From my unpublished book – A Long Time Coming
(C) 2015 Jeremy Raglin
Reality, it’s something that hits everyone sooner than later in life.
When you’re young, you don’t have any worries or fears, because all of our problems are taken care of from day one, by your parents, but one day before you’re officially grown up reality sets in.
It happens when you’re still between the ages of a child and an adult when something traumatic happens and you wake up to the responsibilities of adulthood and your future.
Reality set in for me early in my life, on the day of my high school graduation from Monte Vista High School.
It happened in math class, my worst and most hated subject in high school.
Math class that day was two hours, the first hour was for our final exams and the second hour was for my math teacher Mr. Carroll to grade our final exams while we watched an old educational video on one of the ancient TV’s from the audio visual department.
I barely finished my final exam in the first hour that we had to complete the final exam and spent the second hour sweating out the minutes in my chair praying that I wouldn’t get an F because I needed to pass my exam, to pass my math class and graduate from high school.
While other students could fail their final exam or do poorly on it, I had to pass the exam with at lest a D grade in order to have the credits to pass my math class.
Math had been my most hated subject ever since my first day in school and I longed for the day to be free of high school and free of math but it didn’t look like I was going to finally be free of either that day because I didn’t pass my math final.
Mr. Carroll had finished grading the final exams and gave them to the honor roll students in the front of the class to pass out. Slowly the honor roll students walked down their isles handing the graded final exams to each student, finally they reached me in the very back of the class and when my graded, final exam was handed to me I knew that I failed because of the big F on the paper.
My final exam also has a sticky note on the front of the paper that said, “See me after class.”
“Oh crap! Oh Crap! Oh crap! I’m dead!” These thoughts went through my head as I panicked and felt like throwing up.
I looked at all of the other students in the room and everyone seemed to be pleased with their grades as they packed up their things and prepared to go home victorious and come back for the graduation ceremony later that afternoon.
I continued panicking and tried to think of every argument to persuade Mr. Carroll to let me pass his class when the school bell rang and everyone got up from their seats to leave the classroom. I got up from my seat and slowly made my way to Mr. Carroll’s desk ready to plead my case for him to give me a passing grade.
“Ah Jeremy are you here to face the music?” Mr. Carroll asked.
Face what “music?” All I could hear was the funeral march in my head as I knew that my math teacher was going to stand in the way of me graduating from high school from my friends.
“Mr. Carroll I tried really hard, I studied and did my best can’t you please let me pass your class?” I asked.
“Tried really hard? Did your best? Do you think I would be the successful teacher that I am today if those were the only qualifications to becoming a teacher and a successful high school basketball coach?” He asked.
Mr. Carroll evidently enjoyed making my life hell at that moment because he turned his back on me as he talked and acted like I didn’t exist.
He had, had a stressful year of teaching and coaching the girl’s basketball team and didn’t really give a damn about passing or failing one of his weakest students.
I didn’t know who was more annoying my math teacher or my sophomore geography teacher who smoked a pack a day and madly tried to cover it up by popping about 10 breath minutes in his mouth before class each day.
“Why won’t you let me pass when my grade is so close to a passing grade already?” I asked as I stood desperately in front of the devil reincarnate.
“Because,” Mr. Carroll said, “If I let you pass, then I will have to let pass all of the other Jeremy’s who skate by the whole year and then come to me on the day of graduation with their tail between their legs.”
Mr. Carroll turned around and put his arms on his hips resembling an angry dictator.
“Life sucks Jeremy. You have to deal with the consequences of your actions. It’s going to be summer school for you.”
As I looked into his eyes, I imagined myself ecstatically drop kicking him through one of the windows and watching him with a big smile on my face as he rolled down the hill.
I was mad. I knew that there was no way he was going to change his mind no matter how convincing my plea.
And I was doomed. All I could do was accept my fate and leave his room before I let my anger get the best of me.
Not graduate? I wouldn’t walk in the ceremony? I couldn’t believe it. I was floored.
