Although the customary way to mark this moment is to fling one’s mortarboard like a Frisbee, I put less oomph in my toss. I wanted my hat to land as close to my feet as possible so I would have an easier time finding it.
I was obsessed with quite a few things like that back then that I would later discover did not matter one iota.
While my classmates were jumping around in jubilation, I was crawling around on the ground looking for a cap with my initials on it.
It was during this search that life threw a curve into the straight line that I had been walking for so long. One of my fellow graduates was Jeremy Cohron. I had spent some time with his older brother, Zac, when he was a senior and I was a junior.
After several months of “talking” (that’s what the kids called it in our day), Zac asked me to be his girlfriend before we had even gone on a date. I said yes, panicked and broke it off with him less than 24 hours later.
Needless to say, we didn’t hang out much after I gave him the “let’s just be friends” talk beside my locker one morning.
Although I had occasional doubts about whether I had done the right thing, I never expected to see Zac again. When we ran into each other that night, I recall wondering what he was doing there. I had conveniently forgotten that Jeremy was graduating too.
Our conversation in the midst of the chaos was awkward and brief, but it lingered with me as I headed to the beach several days later with a couple of new friends. While we were in Gulf Shores, I tried to hide the fact that I was drowning in an ocean of questions and fears.
Was I prepared to make the leap from rural high school to four-year university? How would I pick the right major? And why couldn’t I get that Zac guy off my mind? Since I was afraid of going crazy if I spent the whole summer worrying about college and career, I gave Zac a call when I got back home. Maybe we were destined to be together. Maybe dating him would just be a nice distraction. Either way, it was my first tentative step outside my comfort zone.
Zac and I had a lot of fun that summer, but our relationship faded out with the fall. We were young, inexperienced and too self-centered to make a real go of it. I expected too much; he expected too little. We never talked about any of our problems. Zac wasn’t even aware that we had any until I showed up at his front door one morning and announced that it was over – again.
The irony of the situation was that I really loved him. We were a dysfunctional couple, no doubt. But there were moments when our authentic selves broke through all of that teen angst.
We used to park his Blazer at Disney Lake and sit on his tailgate looking up at the stars and talking for hours. On those nights, the world stood still for us, and being together felt as natural as breathing. With every step I took away from him that morning on his porch, I was hoping that he would ask me to come back, put up some sort of fight so we could stay together. He didn’t.
We spent the next four years apart. The rest of our story has been the subject of several columns. All I will say here is that in the summer of 2004, Zac asked me where I thought I would be in five years. As it turned out, I was exchanging vows with him at the ballpark.
We recently celebrated our fifth anniversary with a trip to the beach. It seemed appropriate to stand in the Gulf with him that once embodied my questions and acknowledge that some had been answered and some just don’t matter anymore.
If I could go back to the girl scrambling around for her cap on graduation night, I would tell her three simple things.
It gets better. It’s a wild ride, and it’s worth it.