Graduation Practice


I feel bad about never seeing Lenny again, even after all he’s done to me our years together in religious grammar school.

This is June, 1965, and our last practices before the graduation ceremony. So Sister Cecilia insists we wear our maroon robes.

Lenny staggers in line as if he is drunk again. Perhaps he is, even at a moment as sober as this.

This sea of maroon erases most of the defects in our class, making even the worst of us look angelic.

Even Lenny looks a little like a saint, his glazed eyes glistening with visions of four more years at Catholic High School and maybe Catholic college after that.

Most of us are trying not to feel sad about graduation, telling ourselves we will all see each other in ten years.

Everybody always has a reunion after ten years.

But will Dominick and Shawn still be fighting then as they are now in the church’s back pew?

Will I still hear the scuffle of shoe and flesh against polished wood a decade from now?

Sister Cecilia drags them up by the earlobes lecturing them to replace the House of the Lord.

Frank nudges me from behind me in line, asking if I really intend to become a priest.

Since Steve stole my essay about becoming a lawyer, I had to put something down as part of that final assignment, and priest to me was as good as pervert in that regard.

I can’t tell Frank that since he never lies, expect when people ask if he likes his sister. He always says yes, when we all know better.

Ten years from now, after his tour of Vietnam, after his return, his marriage, his opening a grocery store and his first kid, he will still tell the same lie.

His sister graduates next year and has already said she’ll become a nun.

I can’t imagine her in a habit and don’t want to.

Ralph, three students behind us on line, loves Frank’s sister, too, but blushes and hides each time she smiles at him.

Sister Cecilia deposits Dominick and Shawn along the alter rail, telling them to knee and pray for forgiveness.

They itch, giggle and then glare at each other.

Frank tells me I ought to avoid his house until his father gets over what I did to his fence. I never imagined climbing it would knock it down.

Angry over Dominick and Shawn, Sister Cecilia reminds us all that we are inside a church.

Lenny squeaks as he moves because he refused to take off his leather motorcycle jacket.

This is no surprise.

We’re surprised rather by the fact that he allowed anyone to cover it over with a graduation gown.

Sister Cecilia snaps at us, saying someone is out of step. I don’t need to look to know it must be Tom, who couldn’t keep his deck straight as far back as Kindergarten.

A rustle from the front shows Shawn and Dominick wrestling on the alter rug, drawing a cry of outrage from Sister Cecilia, who rushes up the line shouting for them to stop.

Michael stands at the front of the line, both hands covering his crotch as he whines with his usual high picket to go use the boy’s room. With no answer from the busy Sister Cecilia, he eyes one of the confessionals with guilty apprehension.

Vincent, unnoticed, has trapped a flay on the stained glass window, crushing it with his graduation hat so as to leave a dark smudge down the bear belly of the crucified Christ.

Ten years from now, he will be in jail, not for the first or last time.

Billy is in the corner kissing Linda, his hands groping through the gown to feel her chest. She giggles, then gasps, slapping away his hands while saying, “not here.”

I ask Frank how his sister can be serious about becoming a nun when last year she wanted to pose for the magazines she found in her father’s underwear drawer.

In ten years, she will have done more than just pose for pictures.

Sister Cecilia comes back to us after posting Dominick and Shawn at opposite corners of the alter, and assigning goody-two-shoes Tony between them to keep them from fighting.

Tony would go to the 1972 Olympics in Munich, see the slaughter of athletes there, and would come home wasting what nuns think of us the most promising mind in our class.

Tony yelps and we turn to see him down on his belly with Shawn and Dominick on top of him, spanking his butt with the alter cross.

Dominick will win the Congressional Metal of Honor a few days after his body is flow back from Saigon.

Shawn will hear of the news while hiding on the Canadian side of the U.S. boarder, one of those draft dodgers waiting for a pardon that will take years to come.

Frank, still unable to believe I would like on an essay, asks how I could want to become a priest when I refused to become an alter boy when I learned I had to learn Latin.

In a few years, I wouldn’t need to learn Latin, even if I had wanted to become a priest.

Sister Cecilia drags Shawn and Dominick passed up down the aisle with the slumped and humiliated Tony dragging behind.

Lenny lets out a Bronx cheer that draws a glare from Sister Cecilia and a crinkle of leather from under the gown as he cringes.

Who would guess that ten years from now he would be married with kids , then after 12 years, divorced and sad, spending his days in the local tavern, drinking away his misery while telling tales of past glories to Kevin, our star basketball player, who made good in high school, and graduated from their to becoming a bar fly.

I ask Frank if his sister will go out with me if I asked her.

Frank looks stunned as if he already pictures us as priest and nun, then asks why I would want to do that.

I tell the truth. I tell him I love her, and always will.



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