There aren't too many things I fear other than moths and mushrooms. I don't fear death, I don't fear rejection, I don't fear failure (as evidenced by the many poor decisions I've made in my life) but there is one thing that makes my heart nearly stop beating.
The other day I took one of my kids to Georgia State University, where she wants to enroll as an undergrad student and I want to enroll as a grad student. We had a great time talking about how awesome her life will be once she graduates high school in a few weeks. I enjoyed recalling the fun my friends and I had the summer after I graduated high school. Then I looked at her and told her that I'd like to come to her graduation, but I simply can't. She urged me to and said how much she'd enjoy having me there. I thought about it. It seemed pretty cool and I'd love to be there to cheer her on. I told her that I might be able to make it after all.
Once I dropped her at home, I started to think about it even more. I started to think about that day. A day that has remained the worst day of my life. A day that started out as the happiest, suddenly became the most tragic.
The day I graduated high school was a warm June day. I remember my all white outfit, down to my ugly white Payless shoes. I actually found myself looking back on my high school years and thinking that no matter how much I said I wouldn't, I actually would miss high school. After the ceremony I anxiously went to meet my family so that we could go eat. I went out into the aisles of the church and I saw them. My little sister looked at me and said "Malika, Tracey's dead." That's it. No "we need to talk" no waiting, no warning, no asking me to sit down first. I looked at her, my dad, and at the time, my dad's girlfriend and said "don't play like that, that's not funny." I searched their faces for answers. Was Tracey there and they were playing an awful prank on me? My stepmother's face was blank as was my father's. I misinterpreted his blank look as a smirk and said again "Seriously, that's not funny." My father looked up and said "she didn't get enough insulin." I ran and found a pew in the church. I threw myself down and cried. I bawled and screamed at the top of my lungs. My cousin was gone. My best friend. The woman that I'd shared so much time with over the last few years. And she was gone. My friend Talicia and I bummed a ride home with someone else. I was in shock. I remember how I kept repeating that my cousin was dead. She was buried a week later, June 19, 1998, the day before my 18th birthday. So many people get to laugh and hang out for their 18th birthdays. I was in New Jersey for a funeral.
I still think back on that period often. I find myself thinking that if only I'd put more energy into inviting Tracey to my graduation, she'd still be here. Tracey had moved to New Jersey slightly before that, and I'd called one day to check on her. Her mother told me that she was in Georgia, to my surprise. I called the number she gave me and I left a message for Tracey to call me back. I never heard back from her. My graduation was a few weeks later. I get so angry at myself because all I can think is that I was chasing after my ignorant boyfriend, David, who I hate now. I was so busy worrying about him and his foolishness that I didn't even put any real effort into inviting Tracey to my graduation. And now she's gone. If only I'd called more. Even one more time, she might still be here. To explain my thoughts, Tracey died after she and her boyfriend were staying in a motel and they got into an argument. He choked her and left her. She died that night/morning. If only I'd called her, we probably would have arranged for her to stay the night at my house and she'd still be here. She would have lived to watch her daughter grow up. But instead Tracey's gone because I didn't think....
I went to my cousin Ali's college graduation a year after mine. I was a wreck. I cried the whole time. Something about seeing those caps and gowns took me back to that day. After that, I swore that I'd never attend another graduation. I feel that it's unfair for me to ruin someone else's day with my own issues. I was surprised my mother even let me skip my little sister's graduation.
On the way home from my friend's home after we discussed her graduation, for the first time ever, I thought I might be okay with graduations again. But then I relived that day all over again. As I drove home tears ran down my face as I asked myself for the millionth time why I didn't try one more time to call Tracey.
No, I won't be attending her graduation.