May 29, 2008
“Let me have a look at you, Dakotah!” said his mother. She reached up, and started to redo his necktie. “Mercy, son, can’t you do something as simple as tying a necktie? How are you supposed to go out in the world and be a success that way?”
“I could always buy clip-on neckties.” Dakotah said with a shrug. “No tying required.”
“Oh, you big silly!” she said, laughing. “Neckties won’t make you or break you. If that were the case, I’d have Frank out there in a suit, selling insurance!” They both laughed loudly.
“I’m not sure why I have to be all ready to go now.” Dakotah said, already beginning to chafe under the dress shirt and necktie. “We still have over two hours before we have to be at the civic center.”
“Because I have to take pictures!” Sylvia said with a smile. “And, your grandmother will be here in thirty minutes!”
“Ah, she’s going to be at the civic center, isn’t she?” Dakotah said, now confused.
“No, no, no, not your grandmother Elizabeth, your grandmother Cathy.” His mother said nervously.
“Grandma Cathy? Really?” Dakotah had not seen his mother’s mother for a long time. “How many years? Five? Eight? Ten?” he thought.
“I know it may be a shock to you that she’s coming, after all these years, but she wanted to see you on your big day. Trust me; it was a shock to me, too!”
“But why now?” Dakotah had become nervous, too. His mother rarely ever spoke of her. Of course, Frank had never anything nice to say about her, but he never said anything nice about anyone.
On cue, Frank walked by, on his way to the bathroom. “Probably sizing you up, so she can figure out how much of an inheritance she’s going to give you. I’ll put in a good word for you, for twenty percent.”
“Frank, behave!” Sylvia said, irritated. “Today is a big day for him, and I don’t want you sabotaging it.”
“Don’t worry; I’ll be a good boy.” Frank said as he entered the bathroom.
“That’ll be the day.” Sylvia thought. She turned to her son. “I know you have a lot of questions regarding my and your grandmother’s relationship, or lack thereof. All I can say right now is that a lot happened between us in years past. However, that has no bearing on today, as this day is all about you. Just be nice to her, okay?”
Dakotah thought this was an odd request, as he always tried his best to be kind and polite to people. “Sure.” He said.
Just then, there was a banging at the door. “That’s probably your grandmother, and she’s early. That figures. Go answer the door while I finish my hair.”
Taking a deep breath, Dakotah strode quickly to the door. Gritting his teeth, he opened the door. There, standing before him, was a lady wearing a pink dress suit with matching shoes. Not a strand of her meticulously coiffed auburn colored hair was out of place.
“Oh, look at you!” she said, excitedly. “How much you’ve grown! Do you remember me? I’m your Grandmother Parker!”
Dakotah smiled. “Not really, but I knew it was you, from the pictures of you that mom showed me. Would you like to come in?”
She looked past Dakotah, and into the house. Especially since Dakotah had daily chores, the house was spotless.
“No thank you, I think I’ll just stay out here on the porch. It’s a beautiful day!” Dakotah nodded, as there was not a cloud in the sky.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Dakotah asked, trying to say something polite. He really didn’t know what to ask the lady, without coming across as rude.
“Do you have any orange kool-aid?” she asked, making a whimsical face.
The question caught Dakotah off guard, as he wasn’t expecting an odd choice as that. “No, I’m afraid we don’t have any orange kool-aid, or any kind, for that matter.”
“Oh, Dakotah, don’t you remember? Whenever you used to come over for a visit, I would feed you cheese puffs with orange kool-aid!” she said, laughing. “By the time your mother picked you up, you looked like you had carotenemia! You were a messy child!”
“Ah, okay.” Dakotah replied, forcing a light chuckle. He had no recollection of the scene his grandmother described.
“Do you have a girlfriend? I’m sure a handsome lad such as you has to fight them off!”
Dakotah thought of the red-haired girl who had saved his organizer a couple of months back. Although he had seen her a few times since then, they had never spoken, instead occasionally exchanging a small wave.
“Not at this moment.” He said meekly.
“Well, when you do, have her give me a call, and I’ll get her cosmetics at half off!” she said, handing him a business card.
Dakotah looked at the pink business card, and then looked at his grandmother, and smiled. “Okay, I’ll do that!”
“That’s a good boy!” she exclaimed. At that moment, Dakotah’s mother came to the door, camera in hand. “Ah, there you are, mother! Can I take a picture of you and Dakotah?”
“Oh, heavens, no!” Sylvia’s mother said, shocked. “I’ve been on this porch sweating like a pig, and I’m a mess!” Dakotah tilted his head slightly in confusion, as his grandmother did not appear to look different to him.
