Through the Threshold

January 24, 2012
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A day when hats are thrown and alcohol is guzzled by the gallon and parties rage until dawn. A rite of passage. A threshold to a new and independent life. And every teenager in Macomb was bristling with excitement… except for Henry Starks. While the rest of the graduates in his class balanced on the edge of their seats, huge grins threatening to split their faces in half, Henry Starks sat petrified. His hands balled into white-knuckled fists in his lap, eyes wide and staring at the stage without really seeing it. So this was how his life would end… With bright lights and big smiles, confetti, a cheap robe that rustled too loudly when he moved, and a cardboard cap stuffed onto his head. Great.

Henry hadn’t thought about the horror this day would bring. He hadn’t thought much about it at all, to be honest. For four years graduation had only seemed like a little blip. Something that would make him eligible for college and a career. Of course he knew that is also meant moving away and living on his own, but he hadn’t considered those things to be important. Big deal. Living alone. Hadn’t he wanted that his whole life? No. He realized in that instance that he really hadn’t. Frozen in that chair, dreading the moment his name would be read off the list, he didn’t want that at all.

He had spent his whole life in Macomb. From Kindergarten to high school, the same places. The same people, the same stores, the same potholes in the streets. The special spots he passed every day: an old maple tree where he had his first kiss with Tori Hemmings, the lake where he got in trouble for stealing someone’s boat and then trashing it on a sandbar, a hollow in the bottom of a tree where kids stashed their contraband, and a small shack by the water where he lost his virginity in a quick, sweaty tumble with Ashley Lott after reading Henry Miller by flashlight. His entire existence from birth to 18 was woven into this town and these schools and now he was being forced to leave it all behind.

And he wasn’t ready.

It was so easy to say that leaving wasn’t anything to worry about when it seemed like it would never happen, but now the moment was upon him, and Henry Starks wanted to bolt.

Time for his row to stand.

Every step forward was stiff as his line got shorter and shorter. A name. Applause. Handshake. Diploma. Next person. All smiling. How could they all be smiling? Didn’t they realize what this day was? Didn’t they see it?

Tony Schwartz. Lucretia Simpson. Kelly Slater. People Henry had only known because they were always called before him. It was a rhythm he had become accustomed to when his teachers called roll in class. Just one more thing he would be losing.

Caleb Smith. Derek Snyder.

All smiling. All smiling.

Henry could feel his lungs constrict in his chest as he saw that there were only two more people in front of him. Two more names until everything he had ever known was over. His palms felt clammy; his heart slammed against his ribs. He couldn’t do this. The exit wasn’t far. He had to run. Now.

"Henry Starks."

Too late. He had been too panicked to notice the other people had been called. Mechanically, he put one foot in front of the other, hearing cheers from his friends and parents as he ascended the stairs to the stage. He wasn’t sure if it was the lights or the applause or the grins from the administrators, but as he was passed down the line of assistant principals with friendly handshakes and praise, he felt weightless. All the strings tying him to Macomb went snip, snip, snip as he made he way across the stage.

The principal handed his diploma and shook his hand vigorously, looking just as exuberant as he did when the ceremony started. “Fine job, Mr. Starks. I’m proud of you.”

“Thank you, sir. I hope I’ve earned it.”

And that was it. Henry walked off and another name was called and life went on. He glanced back just once and saw remnants of the old Henry Starks he had just shed reflected in the terrified eyes of those still waiting to cross the stage. If only they knew it wasn’t so bad on the other side.

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