Sweet Sixteen, 1993

1993 sweet sixteen0001

I don’t like surprises. But I’m trying hard
to be happy for Mommy.
She arranged all this—a tailgate party
before the big football game.
I secretly wish we were at home,
just a few of us
where I wouldn’t be a spectacle.
I’m wearing Mommy’s gift:
a custom-embroidered Sweet Sixteen shirt,
extravagant to wear just once, like a prom dress.
My family is here, except for Daddy, of course.
Other girls would have more friends to invite
but I try to be thankful.
I can hardly keep my tears below the surface
knowing my best friend will move away in six days.
She’s the one who knows me best,
the only one who sees the real me.
Since third grade she’s listened to my pain
and given me wisdom and hugs, and I worry
what I’ll do without her.
The scent from the grill lures fellow band members
who stop at the edge of the party
cheerfully wishing me happy birthday.
They can’t help but notice my billboard shirt
and remark with surprise—“You’re just now sixteen?”
Now they know my secret. I’m the youngest junior.
I cannot keep the heat from my face
even though I enjoy their kindness.
I try so hard to wear a smile
to please Mommy, and to hide
my shyness and sadness from all.
When I hear the drummers beating out the cadence
I pull on my uniform jacket.
Then as the party dies down
a certain boy is drawn to the edge
and hovers tentatively without a word
watching me in shadow
with the setting sun behind.
My sore smile relaxes
but my words won’t come
so I watch and wonder and wait.
After a few heartbeats
he wordlessly drifts away
like a luna moth
and a small candle glows inside me.

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