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Failed Diplomacy by Lydia Fasio Theys

High school graduation. Most parents look forward to that event with a mixture of pride and sadness. Few bungle it quite as thoroughly as I did.

I expected to cry when I heard my son’s name. He would be fine, since for him it was all about his freedom and the run-up to his independence. For me, on the other hand, it was all about—well, his freedom and the run-up to his independence. It’s just that perspective changes with vantage point. I expected that when the moment came, I would be a mess and, as it turned out, I was. Just not the sort of mess I had anticipated.

The day arrived sunny, hot and humid. Graduation was to begin at four in the afternoon, when the heat of the day was at its peak. Someone with serious lack-of-judgment issues selected the football field, exposed and shimmering in the brutal sun, as a great place for an emotion-charged rite of passage. We parents, family members and friends arrived clutching tickets entitling us to high-rise, fanny-frying seats on hard metal bleachers.

Figure/Ground #2 by Hiroshi Hayakawa
"Figure/Ground #2"
by Hiroshi Hayakawa
The day before, I panicked at the weather forecast. How would I manage with my allergy? It’s a bit offbeat as allergies go: I am allergic to my own sweat. My body produces it and my body rejects it, protesting in the form of enormous, itchy hives of an uncommonly long-lasting and nasty sort. So just before we left for the ceremony, I made my first dumb move: I took my prescription antihistamine, hoping to prevent the huge red wheals from running riot over the backs of my disloyal thighs. Faced with the choice of groggy or itchy, I thought groggy had a slight edge. I had another inspiration as well and, going against my heartfelt save-the-earth convictions, I bought large, heavy-duty, guaranteed leakproof plastic zip bags to fill with ice, my own personal air conditioning.

We climbed to our seats about two-thirds of the way up and sat. With one hand, I held a big bag of ice on top of my head. I clutched another to my chest. The leakproof bag sitting on my head leaked instantly. So did the one at my chest. In just under twenty-five minutes I had drenched the front, sleeves, shoulders and half of the back of my dress. The extra bags in my tote bag were melting, too—and leaking—at a prodigious rate. As the speeches, welcomes and songs wore on, the water first puddled at my feet, then spread and snaked its way down the bleachers. People at the lower levels began lifting their feet and glaring at the soles of their shoes, muttering and looking around. One woman held up a purse, copious water dripping from the bottom. She eyed her neighbors with suspicion. More and more folks were wondering about the source of the miniflood. Since one of the bags was still on top of my head, water streaming into my eyes, quite a few of them caught on.

When the heavy giant’s fist of heat combined with the effects of my medication, I knew I was in real trouble. I fought to stay awake, eyelids drooping, head bobbing. I looked like a very wet narcoleptic—with bags of water on my head. By the time my son received his diploma—and T comes late in the game with four hundred graduates—I was numb.

I prodded my emotional self, hoping to uncover some feeling. There was none. And this was it. This was the culmination of our eighteen-year mother-son dance. I expected flair; I wanted to be dipped. I got a dull and clumsy shuffle instead. I hadn’t cried at all. In fact, the only thing resembling tears was the river of chilled water still dripping into my eyelashes and down my cheeks.

As we stood to leave, I noticed that my shoe had cut a respectable-sized chunk from the back of my ankle. I had cheated, you see, and gone without pantyhose. It was part of the keep-cool strategy. I staggered, shoe in hand, into the school building to wait as my husband got the car to pick me up. Sitting the only place I could—a narrow, backless, marble excuse for a bench placed smack up against a wall—I leaned back, spine aching from the hours on the bleachers. My dress was slippery, the marble polished slick, and my feet did not reach the floor. Each time I leaned back, my bottom slid slowly forward, and, when it reached the edge, I had to scoot back, only to begin the cycle again. I closed my eyes, resting between the adjustments that prevented me from hitting the ground.

I’m not sure how long I had been there when I heard a deep voice directly overhead. It was the principal, speaking to me. I opened my eyes and looked up at this tall, tall, gentle man. I could imagine how I must look from way up there: half-dead, soaking wet, nodding off, holding one shoe and continually sliding off the bench and popping back up. As I replied, I realized, to my horror, that my speech was slurred. He was telling me about how wonderful my son had been, congratulating me, trying to shake my hand. I was trying not to drool. Finally—and in hindsight this was a wee lapse in judgment—I felt I had to say something by way of explanation. So I said, “I’m not drunk, you know.” He smiled. He said something soothing. He left.

That seems, as best I can remember, to have been some sort of stand-out low point among all low points that day. I wanted to melt myself, the way those ice cubes had, and drain onto the floor, a clear, cool puddle with nothing to think about or say. But instead, I stood up and walked to the parking lot. With all the dignity I could summon, looking more like some deranged entrant in a wet T-shirt contest gone wrong than the parent of a new graduate, I got into the car and closed my eyes. I had survived graduation; the rite of passage was over. I could always cry later.


AUTHOR BIO: LYDIA FAZIO THEYS is an astronomer by training, a technical writer by necessity and a creative writer by night. Born in Brooklyn, New York, she now lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two children. Two cats, a neurotic Italian Greyhound, and whatever else wanders in through the cat door round out the mix. Her work has appeared in previous editions of Moondance, Yankee Pot Roast, Gator Springs Gazette and Quintessence.

Contact Lydia at:

Lydia Fazio Theys, Contributing Author


ARTIST BIO: Learn more about HIROSHI HAYAKAWA by visiting his online portfolio at -



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