Another trip back to memory lane,
This one’s kinda lame,
But a funny story all the same,
Parts of this will hopefully make you laugh,
I know I did, where I once cringed I now smile looking back.
I sat pensively on my seat, intermittently listening to the principal struggling to contain her emotions as she addressed my classmates and I for the final time. It was the closing stages of sixth grade graduation and for my peers and I, the upcoming summer break was merely the calm before the the long, arduous road called high school (and teenage years), with its trials, tribulations and everything in between, would unfold.
Call it youthful immaturity but the significance of this event completely escaped me. As the principal spoke my mind was mostly elsewhere, planning what to do with my next six weeks of freedom. That I was on the cusp of ending a significant chapter of my life barely registered.
Most of my classmates evidently felt the same. Some twiddled their thumbs, others daydreamed while among them, the few whose focus was firmly on the present grinned as the principal paid tribute to our hardworking ways over the past six years and wished us well on our journeys.
Several hours earlier I had sat on my desk, staring blankly at the small piece of paper lying in front of me and the pencil beside it. The room was deathly silent, so much so that the tick tock of the clock hanging above the chalkboard in front of the classroom was audible, as were the cars that whizzed past outside under the summer heat.
I looked around the room, hoping to draw some inspiration but also out of boredom and saw that my classmates all had their heads down scribbling random notes on their pieces of paper. And then there were those who were bored as hell, yawning as they waited for the very last lunchtime bell that we would all ever have to answer to as primary school students.
I turned my attention back on that piece of paper, my mind still blank and beginning to drive me insane.
Come on, Kid! Just write something!
My frustration grew as more and more of my classmates began writing on their paper before submitting it to the teacher, who was seated at her desk at the back of the classroom. She had placed a small jar on her desk for students to drop their pieces of paper and the more students I saw walking up to her desk the more I panicked. Shoot, even those glassy-eyed daydreamers were now dropping their paper into that damn jar.
What exactly is the purpose of these little pieces of paper, you ask?
Well, my classmates and I were scheduled to attend our sixth grade graduation ceremony later in the day, about an hour prior to what would be home time. Our teacher had provided us with a small piece of paper to write down our secret wish or dream for the future before folding them up to be placed inside helium balloons that we would release into the sky at the conclusion of the graduation ceremony.
It sounds cheesy but that’s the way our teachers liked it. Call it the icing on top of a massive cheesecake. Oh yeah, and part of that ceremony would include all of us students singing the Celine Dion hit that inspired this particular entry together as a tribute to our parents.
I wish I made that part up but it was part of the program.
And there I was, just your typical twelve-year old aching to forget about all this crap and waste the rest of the day playing video games or watching TV.
After all, with high school looming next year I was anticipating a heavier workload that would limit my free time so I wanted to blow off as much steam as I could with the time that I had.
As a kid I never really looked way out into the future and thought about what path I would take. I can’t say I knew any kid that did. The only thing we looked forward to was hanging out and having fun without a care in the world outside of childhood fantasies of fame, fortune and possibly becoming superheroes.
And then a light bulb suddenly went off in my head. Finally!
I wrote down my secret wish, quickly folded up that piece of paper and then dropped it into the jar on my teacher’s desk, shaking my head in disbelief as I strolled back to my desk. My classmates probably wrote something profound about wanting to be rich and famous or to contribute to world peace and me? Well, my little wish wasn’t quite on the same stratosphere as theirs. Be patient, Dear Reader, I shall reveal all at the end of this post. For now, all you need to know is that if I could speak to the twelve-year old version of myself I would have asked him if that wish was the extent of his ambitions
Following the final lunchtime of our primary school lives and a brief moment in our classrooms to pack our bags and have a final moment with our teachers us sixth graders assembled to the school’s main grounds to kick off the graduation ceremony. We were seated front and center close to the front of the main stage while around us the rest of the student body sat and looked on while our loved ones sat and stood around on the sidelines. For the next hour students listened to speeches from the principal, teachers and student leaders while our parents took pictures and recorded the proceedings with their camcorders (it was still the late 90s. Cellphones weren’t used for anything other than taking calls) and some brushed away at teary eyes hidden behind sunglasses. It was an emotional moment for them and I noticed that even some teachers were tearing up. You never really know how much they care until moments like these.