She looked at her watch. “Oh, look at the time! I would like to stay and visit longer, but I have to meet with a client! Congratulations, young man, I’m sure you’ll do well in life! Toodle-oo!” With that, Cathy Parker hustled off the porch, entered her pink car, and roared off.
Dakotah stared at his mother. “Well, that was ah…..”
“Strange?” interrupted his mother, finishing the sentence. “That’s Mother, Domestic Goddess.” she said with a sneer. “All she wanted was a perfect house, with a perfect marriage, and perfect kids, something straight out of a 1950s TV show. Dad took care of her well enough, but Louise was a tomboy, and followed Dad around all the time, so that left me to be her little princess.”
“At least that’s what she wanted me to be.” she continued. “Instead of going to see the Tigers play with Dad and sis, I had piano recitals and etiquette lessons. Needless to say, by the time I graduated high school, I was a rebel that wore pumps and taffeta. Found the first guy that promised a fun life away from home, and I married him.”
“Dad?” Dakotah asked.
“Yep.” She replied. But several years later, I committed the unpardonable sin in her eyes. I divorced him. That was something no self-respecting housewife would ever do, according to her code. She’s barely spoken to me since.”
Dakotah was stunned. A barely audible “Whoa.” was all he could muster.
“I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to dump that on you today, but she just drives me nuts, you know?” Sylvia hugged her son, eyes teary. “Let’s get some pictures taken before my mascara runs, OK?” She turned, and opened the door. “Frank, get out here, and take our picture!”
“Is Old Ironsides gone?” yelled Frank from the den.
“Yes, it’s safe to come out now, you chicken!” said Sylvia, laughing. Dakotah started to chuckle, and sighed in relief.
Frank stared at the digital camera. “How do you work this thing?” he asked, frustrated. Both Sylvia and her son rolled their eyes.
The civic center parking lot was almost packed by the time Sylvia and Dakotah arrived. Rush hour traffic had delayed their arrival, and it was almost time for the students to line up for the procession.
“I bet grandma’s already found a seat inside.” Dakotah said sadly. “I was really hoping to see her before the ceremony.”
His ears perked up when he heard a familiar voice, calling his name. “Grandma?”
“There you are!” Elizabeth said, relieved. “I was wondering if something happened to you! Where’s that husband of yours, Sylvia?”
“Oh, he was mumbling about some stupid ballgame on TV he didn’t want to miss.” Sylvia replied with a frown. “Honestly, though, I’m glad he stayed home.”
“Lord, I don’t know what you saw in that man.” Elizabeth replied, shaking her head.
Sylvia almost replied ”Yeah, I sure can pick them.” But thought better of it, and instead looked to her son. “You’d better get in line, honey.”
Dakotah hugged them both, and started to jog toward the procession line. “Don’t do anything silly now, y’hear?” yelled his grandmother. Dakotah waved back.
Watching Dakotah, Sylvia wiped a tear. “My, how time has flown.”
“Yes it has.” said Elizabeth. “Yes, it has.”
Dakotah checked his watch. He had ten minutes before the ceremonies were to start; the procession line wasn’t really a line at this point, with clumps of students taking pictures, and chatting amongst themselves. He quickly found a huge gold mountain, surrounded by several slightly smaller gold mountains. Andre looked almost regal in his graduation robe, Dakotah thought to himself.
Tulio saw Dakotah before Andre did. “Hey, Wing, we made it!” and gave Dakotah a fist bump.
Dakotah smiled. Andre’s football friends had taken him in as one of their own; he ate lunch with them daily, and he rarely ever was bothered at school anymore. He even got to sleep later in the mornings, as Andre picked him up at home, and took him to school. Frank didn’t care for Dakotah socializing with black teenagers, but Frank would’ve picked apart anyone Dakotah hung out with.
Andre turned, and saw his friend. “Dude! Where have you been? I was beginning to wonder if your stepdad grounded you tonight!”
They all laughed. “No, my mom’s mom came by to say hello after about ten years, or whatever. Coocoo, coocoo!” said Dakotah, rolling his eyes.
“I know how it is, Wing.” Tulio said. “I have an Uncle Leroy that gets drunk and sleeps in the back yard.”
Andre piped in. “Hey, Dakotah! You comin’ with us tonight? All of us are hittin’ Detroit after the ceremonies. I heard there’s a couple of clubs that’ll let us in.”
Dakotah felt his face go flush. “I-I don’t know, Andre. We’re too young, aren’t we?”
