Chapter 9 : Education and Accomplishment
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I remember the night before the first day of kindergarten. It was warm and the stars glittered peacefully outside. My father was sitting at the kitchen table reading the night paper and my mother was giving Lily a bath. I had been told a week beforehand that I was going to start school the next day and I figured that my last chance at getting out of school would be right then.
“Daddy?” I asked, climbing up onto the chair next to him.
He turned to me. “Yes, Petunia?”
I turned and looked over his shoulder. “I’ve decided that I don’t need to go to school. So tomorrow I can stay home and play with Lily.” I looked up at him, smiled, and started to walk away.
“Petunia…come back here.” My father looked at me. “What makes you think you don’t need to go to school?”
I stood there for a moment and ran into the living room. I brought back my favorite book, The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. I opened it up and began to tell the story, word for word. When I had finished the first few pages I turned to Dad.
“See Daddy, I already know how to read. You don’t need to send me to school.” I gave him a big smile and he smiled back. I thought I had won.
Dad pulled me onto his lap and opened his newspaper wide. “All right then, if you know how to read so well, why don’t you read the title of this article for me? My eyes are tired, if you can do it so well then go ahead.”
I stared at the paper blankly. “I only know how to read that book…” I pointed to my book lying on the table.
My father laughed and ruffled my hair. “Haha, you’re going to school tomorrow, little miss, and when you’re done you’ll be able to read this whole newspaper to me. Until then, off to bed, you don’t want to be late to school tomorrow.”
“But Daddy- “I started but he cut me off.
“Go on, Petunia, you’ll like school. I promise.” He grinned. “Good night, Petunia.”
“ ‘Night, Daddy.” I said with a pout. I walked slowly back to my room after saying good night to Mum. I lay in bed worried about the next day. I didn’t want to go to school, I wanted to stay home with Lily and play and help Mum bake cookies.
I wished that the school year would never start.
I wished that the school year would never end. I had looked forward to that moment ever since I was a child, but now I just wished I could force it farther and farther ahead. I was terrified of graduation; I was terrified of moving on. It was happening too soon, I wasn’t ready for the big, bad world.
I stood looking at my reflection in the mirror hanging on the back of my door. The long blue graduating robe made me look even taller than I actually was, yet I was still afraid that I would trip over the edge of it. My hair looked frazzled and I could see the nervousness in my eyes.
I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to.
I picked up my hairbrush and tried to brush through my hair. My hand shook so badly that I ended up tangling it even more. I put the brush down and sat nervously at the edge of my bed, wringing my hands together.
I took a breath. It’s not like that day was the beginning of the rest of my life. It’s not like I’d get to sit in the sweltering heat watching as my smarter comrades made their speeches. It’s not like I was closing one door on my life. It’s not as if I was going to have to choose which door to go through next.
I believe I started to hyperventilate slightly.
I really wished for some moral support, but Lily was still at Hogwarts and Yvonne had to get ready for graduation too. I picked myself up and started back towards the mirror, taking the hairbrush with me.
Stroke, stroke, stroke.
I still couldn’t do it. I was terrified. Every stroke of the hairbrush was my making my hair into an even larger, tangled mess.
My mother opened the door.
She looked at my tangled hair and the hairbrush resting in my hand. Wordlessly, she picked up the brush and started running it through my tangles, smoothing them all out in a way only a mother could do.
Stroke, stroke, stroke.
She didn’t speak a word and neither did I. The only sound I could hear was the sound of the hairbrush running through my hair. That sound soon faded into nothing.
There is something incredibly calming about having your mother brush your hair; I don’t know what it is. It leads to a sense of security I suppose; knowing that however tangled up you might get your mother will always be there to smooth things out.
She finished brushing my hair and turned me around so she could look at me. I raised my posture slightly, trying to seem taller than I actually was and I saw her blink a few times before patting me on the head and silently walking out of the room.
I turned around and stared at myself in the mirror before putting my cap on my head and walking out the door.
The girl giving the speech for my class was Marcy Stevens. She got to stand in front of everyone, eighty-four students and twice as many parents and other relatives, to give what was supposed to be a rousing, inspirational speech.
