Do you see her; that girl in the graduation gown, in the picture frame that sits upon the mantle? On that day, her hazel eyes were filled with hope, anticipating that bright future everyone thought she’d have. Do you really see her? Take a closer look at that still-captured moment in the tapestry of her life. Focus on those lips, curved upward in delight as she holds onto the arms of those who love her dearly. When you’ve fully understood that moment and it’s meaning for that girl, I want you to mourn her. She may be alive and breathing, but she will never be again what she was on that day, when she smiled that smile.
It was a good day. She rose up when they called her name and she took her diploma and shook the professor’s hand without missing a beat. She wasn’t valedictorian or anything; it would have been nearly impossible in a university so prestigious; but her grade point average was better than good, and that made her smile inwardly as she walked back to her seat. Some famous alumnus gave his speech and while everyone focused on him, she turned her head and looked up to the section of the massive crowd, searching for her supporters. There were just too many people and disappointment began to swell in her chest, but then, amidst the silence, there it was. A single, bold whistle; and her head shot up toward the sound. Standing on his feet, two fingers in his mouth to whistle, the same way he did at soccer games, stood her father. She waved, and felt a giggle raise in her throat. He looked so proud of her; like when she’d come home from school with an A+; and latch onto his neck in a hug, thanking him for studying her biology with her the night before, as a freshman in high school. His history lessons and science and math help had always been magic. His soothing voice and his vast knowledge of every topic made her feel like she could conquer any obstacle. He waved back with pride and snapped her picture; so she smiled another smile, just for him.
After the caps were thrown into the air and she found them, she held out her arms for the bouquet of flowers her mother brought; orange daisies, her favorite. Maman, she whispered, hugging the older version of herself tightly, letting the flowers get squeezed between them with love. I’m so proud of you, her mother whispered back, in that beautiful europeanized accent of hers. She smelled of perfume and flowers. In her mother’s eyes, she was a second chance. She had molded the girl from youth into someone who would not make the same mistakes she made. Her mother had an impressive enough education, but the girl had learned much more from her than ABCs. She had learned the true meaning of sacrifice from her mother, of caring for another human being more than for yourself. She had learned that a housewife and mother’s job is never done. She had learned that sometimes you have to smear lipstick across your lips and pretend to smile, even when the future is bleak. She had learned that even when you think your life is centered to that of a man’s, when given no choice but to sink or swim alone…her mother was a very capable swimmer. A champion in her own right. As she took in her mother’s beauty, her flawless suit and silk scarf, and the love she was showing her today, stronger than all the days that came before, the girl pitied her father. He seemed rich and happy on the outside; but how could one truly be happy knowing he ruined his chance at a good life? As much as she loved him, and as much as she hated him, she pitied him.
Someone asked the three to stand together; so that’s what they did. She stood smiling in the middle, of course. She was the link joining together a man and woman who had once loved eachother and who had once held hands on an airplane headed for a foreign land for the promise of a better existence. She stared at the camera and hoped it was charged full of battery, that there was no dirt obstructing the lens. She prayed that this moment would be captured perfectly so that she could hold onto the feeling of being together, the three musketeers once more. So, she made this wish, and she stared into that camera, daring it to ruin this moment for her. She smiled, brighter than ever before, knowing this was one of those moments that would eclipse most moments to come after it. When the day was done, she hurried to have the film developed, for back then, that’s what they did with pictures, they took them to be developed instead of sticking the memory card into their laptops. She paid for three copies. One was mailed to mom. One to dad. The third photo was framed, in a frame she picked up for twice the cost, in honor of the most beautiful photo she’d ever had taken of her.
Five years have passed, and the girl never smiles as bright as she did that day; the last good day. She tries sometimes to avoid the frame where it sits on the mantle, but it is unavoidable. On bad nights, when the sky has fallen down upon her and she is looking for someone to talk to, she steals away the frame and takes it to some empty corner of the house for a moment of privacy. She traces her fingertips against the two faces she misses so dearly, even though they are only a phone call or short drive away. She stares at each of them and tells them things she hasn’t confided in another living soul in ages. She shares memories of a childhood well-spent and she talks of her fears, wishing their mere pictures could protect her from them. She tells them how thankful she is for the memory of their proud faces on graduation day, that day that passed so long ago. She then does something she hasn’t done before. She apologizes. For giving up; because she was angry at the choices they made for her, she gave up. She apologizes of every test she failed because she was depressed. She apologizes for every holiday she acted like a bitch because they weren’t all together, a full house filled with friends. She apologizes for every decision she made to act out and make them notice her; a thousand decisions that brought them heartache from their little girl. Then, she puts the frame back and walks away for the time being.
But, the image is scarred in her memory, not easily letting her let go of it. She closes her eyes, but the girl’s smile, her smile, persists in memory. As much as the world mourns the girl’s smile, the girl mourns the feeling that caused her to smile that smile. The feeling was once alive; of belonging to a unit, cohesive and unbreakable. She mourns the picture, the smile, and the feeling with the knowledge that she will never relive a moment as hopeful as that one, ever again. Regret has conquered hope.