Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finally.

Good Lord I'm a dork. 
 I've wondered about the title of this blog for four years. As it turns out, I didn't even have to think of it. This morning, while I was getting a glass of water from the refrigerator, my son walked in and said, "Yay! Daddy's graduating today!" 

My daughter looked up at me, smiled, and said, "Finally." 

***

Thursday night was bad. 

I kept having dreams where I died. I'd drift off to sleep, and wake up gasping, having just crashed an airplane, fallen off a cliff, or having been pushed in front of a bus. 

I cried Friday morning when I was watching the news before class. Someone paid off someone else's layaway, and I got all weepy. 

So of course I texted my wife and told her what was going on, and she was very succinct with her reply: "You need to calm down." 

I didn't believe I would make it. I really didn't. When I started college four years ago, I honestly thought I'd quit again. I mean I'd tried it twice before, and I left both times. I don't mean I dropped out, I just left. My grade point average was abysmal. 

But I started again. 

And I slugged along. I took some classes I really thought I'd like at first, just to pick up the momentum. I took elementary algebra four times, and I took intermediate algebra four times. I won't tell you how I got through college algebra. 

I fell in love with literature. I decided against a journalism degree, then decided against a computer science degree, and finally settled on English Education. Teaching. Geez. 

I quit my job after my second semester. I burned an enormous bridge at Connors State College, simply because their math department (certain faculty, really) is the biggest bunch of idiots God ever put on earth. 

We got a couple of kids. Then we got another kid. We went through a really rough patch in our marriage, and I genuinely thought it was all over. Then I learned how to ask, "How can I help?" 

I've worked 16-hour days for an entire semester now. I've gained an enormous amount of respect for high-school teachers, and not only them, but the students as well. I fell in love with those kids (totally not in a weird way), and I'm sad I only have one more week with them. 

I interrupted the semester with a trip to Washington, D.C. for an amazing reason. I had a wreck my second day of my internship. I got sick for like the second time in my entire life. I yelled at my daughter for making a C when I was struggling to keep up a C in a class myself. 

"You're a Sloat. Sloats don't make Cs. Sloats don't make Bs. Sloats make As." - Brian (and now Travis) Sloat

I ran out of gas halfway through the semester, then got an email from my wife that changed everything. 

And, while we're on the subject, can we just take a moment to enter my wife in the "Best Wife of the 2010s" contest. The woman is amazing. While I've been slugging away at my internship, then working nights at the paper, she's been raising three kids essentially by herself, and, not only that, actually tried to sleep with me a few times too. 

You know I still remember the first day I actually noticed her. I don't remember much, I truly think I'll have dementia in about a week, but I remember noticing Alicia for the first time. I can tell you exactly where I was, and exactly where she was, and almost exactly what she had on. 

God, in His amazing and infinite wisdom, completely changed my life when He let her fall in love with me. She is a rock, and I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life trying to thank her for these last four years in particular. I love you, Alicia. 

***

I woke up at 7 a.m. 

I rolled out of bed to get in the shower, and Alicia asked me, "What time are you leaving?" I replied, "I need to leave in about 45 minutes." 

"What? You told me it started at 9:30!" 

"Yeah, but I have to be there an hour early." 

She made some sort of noise, and then I honest to goodness didn't see her the rest of the morning. Somehow, she got all three kids ready, herself ready, and ironed my clothes in 45 minutes. Did I mention she's amazing?

Just before we left, I remembered something. In my sock drawer, there's an armband with some initials on it. B.R.S. Brian Ronald Sloat. I had it made for basketball after he died. I grabbed it, and slid it on under my shirt sleeve. It just seemed right dad should be there with me. 

We made it to the event center. We didn't die. 

The separated us at the door, and ushered me around the building where I had a moment of sheer, unadulterated panic when the lady in charge of the cards with our names on them couldn't find mine. It wound up being the only one in the pack stuck to the back of another one, and if that right there doesn't prove to you that The Lord has a sense of humor (a sick one, sometimes), then I don't know what will. 

I met my friends, Krista and Katelynn, who have been with me through this whole thing, and don't seem to find it weird that they have attached themselves to a 32-year-old man who has a penchant for being inappropriate. 

I freaking love you guys. 
We teamed up with Bret, another fellow English major, and we lined up. 

I didn't die. I didn't trip. But I was sweating bullets. 

My mom sent me a text. You see, she got married today in what was the biggest scheduling SNAFU of 2014, and couldn't be at the graduation. I'm okay with that, because I like the guy she married. I think, for the first time in 14 years, I'm cool with finally calling someone my step-dad. 

"Congrats on your graduation today! Sorry I'm not there to see it, just know that I'm SO proud of you! Your dad would say, 'Good job, son.' Love you." 

And now, typing that out, I'm crying for the first time today. I'm honestly surprised it didn't happen sooner. 

My dad would be proud of me, just like the rest of my family is. But I honestly think he'd laugh a little, and smile at me the way he used to, the way I can see so perfectly in my mind right now, and he'd say:

"Finally." 

***

I walked in that gym, and I had my chest out and my head high. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I waved to my friends and family. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I sat through a commencement speech that I can't even come close to remembering now. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I stood up when my row was ready. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I walked to the stage. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I heard my name: "Travis Gene Sloat." I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I shook the hands of two people and got my degree holder. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

I walked out of the gym and into life as a college graduate. I didn't trip, I didn't die. 

***

I found a professor I've really grown attached to and I shook his hand. "Thank you." That's all I could say. 

I found some friends and hugged their necks and shook their hands. They congratulated me, and I thanked them, looking all the while for my family. 

I finally got a text message from Alicia. "We're at the truck." 

You know, I didn't even pause. I just started walking that way. I completely missed Krista and Katelynn, and missed a couple of other professors I wanted to thank, but I didn't care. I just wanted to be with my family. 

We got in the truck, and we went out for a celebratory lunch. Mexican food, because what else? 

I looked at them, gathered around the table. Aven, who was of course distracted by everything; Akeeli, who is just about the cutest little girl on the face of the planet; The youngest, who we're hoping to finally have a chance to adopt in a few short weeks; and, finally, Alicia. 

I smiled and took a drink of my beer, completely satisfied with my life at that point. 

"Finally."