He drops the box on the doorstep with an abrupt thump and raps the screen door with his knuckles, meowing at the cat through the screen and causing the dog to bark at him from her perch on the grey leather sofa. I wait for him to get back into the white, boxy vehicle before heading out to retrieve the contents off the porch, knowing what is contained inside the bright, orange box.
The cat tries to dash out in his usual getaway attempt, using the space under my legs. Scooping him up in one arm, he squirms as I gather the box in the other arm and try to navigate the door open at the same time. I manage to dump both of them just inside the door way and rip open the top of the box. And then my breath catches as I glimpse the contents inside.
My daughter is graduating from high school.
Her face is in front of me on cardstock, faded foliage framing her senior portrait and text announcing her graduating year. Carefully sliding one of the announcements out of the stack, I hold it between thumb and forefinger and flip it over to read the text she authored and let the smile take over my face, ignoring the ache in the back of my throat. Always that subtle ache.
She is graduating from high school, and I have kept a promise to her from five years before.
Moments before the mail truck arrived in front of the house, I was caught in the unending scroll of social media full of posts of other graduating seniors. A litany of “lasts” and sentimental soliloquys from parents, one after the other. Every post seems to express sadness and bittersweetness.
My hand hovered over the laptop wondering what was wrong with me. I feel neither of these things. Sitting there, hand wrapped around a mug of strong coffee, I let the caffeine sink in while I try to name the feeling.
It is not relief, as several of my friends have celebrated the conclusion of their children’s high school careers with sighs and “thank God that is over.” My child will not address her classmates as valedictorian or class president, so there will not be any triumphant photos on my social media humble bragging about her accomplishments in that regard.
She has not earned a prestigious scholarship for athletics saving me thousands of dollars. My triumph is in her everyday achievement and that I will bear witness to this day.
My daughter will have her mother at her high school graduation.
I think back to five years ago when I sat a few feet from my daughter and told her that the lump found in my breast was found to be cancer. I remember the look on her face when I told her that I would need a mastectomy, and then again when she learned that I would need a year of chemotherapy.
The darkness would shadow her eyes every time I would leave the house, the slight change that a mother notices, if slightly imperceptible to the rest of the world. Sitting at the kitchen table early one morning the day after an infusion early in the course of treatment, she found me quietly sobbing to myself with the brutality of the medications.
Her arms immediately wrapped around my neck, face buried into what was left of my hair. In that moment, I made a promise that I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep. I lied to my daughter and told her that I would be there for her high school graduation. I told her something that I had no way of knowing would be true.
While other parents are wishing for the time back with their children and for the return of the first day of kindergarten, I think about how desperately I wanted time to fast forward when I was diagnosed. Even now, with her graduation just days away it cannot come fast enough so that I am sure that I see her in the wrinkled polyester gown and cap that I hope she tosses in the air and loses immediately. The time others want back I want to give away so my daughter can know that her mother kept one more promise.
Complain about those bleachers at your kid’s graduation because I swear I will not even feel them.
I think about promises often, as much as I think about the falsehoods we tell our children as they are growing up. We offer them Santa, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy. We tell them there is no boogie man, that they don’t actually need another drink of water, that if you blow on the scraped knee it doesn’t hurt as much, that…so many things.
We tell them that everything will be okay when we don’t actually know that to be true. And we make them promises like “I’ll be there” when we have no way of actually being sure we will keep that promise.
I’ll post a photo of us on her graduation day. To most people it will look incredibly ordinary and they will scroll past. To me, it will be the most extraordinary photo, emblematic of every promise ever made, because it is a promise kept. It will represent all of the time that I ever had and all of the time I ever wanted.
My daughter is graduating from high school. And I will be there.
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Meagan Shedd is a mom to two (high school senior and freshman), professor/researcher, daughter, sister, friend, runner, mentor…so many different things. Diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, which simply adds an extra layer to life. You can find my blog at https://fakingamazing.wordpress.com/and my poetry/photos on Instagram with the same handle (fakingamazing).