It wasn’t really.
I sat there among the other students, looking at the gray clouds overhead, feeling the irrepressible humidity, and just begging for a thunderstorm to come our way.
Growing up in such a small community, I have come to know my fellow students like I know my siblings…we are more than just friends here, we are brothers, we are sisters, we are family…
I turned my head slightly to look down the row at Teresa Boylston. She was staring at her fingernails, frowning slightly as she listened to Marcy go on about how close knit we were.
I felt a bit guilty. When I thought about it, it seemed like we had outcast Teresa, we had never given her a chance. She was different, she liked to read, she liked to be quiet, and we couldn’t handle that difference. We took her quietness as snobbery and discredited her. We talked horribly behind her back. We pulled pranks on her.
And I wondered if we didn’t abandon her.
If one of us had took the time to get to know her, maybe things would have worked out differently, maybe we could have been friends.
But we decided not to put in the effort, a few overnice words here and there, a few fake smiles, it’s no wonder she thinks we’re all unreal.
And I was guilty. I played a part in tearing her down. Even though I didn’t often talk behind her back, I was still guilty of doing nothing. I stood by and watched as Friday’s chili was poured in her locker, I watched as the girls wrote obscene things about her in the bathroom stalls, I watched as they spread rumors.
If what Marcy was saying is true, then I had abandoned my sister.
What does that say about me?
I look at my peers, and no longer do I see my fellow students, but I see doctors, teachers, and even the occasional electrician…
The crowd gave a small laugh.
I had always dreamed of becoming a writer. And not one of those frivolous fantasy writers, but a writer of real stories. I’ve seen magic, I’ve seen the wonderful things it can do, but to me magic is nowhere near as astounding as people are. People who aren’t perfect, people who aren’t extraordinary, people who are real.
I wanted to go to college. I had it all figured out. I’d become an English teacher, because I didn’t want to be a starving artist, and then I would gradually write a story. When I finished teaching I could completely devote my time to writing. And eventually I would be published. Eventually someone would read my stories and be moved, if ever so slightly.
When Marcy looked at us, she saw us as people with a proper destination, as people with good, respectable jobs…and yet I wonder if she failed to see that we were also people with wild dreams…
When we walk away from the school today for the last time, I know I will feel accomplished, I’ve learned so much these past four years of high school…
What had I learned? I felt very stupid as I sat in my chair and tried to imagine what exactly it was that I had learned that would come in handy…
Certainly nothing from my science classes, or from learning French, or from those complex theorems we learned in math…
I started to think that I had just wasted four years of my life learning nothing of value…
Everyone started to clap. So I did too, even though I had missed most of the speech.
The names started to be called. I watched as “Boylston, Teresa” was called up, looking out at us with a slight defiance. I watched as “Carey, Yvonne” was called up, waving to her parents as she walked off the stage.
And when I heard “Evans, Petunia” my mind started scrambling around for something, anything useful that I had learned, anything meaningful that I had accomplished in the past four years.
I could come up with nothing.
But as I gazed upon the crowd, my eyes fell on a small group of people clapping loudly for me. My parents, Nan, Aunt Esther, and Vernon were all sitting there, clapping loudly. My mum was wiping tears from her eyes and my dad was snapping photos like crazy.
For whatever reason, just seeing them all there for me made me wonder if this wasn’t the purpose of high school. Maybe the entire point of going to school was to get this feeling, this feeling of pride and support that only comes when you’ve accomplished something while your parents watch from afar.
I didn’t exactly know what it was that I had accomplished, but I knew that I done something. Why else would those I cared about be there, cheering me on like maniacs?
Once all the names were called a few last words were said before all of us reached up and threw our caps up in the air.
I watched as mine flew higher and higher into the air before making an arc and falling back quickly toward the ground.
A/N: So, I've never actually been to a graduation before, and yes, Petunia is being rather...sentimental, I suppose, but tha't just the way she is. From here on out it's going to be rough sailing though, becuase I'm not entirely sure where to go next...
Just thought I'd warn you...And try to keep track of the dates from now on...I'm afraid I'm going to have to skip a few years...
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