“It’s cool.” said Tulio. “You slip a guy at the door a twenty, and you’re in. Nothing to it.”
“But I don’t have very much money.” Dakotah replied, flustered. Although it was true that he was nearly broke, Dakotah was looking for excuses not to go with his friends. Sneaking in underage to a club was way out of his comfort zone, and to him, very wrong.
“I got this, Dakotah, no problem.” Andre said, as he showed off a wad of money. Dakotah’s eyes became big. “Been saving my wages from work, plus everyone’s been giving me money for graduation. We are going in style, my friend.”
“Where in Detroit are you going? It doesn’t sound very safe. What if there’s shooting, or a fight?” Dakotah was grasping for any excuse now, desperate.
“Ain’t nothin’ gonna happen, Wing.” said Tulio, pointedly. “All we’re going to do is sit back in a corner, and chill. Maybe do a little dancing with the ladies. That’d be cool, right? Find you a little hot mama to dance with?”
Dakotah’s face became red. “I-I don’t know about th-that. I doubt if anyone would dance with me.”
At that moment, a voice came out of the P.A. system, a voice the students recognized as the principal. “Graduates, if you’ll take your place in line, we’ll begin. Thank you.” The band began to play, and students began to organize alphabetically.
Before moving to his place in line, Andre turned to Dakotah. “See you in a minute, Dakotah!”
“See you!” Dakotah yelled back.
The graduates filed in the civic center as the band played, and to their seats. Speeches were made, awards were given, and finally, diplomas began to be given out. In years past, there had been as many as 350 graduates; in recent decades, due to the decline of the rust belt, people moved away in search of better opportunities, so only 197 graduated this year. Dakotah was 85th, between Jasmine Lancaster, and Walt Lester. He knew both of them, but was close to neither.
Tulio’s name was called, and a loud roar came from the bleachers. He was the best football player the school had in many years, and had accepted a scholarship to play at Michigan State. He took his diploma from the principal, and punched the air with his fist, yelling “Hell, yeah!” as the crowd cheered for him.
“Jasmine Lancaster” the principal announced, and she calmly walked to the podium, and accepted her diploma with mild applause. Dakotah swallowed hard, as he knew he was next, and he didn’t want to trip getting his diploma.
“Dakotah Lennon”. Dakotah took a deep breath, and swallowed hard. Quickly, he strode to the podium to the sound of a few claps, though he didn’t hear them. Carefully making his way up the steps, he took the diploma with the left hand, and shook the principal’s hand with his right.
“Congratulations” said the principal.
“Thank you” Dakotah replied with a smile.
As he took his first step from the podium, a loud whistle pierced the civic center, echoing off the walls. Dakotah looked up and saw Elizabeth shaking her fist in a circular motion, yelling “Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! Whoo!” Dakotah was embarrassed, but he couldn’t help shaking his head and smiling as he returned to his seat.
“Walter Lester” the principal said.
Soon, all the diplomas were handed out, the band played, and the principal dismissed the graduates. Most of the graduates tossed their caps in the air; Dakotah didn’t, as he wanted to keep his cap.
The crowd descended from the bleachers to floor level; more hugs were exchanged, and many more pictures were taken, the graduates now showing off their diplomas to the cameras. Dakotah was no different, holding his diploma in front of him as his mother and grandmother took turns taking his picture with the other.
Dakotah turned to his grandmother. “Why did you do that?” he asked.
“What?” she said, innocently. “Oh, that! To give you memories, my young man.”
“Well, you’re right about that. Glad I don’t have to go to school tomorrow, I’d never hear the end of it.” The meaning of his own words struck Dakotah: “I don’t have to go to school tomorrow, or ever again.” He felt a combination of relief and angst, which confused him.
There was a tap on his shoulder, followed by a familiar voice: ”Congratulations!” Dakotah spun around to see the red-haired girl. She hugged him tightly, saying “I’ll miss seeing you next year.”
Dakotah was stunned; he lightly put his arms around her, not knowing what else to do. The top of her head came up to his chin, and he could smell her perfume, which was wonderful to him. He took a quick but deep breath before murmuring, “I’ll miss you, too.”
Both Elizabeth and Sylvia looked at each other, also stunned. “Dakotah with a girl?” they thought. Elizabeth cleared her throat.
Dakotah whirled around, embarrassed. “Ah, th-this is a friend from school. Uhhhhh….” He had no idea what her name was.
The girl smiled, and spoke. “My name is Elizabeth, but everyone calls me Ely.” Nice to meet you.
