This is it; this is the day I’ve been waiting for. It was a beautiful summer afternoon, the temperature danced around seventy-five degrees and a slight breeze filled the warm summer air. The sun shone brightly, laying its warm rays on anything it could get its hands on. The sky was blank, not a cloud in sight. Only the deep blue remained, the kind one could get lost in for hours. It was a perfect Pittsburgh day for my high school graduation.
Today, I will graduate, I told myself.
This moment, the one I had dreamed of, worked towards, and sometimes even dreaded, had finally arrived.
As the ceremony neared, I began to get dressed. I sluggishly slid on my blue-khaki pants, which felt like cardboard after just being pressed. Next was my neatly pressed white dress shirt, and finally my skinny gold paisley necktie. Much to my dismay, all the colors coordinated in my outfit matched my school’s colors, blue and gold.
My eyes rolled back into my head as my dad said with a smirk on his face, “You look good Devin, I like the color coordination.” I smiled back and thought, I wish mom were here to see me. My eyes widened as I looked at my brown leather strapped watch, I was running late. I cannot be late for my own graduation. I darted out the dark-oak front door but made a point to close the door ever so slowly, popping my head in with a similar smirk. My dad knew I was mocking him, as he was very particular about not slamming doors.
The drive to school was hectic. I rolled all the windows down, front, back, and even the sunroof. The wind hurled through the car, whipping everything around in its path, including my hair. I didn’t care though; this was my graduation day. My tan Honda Accord and I raced down the back roads, winding, turning, and curving, all at high speeds.
I cannot, no, I will not, be late for my own graduation. I started to panic. What will they do if I’m late? Will I still get to graduate? My mom will be pissed if she flies in all the way from Hawaii to not see me graduate.
As each tick of the clock passed, my speed increased, along with my heart rate. But as time wore on, I began to relax. My fears slowly subsided and my heart rate began to decrease. Soon enough, the outline of my high school exposed itself above the small rolling hills it was once concealed by. I had finally made it.
The football field was the perfect venue for the graduation ceremony. The stage sat a foot off the turf, smack dab on the fifty-yard line. Two ramps stretched along either end of the stage. A podium stood alone center stage, covered with the school emblem. Behind it sat a creative white-wooden backdrop, entwined with school colors, blue and gold, and flowers that were coordinated likewise. The home section stands were packed like sardines with parents, friends, and teachers, all screaming as their loved one’s names were called. On the field sat row after row of black, plastic chairs, stuffed with high school students who were half asleep.
As I lolled in my chair, listening to the names of my peers echoing throughout the packed stadium, I thought about all the memories I shared with them. The ceremony began with the end of the alphabet, which left me with a lot of time to think.
The time our football team made it to the state championship, our senior prom, and yes, even the time a mass stabbing plagued our school.
It all flashed back into my memory. And then came the memories I’ve made on the turf itself playing lacrosse. Constant memories played in my head, like my own little movie theater.
The dull noise of the names being read off became background music to my mental movie theater.
This is it. This is the last time I’ll ever step on this field again. I thought about the first goal I ever scored, the time I scored my first hat trick, and the last game of lacrosse I’d ever played on that turf. I was lost in the daze of memories all pouring back into my head at once.
Abruptly, my movie was cut short, “Devin Michael Arrigo”. The name pierced my ears as it resonated throughout the loudspeaker. It was my turn to graduate. I could hear my parents, aunts, uncles, and friends, in the jam-packed stands, hooting and hollering for me.
I knew for a fact my mom and dad were not sitting together.
As I walked up onto the picturesque stage, tall and proud, I thought about all the effort and hard work I had put in getting here. All the late nights after practice doing homework, the constant meetings with teachers to solidify my knowledge, and the never-ending amount of time I spent at the high school so near to my heart.
This moment, where I walked through all the half-sleeping graduates and onto the stage, was the perfect conclusion to all of my hard work and dedication throughout my life. It represented my successes for all that they were worth. I had finally made it. I, had graduated.
It was April of my eighth grade school year. I had survived my last day of school before Easter break, and like everyone else, I couldn’t wait to get home. This break was special. My brothers were coming home from college and it had been months since I’d last seen them.
I sprinted home as fast as I could, cutting through woods, jumping over rocks, and taking shortcuts, like a miniature marine. When I arrived, I was met with something totally different.
“Devin, your Dad and I need to talk to you”.
Oh jeez, what did I do this time? Forget to close the garage? Broke the TV?
