This is it.
That’s what you said four years ago and here you are four years later. You’re dressed in an orange dress shirt and a black gown. The bright collar flows over the grey and purple cape. You’re sure you are wearing the robe wrong: the neck is too tight and the shoulders are uneven and the gown clamps over your feet. You shuffle as you step.
Others move too. Around you are your friends, people you’ve known, people who have known you, and people you wish you could have gotten to know better. There are some who should be here too, but you try to forget about that for a little while. You’ve spent enough time worrying about them. This is it, and it is about you.
Most of the people are dressed elaborately and you look like a pumpkin battered and bruised. You struggle with the gown to hide the wrinkles of the shirt but it only tightens further around your neck. You cannot breathe now. You try to move around again to no avail. The grip only gets stronger. Your breaths become shorter. Then shorter. Then shorter yet. Your face matches your shirt.
This is it, you try to say again, but you can’t. Instead you think it: After four years, this is it.
“Want to take a picture?”
A pat on your back releases the constrain. The fabric loosens and your face recoils back to white. You smile, move your hands awkwardly above, no below, no how about on her waist, no that’s not working either, my arms feel stiff, what if I just lift them slightly above to linger like a fly above a dinner plate, ah, there, yes, the mouse has got the cheese. No back breaking in the process.
“Can we take the picture again? You blinked, Kacper. Keep your eyes open.”
You can do it. You can open your eyes. This isn’t hard. This is the easiest thing in the world. Why? For this is it, and if anything, you’ve learned how to open your eyes after it all.
“You have a funny face again, but it’s alright. We’ll get one after later. We are moving again.”
And we are and you are too, cloaked step after cloaked step.
And this, you remind yourself one last time as the steps hurry to a halt, is it: little movements taken slowly, hesitantly, with black faces in front of you and no clapping, just silence held a little too long, until you hear your name – Kacper Niburski – and this is your moment, and your name rings, it echoes, it fades, and you stand there with a light shone on you, shining brighter now that you’ve stepped forward, and you can’t make anyone out in the audience because of the light and this is your moment and you try to move slowly, to look outside, to see everything and everyone, to soak it all up because it’ll only happen once. But everything happens at least once, and everything in your life will happen that way too, and this may happen again, you think, but you’re not sure and you think you should be sure of something after four years at least but you’re not and this is your moment and you take another step forward and it’s all going too quickly and you haven’t thought of anything clever to do or smart to say and maybe you should lift your gown and moon them because you were raised on the idea that such antics could get a laugh and this is your moment and aren’t you all about the laughs and you want to laugh now but you can’t because you’re focusing on smiling and this is your moment and you think you look okay there and this is your moment but it’s been a long ceremony and some aren’t even looking you bet. You wouldn’t look at some nobody after some three hours of people talking back and forth about graduating and success and being a citizen and blah blah blah.
That’s what all the hoopla amounts to anyways. Even your name. It’s foreign and sounds gibberish to some. You imagine someone elbowing their mother or their father or whatever and saying, “That guy has the name of a ghost” and then the father or the mother or whatever thinks about it and laughs and then looks to see if you have a fitting name after all but you’re gone and they smile about the subtle symbolism then flip back to their phone to look at photos they took of their father or mother or whatever.
A stranger hoods you. Her hands are wrinkled like your shirt. The two match; there is nothing to hide anymore. There is nothing to hide for this is it, and here you are in front of everyone.
The light is still glaring. Still no faces, though. It’d be nice to see some faces. You only see those people on the stage, along with the woman with wrinkly hands. You wonder if maybe everyone’s gone up and gone away. Where would they go, you think. Where would you go, you wonder. Probably somewhere nice and with sun and where you can stick your feet in a little water to cool down, where you have a little alcohol and a lot of food and a beautiful girl and she’s there with you while the two of you are lying on grass that doesn’t itch with a sun that doesn’t burn in a sky that doesn’t rain. There are birds nearby too, but they aren’t too loud. Just admiring as birds are prone to do. And singing. Singing that you’re there to listen to them with this girl, your girl, and all of you are happy, the birds included. You can tell by how they sing.
“Go now, Kacper.”
A little push on your back directs you. Your orange collar reflects the brightness like a flower before it burns against a hot sun. There is no water to place your feet here. Only blue running shoes offer protection. They squeak as you cross the stage.
Hands outstretch to you. The people who hoist them are people you’ve never spoken to, people’s whose hands are important and worthy of being shacked on this, your finest moment of life. It is an accomplishment four years in the making.
This is it, you tell yourself. You almost forgot.
But while you walk towards them with feet that drag like anchors because maybe you want to stay a little longer and maybe you haven’t done all you wanted to do and maybe you have and want to do it again, or maybe the gown is just tugging the wrong way again, four years condense into fifteen seconds. There in one step and then another is when you first walked on this campus as an undergraduate. You’re young. The youngest you’ll ever be; certainly younger than you are now. And you’re smiling.
You’re not sure about what, but you think you can figure it out here. So you move more and meet some people and talk to them and some of them become your friends and some of them don’t and others just look at you and you look at them and you’re still smiling. Then you study, sleep, study, then sleep again. You fall out of love. You try again. The names pile on like glue in your mouth. Sometimes, so do the tongues.
But not much works – most of it is glue in between in your teeth – and you notice that your smile is blocked by foreign words of plants and chemicals and kisses and drinks. Then things pile on and you start to wear. You’re tired. Some of the people you met haven’t made it. You barely did. They are to blame for the difficulty, and in a way, so are you.
In between, there is working at a newspaper, in a laboratory, at a magazine, working so hard that you forget that you’re supposed to be a student, studying so hard that you forget you’re supposed to be working, trying to do neither and just experiencing the small miracle of people knowing your name and sitting and laughing and farting and laughing about that fart. There is feeling so depressed that you wanted to be courageous with your life, but were too cowardly, and were made ever the more sad because of it. There are nights spent drinking where only the wall is your friend because its there beside you when you need it. There are backpacks travelling across the world, delicious meals, and holding hands in a different continent. There is questioning, answering, and questioning again. There is snapping your fingers to a band. There is dancing. There is a life lived, one that is sometimes remembered and sometimes forgotten but that is nonetheless in your step and it has made you stronger and it has made you weaker and it is yours to show others if you want.
Then you’re here showing it to everyone by walking, shaking hands, finally thinking of something worthwhile, and telling a joke to one of the speakers who doesn’t hear it anyways. No one claps throughout it all.
The next name is called and you’re off the stage. That was it.