All of the days sitting aimlessly in class, all the hours spent cramming for tomorrow’s test, and all of the nights wondering when I would finally be able to break free of this jail finally led me here: scrambling to gather up last minute things. Cap? Check. Shoes? On my feet. My Tweety Bird necklace? Around my neck. Cologne? Oh no. Panic engulfs all of my senses as the emptiness edges slowly to the front of my heart, emptiness only he can fill.
Where is it? Where is that cologne? It’s the least I deserve. I can’t do this? A voice creeps into my head, “No, you can’t. Just stay home. Then you won’t be disappointment, you won’t be reminded of what’s obviously missing.” Oh God give me strength.
Searching for some form of courage, however fleeting, I hurry to the bathroom to try and compose myself. Clutching the closest thing to my heart, the last gift he ever gave me. I take a deep breath. The gold chain gives me an eerie comfort like a hug from the grave. The gift gives me the strength to stand up from the toilet seat … check my make-up ... and head out the door to face the day most high school students’ dream of freshman year not dread.
Sadly, my newfound strength doesn’t last five minutes down the road and I’m force to call the voice that can soothe any ache in my heart. “Mommie, hey have you left the house yet? Yeah …” My throat tightens at her answer and tears swell up in my eyes. Don’t give it away, Roya. Today is just as hard on her. “I can’t find his cologne Mom. I can’t do this without it” … him. That’s what I really wanted to tell her. But even I knew my words would be cruel. She’s suffered enough. Tonight’s pain I needed to carry alone.
Mom vowed to step in as my superwoman one more time and return home to find the comfort I so desperately searched for, so desperately needed. But, for now, I faced tonight solo with only three words providing me strength to take each new step, to embrace each new hug, and to flash each new smile: forever and eternity.
Sure, to the outside world I am the average teenager about to graduate high school; an eighteen-year-old ready to dive right in and take the world by storm. I mean, how could they think anything else? Flawlessly I greet classmates with celebratory smiles and the catch phrase “We finally made it!” I pose every group photo I could sneak into, and I make sure my relatives know, individually, how much I appreciate them coming here to support me. Picture perfect graduate, right? Only in my half-hearted hugs, dim smiles, and limping dreams.
On the inside I’m fighting a war within myself, with the happy people that surround me and just when I think there’s no way tonight could get any worse, I see her. How could I miss her? She’s merely the missing half of my soul reunited by our presence in the same room. She’s the bodyguard God saw fit to bless me with; she’s the one person I have known before I took my first breath in this world. She’s more than my sister. She’s apart of me; she’s my twin.
And even though her presence makes me whole, I am simultaneously filled with dread and despair. Because my better half and I aren’t speaking and the awkwardness and longing to be on better terms only increases with every click of the family camera, one that is surely capture the portrait of a “Happy Family.”
Between each camera flash I steal glances of my twin Deshae, gazing into her eyes, her soul, my soul. Even with our feuding stares, she cannot hide her feelings easily from me; it’s a gift and a curse of twindom. Her greenish-yellow eyes reveal I’m not alone in this painful evening. She misses him too. Every bone, muscle, and fiber within me aches to reach out and hug her. But the emotions fade as quickly as they came when I catch a glimpse of the walking reason behind our bickering; it’s headed straight for us with a bull’s eye on my twin. I search for the closest exit, wanting no part in a fight. Not tonight. I don’t have the energy.
So, in-between family photos I graciously scoot out of the auditorium and into the lobby to catch some fresh air. Making a b-line for the bathroom crosses my mind but the need is silenced by a voice warning me I would only end up in the stall with a wad of wet tissues in hand, trying ferociously to dry up tears that would inevitably come whether in the bathroom of a graduation ceremony or at a post grad party caused by an empty heart and one too many beers.
Instead, I exit the auditorium without direction, walking aimlessly through the lobby trying to gather up my thoughts. But they just turn back to the loneliness his absence brings. Where is she? We are about to line up?
“Students, we are about to get in alphabetical order,” says one of the many teachers there celebrating the newest batch of seniors graduating. “So pay attention and remember where you are placed.”
She’s running out of time,” I think to myself as a teacher instructs me where to stand in the growing line of 200 plus students waiting to graduate. The lobby clock ticks and I begin to lose faith that she will make it in time. Such a trivial thing to ask of my mom, she’s going to miss me graduate too.”As I count down the minutes until the graduating class of 2007 walks through the lobby doors, down the aisle to the pews waiting for us, I see her out of the corner of my eye. She made it!
“You got it Mom? I didn’t think you would make it,” I told her. Mom rushes over to my side, nervously reaching into her purse for what most see as cologne. But to me, and possibly my mother, it was a piece of Dad God couldn’t take away with a heart attack; it was my saving grace for the evening. His cologne made me believe, however futile, that Daddy was by my side celebrating this momentous occasion in his little girl’s life. As mom spared his fragrance into the air and onto my wrist, a rush of memories came flooding back. I was carried away to a distant land where a young girl was on the receiving end of a father’s bear hug that not even death could erase.
The memory faded as quickly as it came; hoisting me back into the reality of present day: this fragrance on my skin is the closest thing to a bear hug I’ll get tonight. Pushing back the hurtful truth, I found my mother’s beautiful green eyes. They were battling an internal struggle of their own. In one eye, she was relishing the accomplishment of her daughter graduating high school. But struggling to hide her despair and anger in the other; she never pictured this day happening without him by her side either. I’m sure they talked about the day their girls would graduate high school. How proud they both would be. What they would say to us as we dove into the next phase of our lives. And most importantly, I’m sure they mentioned what they would do with a daughter free home and all that extra time to themselves. Maybe see the world together. And it was in that thought I reached my arms around my mom to give her my version of a “dad bear hug.”
To this day, I’m not quite sure my mom realizes how much that perfume meant to me. It was the supporting piece that kept me from falling apart that evening, well until the after party. But we’re getting there. Never the less, that small fragrance gave me courage to face graduation fatherless.
After hugging, mom went to grab her seat with our family leaving me to slowly inch forward to my future, life after graduation. Students waiting in line began filing into the auditorium, revealing the long aisle awaiting my footsteps. Needing some extra courage, I take a whiff of dad’s cologne. You see I chose fashion over comfort when picking my shoes for the evening, a decision I was regretting at the moment. God, please help me down this aisle and into my seat without falling. It’s the LEAST you owe me after every curve ball you have thrown at me in this game called my life. Hell, if you hadn’t messed up in the first place, I could wear any designer shoe right now and make it safely down this path without worry.
“Go, Roya, you’re up,” says an unknown voice jolting me out of “what if land.” Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it, I mutter to myself. I am so consumed with watching my footsteps that the journey to my seat is a complete blur. The next thing I recall is sitting down in the pew next to a fellow classmate and secretly applauding myself for walking down the auditorium without incident.