Thirty minutes earlier…
I rush down the stairs at full speed, grab my keys off the table by the door, and yell to my mother as I fling open the front door.
“Delia, wait.” My mother says from the kitchen.
“Mom, I can’t wait. I’m late.” Time management has never been one of my strengths. It’s something I’ve tried to work on my entire life. No matter how many times I tell myself, “Delia, no one will take you seriously if you’re never on time.” I just can’t seem to pull my shit together. I don’t really do it on purpose per se: I guess what it comes down to is I’m a lollygagger. Oh yes, I said it. I’m a full-on lollygagger. In school, I was terrible about waiting until the last minute to get things done. Somehow, someway, I always got straight A’s—but pretty much by the skin of my teeth. I think I liked the thrill. You know, that feeling of adrenaline in a highly charged situation? Me all the way. I live for it, which is pretty much why I still always run late.
“Delia,” My mother says, coming into the hallway, covered in flour. She’s been baking all morning for the annual homecoming bake sale held. Why she still bothers when I’m five years past high school is beyond me. Whatever. She enjoys it, so I shrug it off. That’s the thing about my mother: she doesn’t care about those kinds of things. She adores our small community and even after everything I’ve put her through, she still loves me.
My mother stands five feet two inches (same as me). Her dark brown hair is kept long, although she pulls it back in clips and barrettes. She’s a typical suburban housewife. She doesn’t smoke or drink, and I’ve never heard her use a cuss word. Me, on the other hand, I’m not so reserved. A guy I know used to call me rambunctious. I have long dark brown hair, like Mom, as well as her bright blue eyes. The only feature really different is our lips. Hers are thin and dainty; mine are full and pouty. I think maybe I got them from my father’s side, but no one, in any of the pictures I found, resembled me. Once, when I was thirteen, I asked Mom if Dad was really my father, because we looked nothing alike.
Where my dad and I are similar, however, is our personality. He is one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever met. No matter what the occasion, Dad’s the life of the party. Oh and witty! Gosh, his sarcasm is enough to send you into a fit of laughter so hard that when you finally stop, your insides ache. He’s also kind of a procrastinator, but not to same extreme as me. His advice to me has always been this: “Take your time to think things through. Consider both sides of the coin. Understand all the options at your disposal, so the product you end up with is your finest. When you do something, Delia, do it with honor and integrity. Do it right. Be proud of the things you put your name on.”
He’s always offering me little “life lessons,” as he calls them. Back when I was in high school, his lessons seemed like a nuisance, a way for him to waste my time or keep me from my friends. When I look back now though, I see how important these little tidbits were. I guess this is why adults are always saying, “If I only knew then what I know now.” It makes sense. We take so much for granted when it’s offered to us, only to realize later on how valuable a commodity we’ve missed out on, but by then it’s too late: we’ve squandered it away.
My father never squanders anything. He’s the kind of man who appreciates what he has. He tells my mother every day how much he loves her and how beautiful she is. He makes time for us and always puts us first. My dad is the kind of man others look up to. When you overhear someone talking about him, the conversation is always one of admiration, never gossip or rumors: “Did you hear Phil Landon won another award this year?” “I did. How wonderful for him. He is such an innovative man.”
My father made his career as structural engineer for a local firm. He always right by us, financially. Well enough so my mother was able to be a homemaker, but not as well as some of my friends’ parents. I know he could have made more money if he had taken an offer and moved us out of New Hampshire, but my parents are big on roots. They’ve always said that money isn’t everything, so as long as we had enough to live happily and provide a good upbringing for me, we were set.
None of it made much difference to me at first. They’ve always provided for me. I had nice clothes and a car as soon as I got my driver’s license—not the fanciest car, but a car nonetheless. Then, like a sudden summer storm on a sunny day, it mattered to me. I’ll never forget the conversation we had when I received my acceptance package from Boston University.
“Delia, sweetheart, I understand you worked hard for this, but that doesn’t change the facts. We can’t afford BU,” my father said.
“But I’m the valedictorian! Surely I must be entitled to some kind of scholarship or something? Dad, I have to go to this school. This is the one of my top four I’ve picked to go to,” I yelled.
“I know, honey, but the financial aid package they offered us just isn’t enough.”
“You have a good job. We live in a nice house, in a good community. How can we not afford it?” I demanded.
“Because it’s an expensive school. Look, when you add the cost of tuition, with room and board, books, and other expenses—plus the cost of you having your car down there, to come home when you need to—we’re talking about $65,000 a year, Delia. We just can’t do it. The University offered you two grants, but they only cover $15,000. Your mom and I can’t afford $50,000 a year for four years.”
“So what am I supposed to do then?
“I know it’s not what you want to hear, but The University of M—”
“Don’t even say it, Dad!” I screamed. “I’m not going to Maine. I want to be with my friends.”