“Ely? How nice! My name is Elizabeth, too, but everyone always wanted to call me Liz or Beth. Ely is much nicer. I’m Dakotah’s grandmother, and this lady next to me is his mother.”
“Hey girl, you’d better stay away from him, he ain’t nothin’ but trouble!” a voice boomed. Everyone turned to see Andre, grinning broadly.
Dakotah was desperately trying to wrap his head around what was going on around him. He had never mentioned the knockdown by Tim to Andre, or having Ely save his binder. “You know each other?” he said, incredulously.
“Yeah, man, we go to the same church.” Andre said. “Same Sunday school and everything.” Andre had asked Dakotah to go to church with him a couple of times, but Dakotah always declined, choosing to go with Elizabeth to the Baptist church she was a member of.
“Would you like to come to our church some Sunday?” Ely said, pushing her glasses up her nose. “We’re non-denominational, and we don’t care where you come from!”
“Thank you, I’ll think about it.” Dakotah replied, smiling. “Can’t be too bad, if they go there.” He thought.
“Dude, you comin’ with us?” Andre said, with a little impatience. We gotta go soon.”
Dakotah thought carefully. Part of him wanted to go, but something was nagging him, telling him not to. “No, I don’t guess so. I’m worn out from all of this.”
“Honey, it’s okay, you can go.” Sylvia chimed in. “You don’t have to go home with me. You’re grown now.”
Dakotah thought for a moment. He trusted Andre, but the idea of going out on the town as Andre suggested didn’t seem right. “I’m really sorry, Andre. I don’t feel up to it tonight. Maybe next time?”
“Bro, you’re missing out the night of a lifetime, but I’m cool with your decision.” Andre said, disappointed. He gave Dakotah a fist bump. “Catch you later!”
“Wait!” Ely yelled out. Let me take yours and Dakotah’s picture together.”
“Make it snappy! Ha ha! Get it? Snappy?” said, Andre, laughing.
Dakotah and Andre posed together, arms around each other, and grinning. “Say weenies!” shouted Ely.
“Weenies!” They both said, as she took their picture. “I’ll get a couple of copies printed for both of you.” Ely said.
“Cool. I’m out. Last chance, Daaaakoooootah!” Andre said, drawing out Dakotah’s name for over five seconds.
“Next time.” Dakotah said. “Andre?”
“Be safe. Promise?” added Ely.
“Promise. See you Sunday?”
“I’ll be there. How about you, Dakotah? Sunday School is at 9:30, regular services are at 10:30.”
Dakotah looked at his grandmother, looking for a sign of approval or disapproval. She smiled sweetly, and shrugged her shoulders. Dakotah had hoped for a more clear understanding of what his grandmother meant, so to him, the decision was his.
“I’ll think about it.” he said with a weak smile. His grandmother’s church was pretty conservative, and had influenced Dakotah quite a bit. “What kind of dogma do these people believe in, anyway?” he thought. However, he figured if Andre and Ely go there, it couldn’t be too bad, could it? “Where is this church, anyway?” he asked.
“228 Madison Street, next to Benny’s Used Cars.” Ely replied. Dakotah realized that the church was across town, about ten miles away.
“I’ll have to talk to Andre, and see if he’ll give me a lift there, if I decide to go.” Dakotah said, sounding noncommittal.
“Do you have a cell? You can just text me if you need a lift, and can’t find Andre.”
Dakotah became uncomfortable. A friendly girl was way out of his comfort zone. “No, I don’t have one. I’m sure I can contact Andre.”
“Well, looking forward to seeing you in church!” Ely turned to Sylvia and Elizabeth. “Nice meeting you!”
“Nice meeting you, too.” Elizabeth answered. With that, Ely left the three, disappearing into the crowd.
Elizabeth turned to Dakotah. “Something you haven’t told us, young man?” she said, smiling, knowing full well she was embarrassing her grandson.
“Well, I only talked to her once before, a couple of months ago. She and Andre must’ve been talking behind my back.” Dakotah needed clarification from Elizabeth about going to Ely and Andre’s church. “Grandma, do you know about that church? Is it okay?”
“Well, I’m sure they probably don’t play with snakes, or eat fire.” Elizabeth said, laughing. “If you’re looking for my blessing, you’re asking the wrong one. Pray about it earnestly. God will give you the answer.”
Praying wasn’t Dakotah’s strong suit, as he felt he wasn’t worthy to ask for God’s blessings. “I’ll try.” He said.
