This is the first part of what will hopefully be a nine-part entry in the River of Mnemosyne challenge that’s going on over at The Tenth Daughter of Memory.
Sunlight glints under a clear blue sky, glistens in long chestnut hair that frames a pale, perfect face.
She stands in front of me, smiling, eyes bright and shining. Long, elegant fingers hold her mortarboard in small, fine-boned hands as she leans in to kiss me. “Hi, Mommy.”
So tiny, so happy, so proud.
The scent of vanilla, coconut, and lily of the valley tickles my nose, tightens my chest with memory. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
“That’s ok.” Her lips slide into a quiet smile, and I see the echoes of the child in the exquisite young woman she has become. “We just have to go.”
She turns and I fall into step. The staccato click of her stiletto heels pounds a backbeat on the pavement as we make our way over to State Street.
It’s more crowded here now, as we thread our way through the ebb and flow of the masses, the sea of black robes bobbing and weaving among the bodies wrapped in brightly colored fabric and finery.
The warm, mid-afternoon breeze stirs memories of late spring and the sun on my skin brings a full-body feeling of joy that anchors itself deep in my cells. An undercurrent of anticipation hums in the sun-warmed air like electricity.
I resist the urge to slide my hand around hers as we thread our way through the crushing throng. Once I had slowed, waited, her tiny hand in my mine as little legs struggled to keep up. Now I push hard not to slow her down as the rush hour traffic crawls by.
We catch a light and cross the street. The sounds of the city slip away as we climb the stairs to East Hall, push through the shiny glass and steel doors for our first stop on the evening’s program.
She herds me gently through the hallway into line.
I hate myself in pictures. They shame me. My hair is still pulled back in my teacher bun. It’s shot through with grey. There’s no makeup on my face to cover the unevenness of my skin, and I’m still in my teacher clothes.
But when she presses close I smile dutifully as our moment is captured for posterity. And then we’re off, down another hallway filled with bodies milling and gathering.
Her hand on my arm stops me and a long, elegant forefinger finds her name on the list on the wall, her achievements there for all to see.
I take the picture this time, so very careful to capture the cap and gown and the gentle curve of her smile as she stands there and I see her at five, so tiny, so happy, so proud, handing me her handprint for the refrigerator.
The memory shoots straight to my heart, my chest tightens and I can’t breathe. I lower the camera, hold it out to her.
She drops it into her bag without looking. “Want to get something to eat?”
I blink once and swallow, paint on my own smile. “Sure.”
We move down the hall shoulder to shoulder, make our way into the Psychology Atrium.
Crystal and silver gleam in the soft light spilling on white-robed tables, the dull murmur of muted conversation hums in the background as we follow the line snaking toward the Third Floor Terrace buffet.
The wind’s picked up. There’s a chill in the air and the clear blue sky has given way to a purple-pink as the sun slides lower on the horizon.
We flow with the river of people, down the sidewalk, up the white stone steps warmed by the last of the dying sun, into the Mendelssohn Theatre.
Soft, yellow light spills over the solid oak paneling, pools on the marble floor, the weight of a century of history and tradition pressing down on us as we negotiate our way down the hall for the evening’s La Celebración Latina.
There’s another line and more pictures. She slides her arm around my waist as mine goes around hers and we smile. The photographer shows us what we will look like and then we’re off, moving into a private dining room just off the hallway.
Another line, another buffet, set up along the far wall. There’s a trio playing softly in the corner of the room as we thread our way between the small groups of people seated around small-circle tables and those standing in groups.
I can tell that we’re late by what’s left on the table. I skip the salads and find the deserts, pull something that’s chocolate onto my plate, and turn, run my eyes over the room searching for a seat.
It’s been a long day. I’m tired and my feet hurt.
I find her. She’s found her friends.
Plate in hand, I watch her, the child who used to sit in my lap, and it’s a strange kind of time travel. She moves with such self-assured grace, quick kisses and hugs for everyone.
And when I look at her I see my life, my love, my dreams, my hope, the very best of me.
Her eyes come up and find me, and a delicate hand waves.
She introduces me to her friends, Roxanna and Paula, Claudia and Monica and their mothers from Ecuador and Venezuela and Mexico who don’t speak English.
I smile and nod and extend my hand and wonder what they’ve given up, what they’ve gone without to get their daughters here.
They’re calling us to line up again, parents and family in one line, graduates in another room. I check her cap and gown again before she leaves me and find my dutiful place in line.
We move in lockstep down the hall and into the darkened theatre. Running lights on the floor and the glow of the sconces on the walls guide us. I duck out of line and into a seat at the back of the theatre as the river of people flows past me.
The music starts and we stand, eyes glued to the doorways. My eyes run over the processional and finally she’s there, so tiny, so happy, so proud.
I blink against the crystalline sheen in my eyes as I take my seat and the speakers begin.
Welcome. Opening remarks. The student and keynote speakers. The awards.
I float on a river of memory. The images play in vivid technicolor and soundless, seamless progression in my mind, punctuated only by the sounds of laughter and applause.
And then it’s time. The Class stands and their names are called, loud and clear.
Tomorrow her father and brothers will sit beside me in the Big House for all the pomp and circumstance befitting a graduation. Tonight I sit wrapped up in my memories in the stillness and dark of an auditorium.
I hear her name and watch my little girl walk across the stage.