Every time I think of this conversation I get angry with myself for being so selfish and entitled. Especially because a couple nights afterward, I happened to overhear my parents talking about this same argument and it made me feel even worse.
“But Phil we simply can’t afford it. She will get over it and have to pick another school.”
“I know Denise, but she’s our only daughter. All her hard work over the years, making valedictorian. Maybe we should take out a second mortgage?”
“Could we afford another mortgage on this house? Our mortgage is already at our budget.”
“Well with Delia off at college, you can maybe consider going back to teaching. Donald said you were welcome back to the high school anytime, or you might want to look into the collegiate level. It pays better.”
“I suppose we can look into it. Maybe see what the pay is now and work out a new budget. If I did work, you realize my income would probably just cover her tuition?”
“I’ve considered it, which is why I’m only mentioning it now. If you went back to the high school, we would still have to cover an additional $20,000 a year, so it’ll take some finagling. But if this is really what she wants, we should at least try.”
The next morning when I woke up, I filled out the paperwork, accepting the full scholarship to the University of Maine. Of course I wanted to attend BU with my friends, but at what cost to my family? I was rambunctious, a bit too wild, and a total lollygagger, but I wasn’t heartless. I loved my parents. They were always fair to me, so now was my turn to be fair to them.
I’m not as rambunctious now as I used to be, mostly because so much has changed. I’ve changed. It’s still weird when I bump into people I graduated with. They never really know how to act or what to say to me. Some people carry on as if they don’t know what happened, while others take the elephant-in-the-room cliché to the extreme.
“Let me get a look at you.”
“Oh Mom, don’t make a big deal of it. I’ll be fine.” I roll my eyes annoyed. She’s trying to settle my nerves, and I appreciate the gesture, but now isn’t the time. I’m supposed to be at the school at one o’clock, and it’s already ten minutes till one. Mr. Wheeler isn’t the kind of guy you want to leave waiting.
“Darling, it is a big deal. Remember what Cathy told you—”
“Mom!” I say a little too loudly, “I’m sorry. I have to go. I love you okay?” I lean in to hug her and she puts her hands up.
“The flour dear. Don’t get it on your shirt.” She gives me her cheek instead. “Bye now. Good luck, Delia. We’re proud of you. And remember: just be honest with them. That’s all you can do, sweetie.”
I throw my car in reverse without even looking, and almost hit the trashcan I never brought in like my mother had asked. My eyes find hers, where she stands watching from the front porch. She shakes her head at me and yells, “Be careful!”
I wave once more before stepping on the gas. I drive faster than I should, and I have to keep reminding myself to slow down. Deep breaths Delia, you’ll be fine. You can do this. Plus, it doesn’t get much worse than this.
Five and half years since I graduated, and today is the first time I’m stepping foot inside those halls. I honestly have no idea what to expect. I figure everything will look different, but how will it feel to be back there now?
I pull up in front of Oaks High School with literally no time to spare. I reach over to grab my purse as my eyes catch the sign on the side lawn: “Home of the Mighty Acorns” A laugh bursts out of me. “A gift from the Class of 2006” is written at the bottom. I can still remember when they put this in, the fall of my junior year. They were the first class to skimp on their prom festivities and give back to the school they said gave them so much. Blah, blah, blah.
A sick feeling settles in my stomach as I think about my class year group. We were a wild bunch. Always in trouble, always partying with upperclassmen and constantly pushing boundaries. Nevertheless though, we were also smart. There were some big universities listed on the program at commencement, and that was all our parents talked about for months once acceptances began to roll in. Of the ninety-six people in my graduating class, four students went on to Harvard, two to MIT, two more went to Brown, three others were accepted to Northeastern, at least a dozen went to Boston College, and I think I remember hearing one girl attended Stanford and is currently in medical school.
As a kind of one up on the Class of 2006, we collectively decided to do something as well. Now typically the PTA hosts a luncheon the morning after Senior Night, which apparently the parents think we all want to attend. Yeah, I mean they give out awards and prizes, but it is freaking B-O-R-I-N-G. We bargained with the PTA moms who organize the function to hand out the prizes and awards before senior night. Nothing special, no big song and dance. It took some persuading—and us finally having to clue them in to the plan—before they said yes. Well, part of the plan anyway.
One of my classmates found a less than reputable guy who was willing to make the bench for us. Charged us cash and never made a peep to anyone about it. A week before graduation, we brought it in and placed it right outside of the main office, where Mr. Wheeler, our principle, had his office also. The bench was draped in a giant red bow. On the backrest it read, “A gift from the Class of 2008” and on the seat itself, “Always setting the benchmark low.” The best part was, we had the guy cut the legs so it wasn’t a full-height bench. It was low to the ground, making our statement even wittier.
The sad part now is no one talks about the colleges or universities any of us went to, or even the stupid bench. All anyone remembers about my graduating class is what happened on graduation night.
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