The following article was published in the Afrikaans magazine Die Sarie in South Africa written by Marisa Haasbroek.
I translated it as best I could.
“You cannot wear a T-shirt to your graduation,” I complained.
Eric pulls his robe closer to try to hide the T-shirt but I can see there is no shirt collar.
“And on how many graduation ceremonies were you, mom?”
That was a low blow; he knows how I am troubled by having a less than adequate education.
When Eric turned fourteen his dad decided to trade me in for a younger model, one without stretch marks. When I called him to know if he would attend the graduation ceremony, he barked, “I have another commitment.” I didn’t really want to invite him; it’s not as if he contributed a penny to Eric’s education.
When Eric turned fourteen, he started listening to that kind of music: no real tune with a repetitive boom-boom-boom. Sometimes I regretted having not given his dad the HiFi, too.
“Are you done?” I ask. “The ceremony starts in an hour and we still have to find parking.”
“Relax, I am going to have breakfast first.”
“No, you will ruin your clothes. Drink coffee and eat a biscuit instead.”
In his fourteenth year he got some new friends. Guys with long hair who never look you in the eye, always wearing black. Why are these teens grieving all the time? About their own or their parents’ lost lives?
All his friends have richer parents than I and when he said he would also like to go to university I was scared. Eric studied as CPA. One thing is certain, he got his head for numbers from me. Of the clerks at the office I am the most accurate.
To earn extra money I started baking and selling to a local home industry outlet. Every night till two in the morning. Eric got a job as a waiter. Between the two of us we managed to scrape through paying for his tuition.
We fought about everything. Girls, because he didn’t study more, he didn’t want to go to church, his earrings, the tattoo he wanted to put on his arm – an idea he abandoned when I threw a fit.
Just as we are fighting today.
“Don’t overdress, Ma. The people will think we aren’t used to anything. Do you have to wear that pink outfit? It makes your cheeks look reddish.”
“I still say you shouldn’t wear a T-shirt under your robe.”
“Sharrup, Ma,” he retorts.
We fight over who should drive. He wins. We fight over the route he takes and because he drives too close to the cars in front.
When we walked into the great gray building I noticed the other students with their robes and white collars.
“See, all the other students have shirts with collars.”
Because I am alone getting a seat was no problem; there are always ample seats for single people scattered all over the place. Organ music plays – softly as in the church.
I look for Eric’s name on the program and find him between the other Groves. I look for him among the rows and rows of students and see him from behind because he looks just like his dad. I swallow hard on the lump in my throat.
Everyone rises when a long line of professors walk from the back of the hall to the front. Only two continue on to the stage. The students string like a long line of ants through a side door, walking one by one onto the stage as their names are called, first stopping at the official photographer.
Every one gets a roll of paper.
There are many students that receive the B. Com degree and when the professor announced “cum laude” the audience claps a bit louder.
When the G’s started my stomach turned. What if Eric trips or something.
“Eric Grove!” announces the professor.
Eric waits for the photographer to finish and then walked to receive his degree. Instead of walking to the professor, he walked to the middle of the stage and ripped open his robe.
The audience audibly draws their breaths.
Then they started applauding, first only a few and then a roar as they all stood up. Even the professors applauded.
I remain seated.
I bit my lip but I cannot stop the tears.
was painted in large, black letters on his T-Shirt.