The Graduation Party
Daniel could feel the sun streaming through the window and knew that today was going to be another brilliantly warm June day and as he lay there, unwilling to part with his comfortable pillow and cool sheets, he knew something was different and he was scared. He was only 8 years old and for a kid, it was the “not knowing what was going on” that was the hardest.
Sanford, Daniel’s brother, was leaving home today, Daniel had heard his parents talking for weeks about it, and he could tell they were upset. The problem was that he did not understand. Hearing only words like “if he’ll be safe” or “what if he doesn’t come home” Daniel didn’t really understand what they were talking about. He would get this pain in his stomach when he heard the sound of their voices and he couldn’t understand why they were upset. Why did it seem that they were unhappy, and why did it feel disingenuous when the family was together and they would be smiling while they talked about the party or summer vacation?
Sanford was graduating from high school today and leaving to go into the Marines. He guessed that was the problem.
There had been many plans for Sanford’s graduation party and their grandparents had arrived last night so everything was a bit chaotic around the house.
Sanford was Daniel’s brother and they had been pretty close the last couple of years even though Sanford was almost ten years older. Sanford had taken Daniel to baseball games, movies, taught him how to throw a baseball and even helped coach is Little League team last year.
Last night, with all the excitement of his grandparents’ arrival, Daniel had finally gone to bed and still, he laid there for a while not being able to get to sleep. No matter how much he tossed and turned, the minutes kept going by on the clock reflected on his ceiling. Finally, he got up to go get a glass of water. Anything to keep from staring at those stupid numbers. Walking softly down the hall, he heard snatches of the conversation between his parents with words he didn’t exactly understand. Oh, he knew what “boot camp” was because Sanford had talked to him about it one-day last month when they were out playing ball. He had said there was a lot of exercises and that he would be gone for a couple of months but Sanford seemed excited, not worried like mom and dad were. Then he had heard his mom mention some place called “Afghanistan” and just the way she said it sounded a little scary. Sanford had not mentioned that before and maybe that was the worst part, they would talk about everything…but not this, so it must be serious.
Well, Daniel thought as he threw back the covers, there would be enough time to ask questions later but right now, he had to get dressed for Sanford’s graduation. He pulled on his black pants and the yellow short sleeved shirt mom had set aside for him to wear last night, grabbed his socks and shoes, and then, encouraged by the smell of bacon, ran downstairs for breakfast.
As he sat on the couch finishing getting dressed, he could see mom in the kitchen finishing the scrambled eggs. She did not look worried so he decided to look forward to the party this afternoon. Walking in to the kitchen, he grabbed a knife and the butter from the counter and helped finish up the toast feeling good when he saw mom smile.
It felt good having everyone sitting around the table and breakfast seemed to be over as quickly as it had begun.
It was only a half-day at school and Sanford’s graduation was right after lunch.
Graduation was long and hot. It took forever for all the graduates to get to their seat, Daniel did not understand why they had to walk in to some really s…l…o…w music and then to make it longer, walk in, in two long rows. As long as it took to walk in it was even longer for them to read everyone’s names and the only one he really cared about was Sanford. And that didn’t even happen until after a bunch of people stood up there talking about everything they had done, everything they were going to do and even talking about things that were taking place around the country now. Of course, the group that sang wasn’t bad but sitting in the hot sun without anything to do but watch was not his idea of a good way to spend a perfectly good sunny afternoon.
As it was, all he could think of was going home and getting the party started.
However, there wasn’t anything spectacular about the party. It wasn’t like any party he expected. No games. Only a bunch of food, well that wasn’t bad, but then there was all that hugging. That was because there was a lot of family there Daniel’s had not seen in a long time. A lot of smiling and “thank you’s” since he kept hearing what a lovely little man or what a handsome young boy you’ve grown up to be. That wasn’t so bad but the “little man” – what were they thinking?
The fact that it was also a going away party since Sanford was leaving for boot camp that afternoon after the graduation party was the other reason that so many of their relatives were there. In addition, when you added all of Sanford’s friends – it was crowded.
The one person that showed up and really made Daniel feel happy was Russel. Russell was Daniel’s best friend and when he arrived, they headed out of the yard and up to Daniel’s room. Normally they would have stayed outside but you could not find any place not already filled with people, so hanging out up there for a while and playing Nintendo was a welcome break.
It was about six o’clock in the evening when Sanford’s recruiter came by to pick him up. Sanford had only packed a small suitcase to take with him because he would be getting his uniforms and all of that other stuff at boot camp. Daniel stood there watching as he had gotten in the van to go. Watching until the van had disappeared down the street and around the corner in the distance. With the exception that Russell was standing right next to him it felt like his best friend was leaving him but turning to go back inside, he grabbed Russell by the arm and asked if he wanted to go throw a few balls after everyone else had left. Sanford was gone. That definitely felt strange. Lonely. And he didn’t like it. However, he felt like hanging with Russell would be a definite improvement over simply the adults that were staying at the house for the rest of the weekend.
As they were all walking inside, Daniel asked his dad where Afghanistan was and he told him it was in the Middle East. Merely the way dad said “Afghanistan” made Daniel feel uncomfortable, so he had dropped the subject and went out to the backyard with Russell. The rest of the afternoon was uneventful but that night, lying alone in his bed, he thought about Sanford and he slipped out of bed and got down on his knees.
Daniel had always talked to God before and his prayers were more like conversations. He could tell God anything and he knew it would all be ok.
“God”, he began, “please watch over Sanford, and keep him safe. I don’t know why everyone is acting funny but it is a little scary so…just help ok?” He stayed there a little while longer and then crawled back into his warm bed before drifting off silently to sleep.