I spent four years of my life envisioning myself adorned in a cap and gown with parents standing behind me smiling and then all of a sudden it sneaks up on you, the four years are over and you are about to cross over into the next phase of your life.
This wasn’t going to happen to me. I was about to cross over into the next phase of my life but was being held back because I failed my math class.
Where did the last four years go? Where did the last 18 years go? It felt like yesterday when my biggest concerns were whose house I was going to after school, to play or what I wanted for Christmas or for my next birthday.
I was born and raised in a very conservative middle class, sheltered household in a suburb of San Diego, California with nothing really expected of me other than to be a loving son and work hard in school. And after graduating high school go work for the same company that my Dad and Grandpa Raglin had worked at for over 50 years.
I think the world of my Dad and Grandpa Raglin because both are hard working company men that have worked hard and been good providers their entire lives.
For the first seventeen years of my life it seemed like my life was going to follow the same pattern as their lives and I was happy with it because I wanted to be like them when I grew up.
When you’re born into a family that only knows generations of living an established way of life it’s not easy breaking the mold.
The mold officially broke for me that day in math class when I was faced with an uncertain future.
I felt cheated. All I could think of at that moment was that everyone in my family had graduated and walked at the graduation ceremony and now I wasn’t going to walk in my own ceremony.
I was devastated and I felt my life was over.
As I mournfully walked out of my teacher’s room I was enveloped in a storm of sad, depressed, angry thoughts.
I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t walk at the graduation.
I kept thinking, “I studied, I crammed and worked my ass off preparing for that math final and I failed.” I wasn’t going to be able to say goodbye to the establishment that continuously disappointed me. I walked past seniors happily emptying their lockers, celebrating perfect grades and bright futures, hugging favorite teachers for the last time and running to their sleek cars to celebrate together before they would come back to school and celebrate for real in their graduations.
“See you later Jeremy!” “Don’t be late for the ceremony!” “Do you want to party with us tonight?” My friends asked me as I walked by and all I could do was let out a caveman like “grunt,” and continue walking.
Somehow, I made it to my old truck where my best buddy, Cliff, was waiting for me with a smile on his face.
Cliff was a talented guy in high school and all subjects had always come easy to him. He didn’t have to worry about passing because he always passed any class he took. I had met Cliff right at the start of our senior year and we had experience many great times and had become fast friends.
“It’s the last day of school! Dude, give me a high five!” Cliff said.
I made a weak attempt to act excited, but it just wasn’t working. What would my parents say?
“Dude, what’s wrong?” Cliff asked.
“I’m not graduating,” I said.
“What? What do you mean?” Cliff responded in surprise.
“I mean, I won’t be in the ceremony. Mr. Carroll is failing me because I failed my math, final exam and didn’t have enough points to pass his class.” I said.
I couldn’t take it. Even though we prided our selves on being macho guys who could take any type of pain like Indian burns, falling off our bikes, getting into fights etc this was one pain I couldn’t take. I broke down and cried.
“I don’t believe it Jer!” Cliff said. “That stupid x###!!@@. Why don’t we do something fun like slash his tires or toilet paper his house tonight?” Cliff said with a smile.
Cliff always knew how to say the right things to make me laugh or bring a smile to my face.
I mulled over the thought of Cliff and I avenging my grade by attacking Mr. Cameron’s personal property but decided to not let my anger get the better of me.
“No thanks dude, I’m already in enough trouble as it is. I better get going.” I said.
“What about tonight?” Cliff replied.
Tonight was grad night. It was supposed to be the biggest party of the past four years. Everyone would be there, except me.
“I don’t know. I can’t think right now. I’ll have to let you know later,” I said.
I got into my old truck and drove Cliff home and slowly made the drive home from Cliff’s house to my parent’s house, high on Dictionary Hill, in Spring Valley.
I don’t know how I made it home, because as I drove my eyes were wet from my tears and the moment I walked through the front door and saw my dad, I lost it, all the emotion came out and I cried for real.