As I ambled towards the living room where my Dad was patiently waiting on the big sofa, I could tell that this time was different. Everything about this talk seemed more serious. No one said a word until we reached the living room. My Dad’s face drooped as if he was stressed to the point of exhaustion. I waited on the couch for my parents to make the first move. My mom looked concerned, as she searched for the right words. I was definitely not going to start this conversation.
“Devin, you’re Dad and I are getting a divorce,” my Mom said. Those words hit me like a bomb. My eyes watered as the words spewed out of my mom’s mouth.
All that registered with me was one word, divorce. Everything after that was dull background noise to my overwhelming thoughts.
What’s going to happen to me? Where will I live? Is this all my fault?
Questions filed into my head at lightning speed. I was devastated. My gut wrenched, my head hurt, and all I wanted to do was getaway.
As the one-sided conversation continued, some of my questions were answered. Two houses? Mom’s moving to Hawaii? I was so afraid of the whole idea. My parents stressed that they still loved me and that the divorce changed nothing. The expectations they set for me pre-divorce were still the same.
“We still love you very much, but we just don’t love each other anymore. You can understand that right?”, my mom said.
Yeah, I guess I could. But at the same time, I couldn’t imagine a world without both my parents in it. They stressed the importance of education and keeping my grades up, as they always did. “This changes nothing in regards to your grades. If you start acting up, you will be moving to Hawaii with your mother,” my dad said to me.
The idea of life apart from what I’ve built in Pittsburgh was terrifying to me. It was like a nightmare that could eventually come true. I was sick to my stomach. Everyone close to me was in Pittsburgh. My brothers went to Penn State, my aunts and uncles lived right in the neighborhood, and most of all, my friends were within walking distance. Friends that I had known since birth. Friends that I would take a bullet for. What would I do without my family and friends? I couldn’t even begin to imagine a life that they weren’t in. The threat to send me to Hawaii was all too real.
Quickly I learned that the life I once had would never be the same. Time after time, I was put in the middle of my parents.
It was like a game of tug of war, and I was the rope. I cried, I screamed, and most of all, I was angered. My parents used me like a special agent to undermine one another and gain information about the other’s whereabouts.
It was like a warzone, and I was stuck in the middle with no way out. No way to escape. And the worst part of all, there was no end in sight. I reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I had had enough. I snapped.
One afternoon of my 8th-grade year, my Dad called his ‘special agent’ fishing for information about my Mom. The anger that had been brewing inside of me needed a way out. It escaped with one single punch. I punched a hole in the drywall of my own house.
The anger was gone, but a new problem arose: a broken hand. The divorce caused me so much trauma, so much stress, and so much anxiety, that the only way I saw fit to escape it, was by punching a wall.
After my name boomed throughout the scenic stadium, the graduation ceremony flew by. The names of my peers echoing throughout the stadium, the mob of parents cheering for their graduates, and the closing speeches given by my fellow students. It all flew by in a constant blur. None of it mattered to me at that point. I had done what I needed to do. I had graduated.
As the last names of my graduating class were delivered, family and friends gathered to start the painstaking process of pictures. While in the past I may have rolled my eyes and complained, there was something special about these pictures.
On my right, I had my Mom, tall and tan, holding me tight like a python. On my left, my Dad, equally as tall, yet slender. His gigantic hand swallowed my shoulder up as I stood between my parents.
My smile was big enough for the world to see.
I no longer felt stuck in the middle. I no longer was filled with anger, and grief. I no longer searched for a way to escape. I chose to be in the middle that time, and I couldn’t have been happier.
** I wrote this back in 2014 as a freshman in college for an intro English course. The goal was to write about a differing opinion on a semi-controversial issue. Today, I think divorce is seen in a different light than it was even just 5 years ago. But, while time has marched on, the sentiment remains the same.
Yes, my parent’s divorce was difficult for me. Yes, there were times where I wish my parents were still together. And yes, things still aren’t always perfect.
But, by no means, am I worse off because of it. Divorce didn’t break me. I’m still here. Still standing. Thriving.
While it wasn’t always easy, I’m better off because of it. I’m stronger, more resilient, and better able to handle stressful situations. I can better navigate my feelings and am more in tune with my emotions. I have been blessed with two sets of loving parents and have been able to experience so much more as a result of my parent’s divorce.
Not only did I graduate from high school, but I went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Penn State University with a degree in Risk Management. After graduation, I got a job with a healthcare consulting firm in Pittsburgh, PA. Then, when the opportunity arose, I moved across the country to San Diego to fulfill a lifelong dream. While the move was initially tough, I knew I could persevere. And for that, I have the divorce to thank.