Many speeches and a few songs and prayers later (including that hit by Ms. Dion), we were all handed a helium balloon each, each one containing those little wishes that we wrote earlier. It was hard to tell if the balloon that we held in our hands contained our notes or someone else’s but they were all going to fly into the sky anyway. In a last show of authority for their students our teachers instructed us to release our balloons into the air and soon, the sky was filled with multi-colored helium balloons that went up and up and up, although one was momentarily caught among trees before the wind gently guided it back skywards.
And just like that, sixth grade and primary school was over.
My classmates all hugged and high-fived one another and I noticed that some of them had tears in their eyes. It was quite an amusing sight for me since most of these kids were going to the same high school the following year and were most likely going to hang out together during the holidays, it’s not like they were never going to see each other ever again although perhaps that was true for some. I guess they were overcome by the moment.
The teachers also joined in, bidding their students farewell, passing on their best wishes and offering quick life advice. It was probably the only time that teachers and students showed true affection for one another and at that moment old wounds and grudges were suddenly forgotten.
As for me, I ran straight back towards my family who were waiting and we quietly slipped away, no fanfare and no good-byes. I know it sounds cold but I just wanted to get the hell out of school and get the holidays started. I wanted no parts of that mushy shit.
Well, I did briefly look over my shoulder as we walked closer to the school gates and saw that a group of my male classmates had all climbed to the top of the little jungle gym located in a dirt area not far from the main stage and were whooping and hollering like drunken monkeys. I chuckled before walking through the gates, leaving them all behind me.
So long, y’all.
You’re probably wondering what I wrote on that piece of paper. Ok, I shall reveal all.
You see, in the midst of my struggle to write something down I had quickly reflected on the last few years of school and somehow my mind wondered over to my physical appearance at the time and how it compared to the chiselled, rippling physiques that some of the characters from my favorite video games and cartoons displayed.
As a boy I was raised on a steady diet of super heroes and fighting games. My cousins and, to some extent, my father made sure of it.
I had started to pile on the weight when I was ten years old and continued to fill out over the next two years and so by the time I sat down to write my secret wish I was a chubby, vertically-challenged kid with pretty crappy self-esteem. In my defense I was a growing boy on the verge of adolescence. My appetite increased as my body grew and soon enough one serving during dinner wasn’t enough, I always had to go for seconds and it didn’t help that my mother was – and still is – an amazing cook. Combine that with a non-athlete’s dogged pursuit of inactivity and strenuous relaxation and boom! Instant chubby kid.
To make matters worse I was the type that looked normal while fully clothed but jiggly once the shirt came off. My school uniform hid the flabby gut and man boobs and believe me, I heard it loud and clear from my friends during mandatory swimming lessons over the past couple of years once we had all stripped down to our trunks. The soft midsection meant nothing – I was hardly alone in that department even among the slimmer boys – it was those fucking man-titties that were the bane of my existence, subjecting me to every man boob joke under the sun.
And the sucky part was that even the fatter kids were snickering at my appearance even if they were in far worse shape than I was and had to put up with some jabs that came their way. Rather than extend a supporting hand and sympathizing with my plight they instead chose to kick me while I was already down.
You hypocritical rat bastards! To hell with all of y’all!
But that’s kids for you. They see something funny, they’ll laugh at it. Mercy doesn’t register too highly in their radar unless someone got seriously hurt. I laughed off their childish name-calling and fired back with my own comebacks but it was as futile as taking on a 1000-man strong army with only a potato gun. The sting of those jokes and the desire to look like a jacked-up warrior collided head-on in my mind as I sat in the classroom and so quick as a flash and with nothing to lose, I grabbed my pencil and scribbled down my wish:
I wish I was muscle-bound.
Man, was that lame or what!? I was pressed for time but surely I could have mustered up something much more profound than wanting to be better looking! Talk about being a twelve-year old version of Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty minus the creepy crush on a much younger girl!
I never did give that piece of paper another thought once I dropped it into my teacher’s jar and as the years went by that secret wish became nothing more than a footnote in my life story. But many, many years later it all came back to me. I had scoffed at the idea of these wishes coming true as a chunky twelve-year old waiting for graduation, as did a majority of my classmates, but our teacher insisted that they can and would come true.
Wishes only come true in fairy tales, Miss.
We went ahead with the charade anyway, skeptical of her optimism. As I look back on what had transpired over the past twenty two years, though, she just might have had the final laugh.