I tried hard over the last four years to get good grades in all of my classes especially math, but by not passing my math class and not walking in the graduation ceremony I felt like a failure in front of my father.
As I said this I expected my father to explode in a rage and say “you failed the family, your mother and I are so ashamed!” Like in an old black and white movie.
“You’re going to be alright son you’ll go to summer school and make it up. Your life isn’t over.”
“Hey, it’s only a piece of paper. This is only one minor hang up in your life among many other things that you’re going to experience.” My father said.
My father always knew how to make me feel better. Ever since I was a kid, he always helped make sense of my problems.
That’s the way it always was and always will be with my parents. Even when you grow up and have a family of your own your father and mother will always be able to help you solve the problems if nobody in your life can do it for you.
Many nights I talked with my father in his garage workshop about the latest things that were going on in my life like problems at school, friends, sports or girls as he worked on a wood project while smoking his pipe or drinking coffee.
Somehow after our conversations were over the future didn’t seem so dark and scary.
As I talked with my dad in the kitchen the phone rang and it was my mom calling from work to see how my dad was doing.
While my dad was on the phone with my mom updating her on everything that just happened to me my head was still buzzing from the traumatic day I just had and I headed for the door.
“Son, where are you going?” He asked.
“I have to get away and think,” I said.
I had to retreat into privacy and comprehend everything that had just happened. I needed a quiet place away from everyone where I could just think.
“Jeremy, you’re in no condition to drive. Just kick back and relax. You know the family is coming over to celebrate tonight.”
“What are we going to celebrate? “My failure?” I asked
My mom and dad had planned a big graduation party for me with a cake, decorations and many expectations for my future, and now I would have to face my family in failure instead of victory.
“Jeremy, you know the family won’t care. They love you for who you are. No strings attached. We have plenty of things to celebrate.”
“Dad, please let me go. I need to get away and think,” I said.
I had to run away and digest what had happened that day. In a matter of hours I felt like I had lost everything that mattered to me.
“All right, will you be back later?” Dad asked.
“I will,” I said. And with that, I grabbed my journal, which would help me collect my thoughts, and I headed out the door not knowing where I was going.
I drove around aimlessly with a cluttered head and had no destination. This was the first truly bad experience of my life and I felt like someone else was driving for me while I tagged along in a emotional haze of depression.
I kept driving until I decided to pull into one of my favorite places. The good old neighborhood Taco Bell.
Taco Bell was a popular late night haunt for Cliff and me.
We spent many Friday nights out until the early hours of Saturday morning munching away on nachos and burritos after a late night movie or a few hours in the arcade.
Cliff and I always hung out on Friday nights. We always were either seeing the latest comedy or action film in the movies or going to the arcade for some friendly gaming rivalry.
I arrived at Taco Bell and a flood of memories of the previous four years came back to me.
It seemed like yesterday that I was a scared 14 year old entering my English class, immediately expressing the first words out of my mouth:
“Is this class hard?”
In response to my question a tall, My English Teacher, Mrs. Turner, a beautiful woman with waist length, brown hair and a welcoming smile said, “Only if you make it hard.”
I had many great memories like that one from high school coming back to me that day.
Mrs. Turner was the first teacher I ever had a crush on and like every other high school boy at the time I wanted to act out my forbidden fantasies with her.
The only memory I wouldn’t have from my high school years would be the memory of my graduation, because I wouldn’t be there.
As I sat there with my Taco Bell meal I felt like I had just been born and tried to figure out the first big problem of my life but was to raw emotionally to deal with it.
While I was eating, people I knew from school drove by the Taco Bell with their cars decorated with streamers and balloons from their parents to celebrate their graduations as they headed back to school to prepare for the graduation ceremony.
I spent the rest of the day driving around feeling detached and hopeless as I kept looking at my watch every few hours, thinking about what my graduation would be like, if I was there.
I tried to distract myself through random activities, I went to a park, browsed through a bookstore and saw a matinee at the movie theatre but nothing worked and I felt more depressed than ever.
