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Sandra Dihlmann

Today, I stopped wearing my seatbelt, swallowed a Mounds bar whole... tripped on my kitchen rug with a pair of left-handed scissors carelessly cocked in the wrong hand. My only child graduates from high school this week. In a motorcade down Fourth Street. She’ll wear a Cinderella blue-satin prom dress under her forest-green gown, a dirty-blond- ​ballroom-​bun tucked under her ​mortarboard​, and a pair of solid white Vans with same-brand socks that vanish under ankle bone. While we’re stalled in procession, I’ll do the thing. The one reserved for mothers. I’ll tell her about her bright future. ​Sands through an hourglass​. Remind her of the time I got a call from Ms. Aly after she swallowed three pumps of hand sanitizer. I’ll mention how she’ll finish her college degree before I’ll finish my novel. She’ll nod, shoot me a sign of irritation. I’ll hum a few bars of “Cats in the Cradle.” Then, she’ll shrug, poke her bent elbow out of the window, stiffen her right palm like a Keystone Cop stopping traffic. The Sunnyside neighborhood will welcome us. We’ll see the Mayor. I’ll drive—switch- pumping the accelerator and brake. She’ll sit passenger. We’ll stuff my husband in the back, prop up his newly broken foot on worn-out pillows from the couch—fill the empty space around him with white painter’s masks to toss out like parade candy. The graduate will rotate her palm left and right to a sidewalk audience, swivel her torso like Jackie O. No doubt the dogs will tear things up while we’re gone. Home alone for the first time since March. No doubt they’ll band together, TP our living room with our last roll of Charmin. Chewy will urinate on everything that matters, drag her ass over carpet and furniture like a snail. Badger, on his fifth pair of Target readers, will render an entire value-pack ​undrivable. ​This is how they are. Crossing the finish, my ribcage will swell. I’ll hold things in long enough to feel all the firsts...words, milestones, the way she used to say, “tell it” just before bedtime. The way she would recount everything that happened “last day.” I’ll notice her tentative smile and see mine from a long time ago. Ready to be done with the whole thing, but also not. The principal will deliver her high school diploma through the passenger window. The secretary will hand off her senior yearbook. And, as we drive off, I’ll feel something new. A third-degree burn in my chest. “School’s out,” and all that, I’ll muster, forgetting the gap in generations. The burn will spread to limbs and face like the incurable virus that forces us to play “Pomp and Circumstance” on our factory-installed Honda car radio. I’ll turn to her to say something useful, to hold it together, but I will fail. We’ll circle back to the meeting spot where all moms will wear this same face, and I’ll recognize the moment as it should be. “You’re going to be alright, Mom,” my daughter will say.

And, in this moment, I’ll be reminded that nothing worthwhile is ever conceived without some degree of pain. Before the day ends, I will be sure to tell her that.

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