Newly eighteen, college acceptances in hand, the world as my oyster. I turned the corner of a fresh decade, ready to squeeze out a few last drops of high school glory before leaving my hometown behind. Looking forward to an American Graffiti summer and the future beyond, I felt myself on the cusp of something almost profound. Like I was standing on the horizon with the ocean at my feet and a sunrise glinting off the waves. I’d be jumping into the water after a picturesque last summer, goodbyes tied up neatly as bows.
But then the world stopped, and I found myself shuttered inside, stuck in limbo between past and future. I had put all my eggs in one basket and was unprepared when it dropped. Relying on senior prom, graduation, and summer bonfires for closure; convinced that I could move on from my hometown only after receiving my diploma or having one final summer lake day with my childhood friends. I didn’t miss the ceremonies or events so much as I mourned the idea of them, what had crystalized in my mind as essential coming-of-age moments.
I mourned these missed moments even months after school canceled, after my state reopened and shut down again, never quite grasping how silly I was being. The whole time, I was fully aware of how self-indulgent I was being for pitying myself; looking back, however, I wasn’t naïve for wallowing (I am a teenager, after all), but for ignoring the coming-of-age moments I did have, all in my misguided attempt to place importance on arbitrary events as turning points in the journey of growing up.
While I wasn’t able to get dressed up for senior prom and curl my hair and gossip about the upcoming night with my friends, I had already had the pampering, the photographs, the dancing that comes with prom. All those mornings I woke up ten minutes early just because
I wanted to put a little more effort into my appearance, all those Friday nights I fixed my friend’s
mascara in the bathroom as someone knocked loudly on the door, all the times we posed for
pictures in everyday clothes rather than floor-length dresses. In retrospect, I cherish these snippets that seemed insignificant at the time.
The ending of high school snuck up on me too. I didn’t get to walk across a stage to receive my diploma in an epic instant of finality. There was no ending scene. It unfolded one moment at a time, dabs of paint creating a whole picture only in hindsight.
The ending of high school was hitting submit on my college applications. It was the three-hour drive to Austin with my friends on my eighteenth birthday. It was my classmates waiting for me outside chemistry after a hard test. More than anything, it was realizing the upcoming fading of friendships and accepting that nothing lasts forever.
Nothing was tied up neatly as bows. But the ribbons made more sense anyway, braided together and tucked in my back pocket.