Eventually I would have to face my friend’s questions and be ready for them with answers.
Finally, later that day, I knew that the graduation ceremony was over and I headed home to face my family.
I arrived that afternoon to a steady supply of hugs and kisses from my mother who was worried sick.
“Where were you?” She exclaimed as I casually walked through the door.
“I had to get out and clear my head; I couldn’t take it.”
“I know sweetie.” She said as she hugged me, “don’t worry, it will be all right.”
From George Washington to Bill Clinton men have become great because they have always will have a #1 fan and cheerleader in their mother.
I didn’t want to get emotional with her right there so I gave her a hug and reached in the fridge for a soda to get my mind off how bad I felt.
I was beginning to feel like my old self again, especially when I smelled the aroma of something tempting cooking in my mom’s oven.
She glanced in my direction and said, “That’s your cake, it should be ready any minute and the family should be here soon.”
“They were still coming,” I thought with dread. I couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating than my family celebrating and praising something that I didn’t do.
I felt like an imposter. Like the old pop music group Mili Vanili who didn’t sing any of their own songs.
I ran downstairs and tried to hide in my room from the coming group of relatives.
My cousin Brian got there early with his parents and after finding out what happened to me, respectfully kept from asking me questions or mentioning it. We had been close since we were little kids and both of us knew when to keep our mouths shut when something bad happened to the other.
As we played video games in seclusion family members started to arrive one by one until I heard my dad come down the stairs to get me and then I heard a knock at my door.
“Jeremy everyone is here. Get up here and make an appearance, ok?” My dad requested.
I wanted to somehow to sneak away to my truck to go see a movie for a few hours, but I decided to face the music and see my relatives.
Their love engulfed me with smiles, hugs and pats on the back.
I have a real family that has been through a lot together and always banded together to help one of their own through another hard time.
We spent that night as we spent any other family celebration, celebrating life.
Aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews passed the food, drinks, cake, and ice cream, and celebrated not my graduation, but my passage into adulthood and better things to come.
My dad was right nobody, cared that I didn’t have the piece of paper that commemorated my graduation they all agreed that it was after all just a piece of paper and assured me that I would get it soon enough.
My cousin Tim said, “I don’t even have my high school diploma anymore, I think I lost it way back in the 1970’s.”
In fact, my aunts told me to grab my cap and gown anyway, put them on and go out to the front lawn so they could take pictures.
Even though I felt like an imposter wearing that outfit, I adhered to their request, and stood outside for minutes as my aunts took the traditional pictures as if it were truly my awaited graduation day.
After the picture session was over I looked around at my little cousins and the cousins with whom I grew up, spending many days in meticulously constructed forts or by swimming pools on hot summer days and I knew that from that day on my life was never going to be the same.
As quickly as the party began it was soon over and I said goodbye to my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents with kisses, hugs and promises to see each other again soon.
And as I said goodbye to my family I knew that after this night was over my life would be different.
The next time I would see these people I wouldn’t get asked “How’s high school?” There would be new questions, like “when are you going to start college?” Or “what are you going to do with the rest of your life?”
Its funny how in one day everything changes. When I woke up that morning, I was still a kid in high school and now, as the evening came to a close I was venturing into the adult world.
Later that night, after the party was over and all of the relatives had gone home, I looked at the clock and realized that the graduation party at my school was just beginning and deep down inside me I wanted to go.
I only lived five minutes away from my Monte Vista High School and could get there in no time to join the party.
My parents saw the restless look on my face and practically pushed me out the door.
They didn’t want me to miss that night in spite of what happened that day, so before I knew it, I found myself in my old truck driving back to the high school to party with my friends who still didn’t know that I didn’t graduate.
I wasn’t going to tell them that I didn’t graduate so I prepared a steady supply of excuses if they asked, “Where were you at the graduation?” “I didn’t see you there.” And I would say, “I was there, you just missed me that’s all.”
I arrived to find the high school decked out like one of those bad high school movies from the 1980’s.
