Mildred came home from work and found another one of her daughter’s writing assignments on the kitchen table. An “A,” she thought. Wonderful. Melissa is such a good girl and an excellent student. I can’t wait to see her graduate in just a few short months. Mildred was a single mother, working hard to support herself and her daughter. She had to trust Melissa to come home from school and do the right thing. Mildred was proud that she could do that without worry.
Each day Mildred left for work before Melissa woke, and she returned home after Melissa was at her own job. By the time Melissa got home from work Mildred was long sleeping, preparing for another early shift at the bakery. Ever since Melissa was 10-years-old, Mildred had snuck out the door long before Melissa’s alarm went off. Melissa got herself out of bed, got dressed, ate breakfast, and headed out the door for school the moment the clock struck 8:00. Now that Melissa was a senior in high school, Mildred felt no guilt about the arrangement. A woman had to do what a woman had to do in order to support herself and her daughter. Besides, Melissa was almost a grown-up herself.
As the weeks went by, Mildred continued to see Melissa’s graded school work on the kitchen table, just where it had been since Melissa was in 4th grade. Mildred was able to keep up with Melissa by passing notes back and forth on the dining room table. The white board calendar hanging next to the table kept their schedules straight. Mildred smiled when she saw, “Graduation- 5 PM” on next Thursday’s box.
On Thursday morning Mildred left a note for Melissa,
My precious little girl,
Although you are not a little girl anymore, I can’t help but remember you as my tiny person I was meant to take care of. You know, I didn’t even get a chance to go to my own high school graduation. By the time my classmates walked across that stage you were already four months old. I had dropped out of school because life was just too difficult for me as a mother and a student. I am SO, SO proud of you.
I will see you tonight at your graduation ceremony. I have to work until 4:30 but you know I’ll be there on time to see you receive your diploma.
I love you,
Melissa read the note when she woke in the morning. She took it and slipped it in her pocket, then walked out the door. Tears ran down Melissa’s face.
At 5:00 sharp Mildred slid into an empty seat in the crowded stadium. The school fight song played over the loud speakers, and the graduating class of 2011 filed in. Mildred looked closely, but she couldn’t see Melissa. With over 500 students graduating they all looked like tiny ants marching across the blanket at a picnic. Finally, all of them were where they belonged, and they all took a seat.
The valedictorian rose to begin his speech, and Mildred lost herself in hearing his encouraging words. These WERE great days to rejoice. A new life was about to begin for these 18-year-olds. A new brand of responsibility was coming their way. This was something Mildred understood. She said a silent prayer for her daughter and looked around, still trying to find Melissa among the crowd.
The speeches finally ended, and names began to be called. With so many students, it seemed like it was going to take forever. Forty minutes passed, and the announcer at last got to the “W”s. Mildred perked up, waiting to hear her daughter’s name. “Wilson, Anna G…., Woodman, Gregory H..., Woodyatt, Jason C.”
What? Mildred thought. I didn’t hear Woodrow, Melissa A. How did I miss hearing my baby’s name being called? I don’t see her on stage, either. I missed my daughter’s high school graduation. How can that be?
Mildred fiddled with her purse for a few minutes, ignoring the rest of the names being called. Embarrassed, thinking she must have fallen asleep for just a few brief seconds (at absolutely the worst moment in time), Mildred decided to leave the ceremony a little early. She was going to head back stage and ask if there was anyone taking pictures for the school. Maybe she could get a copy of Melissa walking across the stage so she could say she didn’t completely miss the event.
As Mildred reached the last step, she saw a young adult standing in the wings. She had tears running down her face and was holding her graduation cap in her hand. The young lad was staring at her classmates as they all moved their tassels from the right side to the left, signaling that they were now high school graduates. “Congratulations Marshall High School Class of 2011!” As the school principal said his last words, the class through their caps high in the air and cheered. The girl dropped to her knees and began to sob.
Mildred went to comfort the girl but stopped short. “Melissa?” she asked. “What are you doing out here. What… what’s happening? Why aren’t you out there celebrating with the rest of your classmates?” Mildred couldn’t believe her daughter had been here under the bleachers the whole time. Her Melissa had missed her own graduation as well. Mildred wondered if the fault was hers for not being available to drive Melissa to the ceremony.
“Let me ask this again. What’s wrong, Melissa? Why are you hiding here under the bleachers instead of accepting your diploma up on stage?”
“Mama, I’m…. I’m not graduating. The papers on the table were from last year.” Melissa fell into her mother’s arms. She finally got the courage to finish telling her mother why she wasn’t graduating. With a big sigh, Melissa started again. “Mama, I haven’t been going to school. I’ve been working full time in order to earn some money.”
“Melissa, what in the WORLD do you need money for?” Mildred was furious. She worked night and day to provide for her and Melissa. No, it wasn’t the most ideal situation, but it paid the bills. Mildred had hoped Melissa would be smart enough to stay home with her and attend the community college down the road. That way Melissa wouldn’t have to work constantly the way she did herself. Mildred had spent her life trying to give Melissa the life she deserved.
“Oh, Mama, please don’t be mad… I’m pregnant. I’m going to have a baby.”
Mildred was the one who needed arms to hold her now. After everything she had done to try to break the cycle, it hadn’t been enough. Melissa was going to follow in Mildred’s footsteps, and Mildred knew there was nothing she could say.
Knowing there was nothing she could do to change this situation, Mildred dried her eyes and straightened her aching back. She put her arm around her daughter and sighed. “Let’s go home, M. We’ll figure this all out there.”