Authors: Lennell Davis
For you, this just might be something new. I’d like to believe that this will be just a little bit different and at the same time give you a little something to relate too. For me it is the start of a chronicle based on my life starting at the end of my Senior High School year, up until just after my freshman year of college. As I write all I ask of you as a reader is to not be fooled by the false feelings and connections; family, success, or even love might give. My honest desire in writing this is to leave behind a true account of not only my life, but the events that transpired around me to cast a little light on a shadow that has gone unseen to the historians and conspiracy buffs. I might have already asked too much in my first request, so in closing I won’t ask but I implore you; ignore all preconceived notions that will naturally be created as you begin to read because like I said, this might just be a little different than what you are used to.
The boys sat fidgeting under the fluorescent light of the school theatre. The black of their gowns refused to shine, even as every movement gave a little hope of a glimmer. The eyes of every girl filled with tears - the sickly pale purple of their gowns to blame. Trying to find anything to take my mind off the symphony of squeaky movements and sobs, I looked up at the proud black and purple of our sparkling school banners. It put a smile on my face to think that some teacher, somewhere in the building, ordered the wrong gowns. Eventually, I looked away, towards our parents sitting above us, scanning the graduating class of 2011 for their children. As part of a flat black, and sickly purple conglomeration, I thought: did any of the parents think we looked like a giant bruise on the cheek of some really tan kid? I had to bite back the smirk to stop myself from laughing out loud at that.
I had been to enough high school graduations by that point in my life to know that every valedictorian’s speech was the same. Somewhere a secret society of teachers photocopies these speeches every year, just changing the few pop culture references used as bad jokes. On the day of the graduation, a version of the teacher’s speech is silently slipped into the valedictorian’s pocket. Whatever the valedictorian wrote was generally so similar to the the teacher’s creation it would easily go unnoticed. The image of a collection of teachers chanting and dancing around a fire of burning speeches to gods of chalk was an unwelcome thought. After all, it wasn’t hard to see just how easy it would be for the teachers to have carried out their plan; the valedictorian wouldn’t notice. She was seated between my old calculus teacher and the vice principal. From my seat in the center of the gym floor I watched the fear play across her face as she went through a mild panic attack. I was probably the only person to notice as everyone laughed at a lame joke the principal made.
As the first beach ball hit the air, snuck in by that group of kids who managed to just slip above the graduation requirement, the students whooped and cried out; they were 'having fun' for once. I kept my eyes on the valedictorian; she never looked up at all the noise as the principal tried to regain the attention of everyone. At the same time my old fifth period chem teacher viciously stabbed the beach ball to the laughter of the class. All the valedictorian's focus was on her shoes; I think that focus was the only thing keeping her from bolting off stage. She would soon have to get up in front of the audience and the mic would make that high-pitched wail that makes some go 'Ahh' in a low hiss and rub their ears dramatically. She would then start to talk about how we finally made it to this point and by the third sentence, parents would start to remember their younger days, while you thought about how horrible it would be to hear about your parents younger days over dinner.
So when the time came, she stood and tripped twice on the short walk to the podium; the crowd had a hard time concealing their laughter, but she discreetly shifted her hair to hide her blush and bravely carried on. I am not surprised that she started with "Though we are leaving high school, it shouldn’t be a sad day...", despite the random girls crying on each other’s shoulders speckled throughout the bruise of 2011. I suffered through the nearly ten minute speech and she ends with "College will be the start of something new, exciting, and life changing. So go forth and make your mark, class of 2011". We politely clapped, she took a small bow, and the principal got up to start calling out names with the help of two teachers.
As I walked the stage, I became more concerned that the image of those speech writing teachers had come back, then I wondered what kind of world it was they lived in. It had to be one of chalk dust clouds, flowers made of smiling student faces, trees of A+ homework and essays, and rivers of denial. Then I compared it to our big, dark, lonely one. The reality of leaving the safety that home and high school provided is what they should talk and prepare us for. Don't get me wrong, yes there are exciting opportunities out in the big world, but just being bright and eager doesn't cut it. We will all need something to get us through this cold world. Then I remembered on my first day of high school that my first period Calculus teacher told us that, “If you just pull up your bootstraps and dig in, all will be well.” As soon as he said it I thought “He can go fuck himself if he thinks I will believe that”. I knew there would always be someone that is better, faster, or stronger than me; that with the odds being what they are, I will never surpass them.
High school gave us all the chance to create and establish ourselves and if you were on the bottom of the social or economic ladder here, you better do some hard thinking about the next ten years of your life as you flip those burgers and watch your privileged and popular classmates eat. We all only get one life and how we spend it is completely determined by three weighted factors: ten percent is based on what degree you get, thirty percent is based on the name of the school that is on that college diploma, and the last sixty percent is based entirely on who you know. These were the thoughts going through my head while I was shaking the principal’s hand and smiling for the photo. A graduation speech needed to encompass a little bit of the harsh reality we are about to enter because lying to us will only hurt us more when reality gives you that cold slap.
"Hey, Nessa!" my best friend Sam called as she ran towards me. She seemed overly happy about something and it showed even as she squeezed through the families that overran the all too tiny space, adding more discoloration to the bruise.
"We’re done with this place, finally!" I said, trying to match her hype and hide my morbid mood. I failed in the attempt, I was never one to get excited about much of anything.
"I know, right… What are you doing tonight?" she asked, cutting to her real motive for tracking me down.