That year the faculty decided that it was a better idea to host grad night at the high school, rather than host it in the high school gym, a place where my underage friends and I might get into trouble.
Clever as the idea was, they just kept the trouble at home.
A group of my friends quickly grew board with the dancing, contests, games and snacks so they decided to spend the evening toilet papering the school and throwing eggs at teacher’s cars.
I arrived on the scene that night to hear wrap music blasting from the PA system in the gym and to see that in spite of this last night of teenage fun to let loose and enjoy each other, everybody there broke up into their, “groups” or “clicks” for the night.
Jocks, musicians, artists, nerds, stoners, school spirit dorks all hung out in their groups signing each others year books and passing out phone numbers in hopes of staying in communication with friends that they probably would never call or see again.
A few years after graduation, a lot of these people would be graduating college, married, starting families or even loose their lives at a young age.
Once grad night would last until 5 a.m. Saturday morning when the teachers would allow us to leave the “friendly confines” of the high school gym and drive home, but until that hour came I was determined to have fun and, “soak up” the atmosphere before it was all over.
I finally spotted Cliff who was hanging out with our friends playing at the teacher supervised blackjack table that he kept winning at.
“You’re not a very good blackjack dealer, Mr. Davis, are you sure you don’t want me to show you how it’s done?” Cliff asked.
“I know what I’m doing Cliff so please play the game or go do something else.” Mr. Davis replied.
I owe a lot to Cliff, not just for the fun we had at the graduation party that night but also for the fun that he brought back into my life since I met him at the beginning of the year.
Cliff was always ready to play video games, watch TV, go to movies, pull pranks on people and have fun and he brought that youthful energy back into my life.
I grew up way too fast and at that point in my life I was spending too much time absorbed in adult responsibilities that many kids did not know I was doing.
Cliff brought out the kid in me that year and he helped me to experience the fun and excitement of acting my age and for that I will always be thankful.
And so we partied hard that night in the high school gym, enjoying the food and refreshments the school provided for us while we played the teacher supervised games and pulled pranks with our friends.
Everywhere I went that night, in the high school gym and on the school grounds the “air” was different and many of us sensed that once the clock started counting down to five a.m. on Saturday we would never experience this moment again.
And then before we knew it, dusk appeared in the morning sky, the sun peaked over the mountains in East County, the music stopped, the doors to the gym opened and the gates to the high school were unlocked to us one last time and we were free to go.
It was weird leaving the school with my friends for the last time that early morning and realizing that we would never again see each other every day between classes, in the library, at lunch, in P.E. classes or after school as we waited for our rides home.
What had I learned during those four years of high school? Where was I going with my life after I would take summer school math and eventually receive my diploma?
I didn’t have any plans for college yet and would think seriously about my future once the summer was over.
Cliff, who was not one to end a night on a low note, decided that we should stop at the 7-11 for another one of our favorite pastimes before going home.
Eating nachos and playing video games!
It’s amazing how many things are available in California at 5 a.m. and when we walked into the 7-11 off Jamacha Road in Spring Valley for our Nachos, soda and a few rounds of video games the store clerk didn’t give us a second thought.
Cliff was the expert on all games of the day; he could easily sit down to a new video or computer game and take complete control of it within a short period of time.
But that morning, instead of watching him play, I decided to join in while we ate our nachos because both of us knew deep down that we didn’t want the night to end.
Finally, after we played the last round of Street Fighter we headed home exhausted from experiences of the previous day.
As we approached my house, where Cliff would sleep over he said, “Jer, it was an awesome night, but do you realize that from now on nothing will ever be the same?”
“I know dude,” I said. “Let’s not grow up too fast okay?”
“Because before you know it, either you or I will be married with kids and asking ourselves where did our youth go?”
Later on I realized how profound a statement that was.
And so finally the long day was finally over and once we were back at my house we collapsed in my room and immediately fell asleep.
I felt like I had grown that day, and had survived my first massive battle and lived to tell about it…