From a Recluse To a Superstar…

My Universally Panned Semi-Goatee

I just got home from the sixth-grade graduation ceremony at the school where I used to work. I’ve got to say, it was an emotional day, and I’m still reeling a bit, my heart feeling like it’s got an anchor on it…

I wasn’t sure what to expect, since kids are notorious for having short memories, but the moment I arrived on the school grounds, I was spotted by two boys who instantly whipped our their cellphones to take my picture. “I saw Tommy!” one of the boys said to the other in a voice full of wonder.

And that’s pretty much how the rest of the day played out. The graduation ceremony took place indoors–it mainly consisted of the kids sitting in their regular classrooms watching a video broadcast on the TVs as the parents watched and took pictures from the halls–and as I walked by the classrooms, cries of “It’s Tommy, it’s Tommy” rang out and students craned their necks to catch a glimpse of me. After the ceremony was over, I spent time talking with the kids and having my picture taken with them, and they were pretty unanimous in not liking my burgeoning goatee (“very strange,” “not handsome,” “you look like grandfather” were just some of the reactions). I couldn’t get over how much taller some of the students had gotten, and the voices of several of the boys were already changing (Hello, puberty!).

Mostly, though, it felt so bizarre and bittersweet to find myself back in my old life, one that I lived for three very memorable years. Just as the kids were graduating and getting ready for middle school, I too was closing the door on a chapter of my life. In life, there are always consequenceㄴ, and there’s no denying it now: my decision to stop teaching and dedicate myself to writing was an irrevocable one, and there really is no turning back and returning to what I once had, even if I start teaching somewhere else. Like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, I felt the full impact of knowing that the past is gone and can never be recaptured, can never be relived. I consciously knew all of that of course, but today might have been the first time I truly felt it.

But it is what it is. The kids are growing up and moving on, just as they should be. As for me, all I can do is wish them well, indulge in a little self-pity for the rest of the day, and then simply write on. And no matter what the future brings, we’ll always have our memories…

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