“Well, It’s almost past my bedtime.” Elizabeth said. ”Congratulations, Dakotah. I’m very proud of you. Sometime, you’ll have to bring your lady friend over for supper, so I can give her the proper once-over!”
“You’re not funny, Grandma!” Dakotah said, smiling. “Be careful going home, and I’ll see you tomorrow! It’s time to mow your lawn, again.”
“Yes, I know. I’m tempted to use weed killer on the whole yard. Take care , Sylvia. Keep that man in line.”
“Full time job, with overtime.” laughed Sylvia. “Take care.”
Crowds were starting thin out of the parking lot as Sylvia and Dakotah made their way home. “Son, what are your plans?” Sylvia asked.
“Well, I figured I’d take a shower, and head to bed soon.” Dakotah said, a little confused.
“No, no, I mean now that you’ve graduated, what are you going to do? Are you going to college? You know I can’t help you financially.”
“Yes, but not immediately.” Dakotah said. “First, I have to get a job, and start saving. Hopefully, I can start school after Christmas.”
“Getting a job is good. Not much out there right now, the way the economy’s been.”
“I know. Even fast food jobs are scarce. Couple of guys from school have been looking for months.“
“Son, it’s okay to dream, as long as it doesn’t turn into fantasy. The best thing for you to do is to get some income. At least you can buy a car. Your own transportation is important , if you’re going to work any place long term.”
“I’m not interested in finding a factory job. I don’t want to be stuck like everyone here.” Dakotah thought. “Well, I’ll start looking Monday.” Dakotah said. “Probably not much I can do this weekend.”
“Except go to church with your girlfriend?” Sylvia said, smiling.
“Well, since I’ve talked to her a total of two times, and we’ve never been out together, I wouldn’t exactly call her a girlfriend. She really is nice though, isn’t she, mom?”
“She seems so. I wonder what Frank would think of this development?” she said, laughing.
“Please, I hope they never meet! She’d run away, for sure!” Dakotah said with a hint of worry.
“We’ll worry about that when the time comes. Who knows, he may have a heart attack, or get run over by a bus by then.”
“That’s not nice, even if it is Frank.” Dakotah said with a laugh. “He’s one of God’s children, too!”
“It’s okay; I have lots of insurance on him!” They both laughed loudly.
Sylvia pulled up into the driveway, and into the garage. As they both entered the dining room, they split up, Dakotah going up the stairs to his room, while Sylvia stayed downstairs, noticing the flickering light coming from under the study door.
“Congratulations, son. I’m very proud of you.”
Dakotah came down the stairs, and hugged his mother. “Love you, mom.” he said.
She held on tightly, kissing his cheek, a tear trickling down hers. “I love you too. Very much.”
With that, he ascended upstairs.
Dakotah showered and prepared himself for bed. Between dealing first with Grandma Cathy, the graduation ceremonies, and then Ely, had left him exhausted. He knelt down at the bed to pray.
“Dear Lord, thank you for blessing me with making it through high school. Please give me the wisdom to make the right decisions for my future. Also point me in the right direction in choosing whether or not to attend Andre and Ely’s church, and if I do, give me the strength and wisdom not to be influenced by them, only by You. And lastly, keep an eye out for Andre and Tulio and the gang tonight, and keep them safe. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”
With that, Dakotah climbed into bed, and turned off the light. Thoughts turned to Ely, the way she felt, the way she smiled, the sound of her voice, the way she smelled. “Could it be she’s the one? “That would be beyond awesome!” he smiled to himself in happy thought.
There was a loud banging at the door. Dakotah rubbed his eyes, and looked at the clock. It said 7:58AM. He quickly opened the door, and went down the stairs. To his surprise, he saw Elizabeth talking animatedly and loudly to Sylvia. Frank slowly shuffled out of the bedroom, cursing softly.
“What the hell is wrong with you, old woman? Have you finally gone senile?” Frank said.
“Shut up, you fool, and turn on the TV to channel seven!” Elizabeth barked. Tears were in her eyes as she turned to Dakotah. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. Please sit down.”
The television came to life, and by the time Frank changed the channel, the logo for “Channel Seven, Eyewitness News” popped up. The normally chipper anchorman appeared saddened, almost depressed. He began to speak, and the scene cut to what appeared to be an automobile accident. Dakotah, still groggy, focused on the scene, and then he saw it.
A purple mid 70s Impala.
“Tragedy strikes the area last night, when a car of newly graduated high school students, on their way to a party, lost control and crashed, killing all five aboard. Tulio Morris, an All-State linebacker that was to play for Michigan State in the fall, was one of the victims.”