I wanted to start stretching a little; exercise some autonomy.
“Ammi” I said.
“Yes, beta?” my mother replied, sipping a cup of tea while flipping channels. “For my graduation dress I want one that’s black silk or satin. The kind that goes almost straight down. Mermaid Style, I think they call it. They sell the kind I want at the mall. Can we go on Saturday and buy it?”
“No, beta. I told your Mona Auntie she could sew your dress for you. “
I was stunned. “But why?!”
“Well, she sewed your sister’s too. It’s like a family tradition now! And why don’t you want a custom made dress instead of a store bought one? It’s special. All the other girls will be wearing “off the rack” and only you will have a Designer Original! Think of it like that!”
I sighed. “Mother Dearest, can you “un-tell” Mona Auntie? I kind of want to do what all my friends are doing. Please?”
“I cannot just “un-tell” her. She is looking forward to doing this for you because she loves you. Her feelings will be hurt. And I did not raise you to jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it, did I?”
I had lost. It was over. It was set in my mother, my Ammi’s, eyes. I could keep complaining and risk her ire or I could move it right along.
And that was how I found myself, on Graduation Day, in a handmade three-piece silver-satin-ballgown. With full-length Taffeta Sleeves. If the Tin Man ever took a wife, that wife would have been me.
Was I embarrassed? Of course I was. All the other girls looked so elegant, and then there was me. I could read the looks of pity on the faces of my friends. I could taste the derision of my enemies.
I wish I could say that the story ended there. That awful dress should have been humiliation enough. But the pain was only just beginning. I wish I could forget what happened that day. It’s been years and I still remember every little detail.
The parents filtered into the auditorium. The National Anthem played. We paraded our way down the isles to our seats like show ponies, trying to search out familiar faces in the crowd. The salutations began. And then it was on to the final chapter: walking across that brightly lit stage in front of our loved ones and collecting our well-earned diplomas.
“…Norm Jamison…Tasha Johannsson…Miriam Khan…” I was nervous. I’d never had that many eyes on me before. I scanned the crowd and finally saw her, my Ammi, waving madly and grinning like a fool. She was so, so proud. The lights in the auditorium were dim. I climbed the stairs carefully; afraid I would trip in my unfamiliar high heels. I had an uncomfortable smile plastered to my face.
It was a walk to the gallows, only I didn't know it yet.
I kept my eyes on the principal, standing in a beam of spotlight straight ahead. I marched out into view.
A murmur started brewing by the front of the stage. A few people pointed. A few giggled.
I was beginning to get confused. I picked up the pace a little. The principal was only five steps away. “HA HA!” One of the fathers yelled, as he stood in the isle with a camcorder pointed, not at his kid but at me. That set it off in earnest. I found myself in a large, echo-y room full of nearly every human being I knew, and they were all laughing at me.
I felt my face go red as I fought back tears. I all but snatched that diploma out of the principal’s hand and bolted back to the shadows of the eaves. I was so confused. My stomach hurt.
Had been hurting for days really.
“-hold my purse behind you. ‘til we get you to a washroom. Why, oh why beta, did you choose now to become a woman?”
The red stain had been literally the size of a baseball. I wish I was kidding.
I am not.
And it would have been fine if I had got the black dress I’d wanted. Instead I was wearing silver. Bright, shiny silver. A veritable canvas to accentuate every inch of dark smeared fluid for the benefit of the viewing public.
I wanted to die.
We left in a taxi as all the other families had refreshments in the gymnasium. I stood dejectedly by the doorway trying to keep my mother’s shoulder bag positioned over my satin covered ass. Before we left Gina Atwater who hated me said, “Sorry you got your period. I’m sure everyone will stop laughing at you by next year. See you then!” She was smiling very hard.
“Isn’t she a lovely girl, beta?” Ammi said, clueless to the very end.
“Yes, Ammi.” I said, wanting to be alone before I let myself breakdown and cry.
In late August I enrolled at my local high school. I was twenty-one pounds lighter. I had layers in my hair if not highlights. I had a new outfit, a girl’s outfit, whatever that meant back then. I felt good. I was beginning again. I might join clubs this year...maybe even student council or band. Things would be diff–
“Hey Khan! Hope you learned what tampons are this summer! Let’s not have a repeat of last year!” A girl's voice giggled as I stepped over the threshold.
Some moments are cringe-worthy in the now. You might flinch a little, thinking back to that awkward interaction between you and the other poor Samaritan fate chose to punish a little that day. Thank God when the temporary shame passes, unobserved by all but a few.
Those are the memories you're able to forget.
About the Creator
"A human person from Toronto. Figuring it out. Hoping one day there's less to figure out. Find me at your local book store in the self-help section, in the fetal position. Offer me a hug, then walk away. It's probably for the best."
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