"You know, the family dinner out and maybe a few gifts. Nothing really special I guess."
"What about after that?"
"Sleep? I don’t know. Did you want to do something?"
"How about we go out? I know this place that’s 18 and up."
"Sam... come on. You know I don’t like clubs." Even asking was stupid.
"Please please pleaseeee? I don’t want to go alone," she groaned, poking out her bottom lip and adding a slight quiver. She blinked her big, bright, brown eyes at me. I sighed.
"Sam, really, the sad puppy face?" She knew I hated this even more.
"Please?! You’re the cutest girl in school; every boy there would be after you. Doesn’t that make you want to look into it at all?" she promptly switched to attacking my vanity with what she called girl logic.
"Okay, fine," I sighed, hating myself.
"Thank you!" she shouted, jumping up and down on the spot. Parents turned to stare and some smiled, misinterpreting Sam's happiness. Some of the boys were listening to figure out where we would be later. "I will be at your place at about six; I will bring the bag, and we can pick out outfits and do each other’s make up and go from there?" The bag being more a suitcase she used to carry around outfit changes and a vast collection of make up.
"Fine," I sighed, trying to show my displeasure at losing this small battle; she ignored me.
“Yay!” Off she went with a stupid spring in her step.
Sam, short for Samantha Marie Castillo, had been my best friend since we were in preschool. However, to get a better picture of Sam, I should have probably started with her family. Sam’s brother, Chris, had been the star quarterback for our high school and the most popular kid here when a scholarship to play for Stanford came through. At some point during those first four years, he did some hard thinking about his life and changed his friends and began to focus less on football and more on medicine. I haven’t seen Chris in about five years, at this point in my life but if I were to have asked him then if he chose climbing a social ladder versus one of luck, I would put my money on him saying social. He graduated from Standford the year before our high school graduation with his masters in medicine.
Sam's father, Hector Castillo-Vega, was a Mexican immigrant who started out picking fruit, and got lucky when a rep from the company that made the farm’s equipment came out to test some new products under development. The two men started to talk and his ideas got him a small job as a consultant. He started to put himself through community college around the time Sam was born and then went on to New York State, studying engineering, and eventually graduating the same year Chris left for college. With each year he spent studying, he made friends and contacts within the farming equipment industry and company, slowly becoming better able to explain his ideas and articulate his experiences justifying why he wished to do things the way he did. With his new degrees and all his connections in the company, he was promoted to one of the company’s engineers and was quickly made chief engineer above many who had been there far longer. He tried his hardest to make Sam play football and smell of engine oil. Still you couldn't call him a failure on the whole, he ended up with a daughter that likes to prance around in mini skirts and shop, but if you left her alone with your car, she could strip it, clean it, and put it back together and have it running as if it had just come out of the dealer showroom.
Sam was a strange mix of her father's pride and determination, her brother’s strength of character and charisma, and her mother's grace, beauty, and spirit. Her father might have lost his football player daughter, but he did instill a love for the sport; a love both her mother and I will never understand. As for her beauty... Well maybe I should have started with the fact by graduation there isn’t anyone who I could say that Sam had ever truly dated, but there are a few she has led along. Every guy in the school at some point had tried to get with Sam, but it wasn't you who chose her, she would have to choose you. After all, she was tall with long brown hair down to her waist with beautiful, bright, brown eyes that seemed to glow even in the dark. Her skin would stay a light creamy brown even in the dead of winter and you couldn’t find silk softer than her skin. All that with a body not even plastic surgery could give, you have to admit she sort of had a right to be picky before settling down.
As for myself, everywhere Sam was rich and colorful, I was fair and slender. I got my long silky black hair from my mother. I remember when I was young, I hoped I would get Grandma Stanton's figure, but I had no luck. Not to say that I didn't have curves where I wanted them, but I was no Sam. Once, a boy who was all flustered as he was trying to tell me he liked me said I was "a demon so sweet that God stole me from hell and kept me in the heavens as an angel.” I said that was stupid and walked away from him at the time. I thought about it later and I could never decide if I should have taken that as a compliment or not. With my father being the whitest guy you would ever meet, color wise, and my mother having not had very much color herself, apart from her dark brown eyes, it's no wonder my skin was a milky white and my eyes a shining silver.
My mother was a Korean singer and musician who, at the time of meeting my father, was trying to make her way into American jazz music. My father was a small time scout for an upcoming recording company until they met. He got her a small deal and a single that spread through the few jazz lounges not only in New York but anywhere Jazz was played. I'd still hear her singles on the radio from time to time on some of those oldies stations. Now my father is a producer and is considered a great judge of talent after finding my mother, who was the most booked jazz singer in the greater New York area for a time.
Both Sam's father and my father enjoyed giving motivational speeches and I hate to admit it, but they weren’t bad at moving people. At career day in the fourth grade, Sam’s father spoke and a few of the teachers were dabbing at their eyes by the end and he had the attention of a group of eleven year olds. They preached over and over that hard work and dedication got them to where they were. However, every time I listened to them, I felt as if they were just repeating that half-truth, just like that graduation speech. They say that they worked hard, but make it out to be only them, while the blind luck that put them in the situation to work hard never gets its fair share of the credit. If that rep had made a left instead of a right, Sam’s father would still be picking apples. If my dad, who was depressed from thinking he was close to losing his last job didn’t stop at that bar to try and drown his sorrows, he would have never met my mom who was a waitress at the time. Their lives could have turned out very different despite their deep dedication.