Location: Graduation Ceremony
Here's my story...
Synopsis: Allison Thomas’s graduation was supposed to be perfect, but when a shooter unleashes on the crowd, her excitement turned to terror. In the pandemonium, she was able to find her parents, but right after they reunited, her mother was shot and killed resulting in her graduation from innocence rather than simply high school.
I watched my peers fidgeting in their seats as we waited for it to be our row’s turn to rise and approach the side of the stage, and I couldn’t help from reminiscing about the past 13 years of our lives. So many memories. So many dreams created, attempted, lost, achieved. This would be a day that would define my future.
Glancing behind me, I searched the mass in the stands hoping to catch of glimpse of my folks, to smile and let them know I was grateful for everything they’d done for me, or to simply make eye contact affirming our mutual love. They were my rocks. They were the two people I loved more that life itself.
Randy Braggs. Troy Brighton. Josh Carlton. They’re calling names of people I’d known and cared about for most of my life, but I had time before I needed to really focus since my name, Allison Thomas, was so far down the alphabet. I twirled my ruby locks around my finger while I tried to take it all in. I didn’t want to forget a thing. The sky’s so clear with not a cloud in sight, but it made sense since it’s the end of May and we’re in California where the weather is practically perfect in every way, but today was more than perfect.
Row after row, my friends stood and received their diplomas until my favorite teacher, Mr. Granger, waved his hands signifying it’s our turn. The energy tingled through us as, together, we stood, turned, and began the processional to the stage. I pivoted back and waved in the general direction of my parents, hoping they got that perfect photo opportunity before I faced forward again for the parade to the temporary stage in the middle of our football field. It didn’t matter how many times we practiced the day before, I was terrified I’d trip and embarrass myself. I needed to focus.
When I finally approached the stairs to the stage, I could feel my heart race, and my mouth refused to stop smiling. “Congratulations,” my principal said and handed me my diploma. I was graduating from high school, from childhood, from the right to be a fool whenever I wished. What would the future look like? I didn’t care at that moment; all I knew was this was happiness. All around me, the kids I grew up with held their breath until the principal said, “Students, please move your tassels from right to left. Congratulations to the graduating class of 2017.”
Boom! Confetti erupted over our heads, shrouded our mortar boards and fell like snowflakes around us. Blue and white strips of paper peppered the ground as we shouted like children on a rollercoaster. The excitement in the crowd was exhilarating as hundreds of family and friends swarmed the field in search of their graduates. There’d be plenty of time to be with my friends that night at Grad Night, but now I wanted my parents. I searched beyond the strangers swarming around me until I could see her on the other side of the football field. “Mom,” I called out in vain. Too many voices were trying the same thing I was. Boom! No one flinched. Instead, we all stopped, looked up, seeking the familiar confetti, but it didn’t come. Bang, Bang, Bang. It was like fireworks that never reached the sky. Confusion washed over me until the screaming began. “Run. Get down.” Excitement turned to terror as bedlam seized the masses causing children, parents, elders to desperately seek shelter from their potential deaths. “MOM! DAD!” I screamed, horrified I wouldn’t find them. I pushed past groups of people shielding their loved ones on the ground from the bullets falling from the heavens. Oh my God, please help me. Flashes of my childhood passed before my eyes. Those single moments of bliss with my family: watching the Little Mermaid with my stuffed lobster, Sebastian; visiting Disneyland for my first time; running downstairs Christmas morning to discover what Santa brought - it was all a blink ago. Down another went, bringing me back. John. Sarah. Bethany. My friends were dying. I ran as hard as I could towards the last place I saw my parents. “MOM! DAD! WHERE ARE YOU?!”
The shots continued making our innocent ceremony a war zone. The bellowing howls of innocents pierced my ears. I had to get out of there. I had to find them. THERE! I could see them thirty feet away from me. “MOMMY! DADDY!” I cried as my feet took me to them where I collided into their arms for safety. We clung to each other as we shook with fear and trepidation. “I didn’t think I’d find you,” Mom said to me, between her sobs. “Thank you, God,” she repeated over and over until she was sure he heard her. Bang! More shots. Mom lurched forward and buckled.
“Mom?” I pulled back only to watch her crumple to the ground. My dad lunged forward to stop her, but he was too late. There was a hole in her chest that wasn’t there before. Her eyes were still open, but there was nothing behind them. “Mom!” I screamed, shaking her shoulders. “Wake up. Mommy, you have to wake up.” Her blood was everywhere, but we didn’t care. Dad and I cradled her in our arms until the paramedics took her away. When I stood up, I spotted a small lobster, covered in blood on the ground where she once stood. It was the Sebastian doll from my youth.
Dad picked it up and clutched it to him, staining his white shirt, marking the end of my childhood. “She found it this morning and wanted you to have it again,” he told me and wiped the tears from his eyes.
I took it from him and wondered how I would ever recover from this day. It was no longer my graduation from school, but rather my graduation from innocence.