| Jr. Tales |

A Matter of Friendship

“Well,” I contended, “we’re friends. Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”

I opened my eyes to the pale light of sunrise peeking through the shades of my bedroom window. I looked at my alarm clock. Only six forty-five. On a day like today, though, I was fully awake. Opening my closet, I pulled out a crisp navy uniform skirt and light-blue shirt. All brand new. In the middle of November.

My mother tapped on the door. “Shifra?” She peered through the crack. “Are you up? You need to leave in 20 minutes.”

“Yeah, Ma.” My muffled voice drifted to her from inside the closet. “Just getting dressed.”

“I’ll make you oatmeal for breakfast if you’d like.”

“That would be great, Mommy. I should be down soon. Thanks a ton!”

I really appreciated that Mommy was trying to make today easier. After all, it was me who had insisted that I needed a new school. My thoughts brought me back to the day it all began.

***

“Shifra?”

“Yes, Mommy,” I answered, putting my phone conversation with Devorah on hold.

“I want to discuss something pretty important with you. Can you make time later tonight?”

“Sure, Ma,” I responded, “so, like eight thirty?”

“Yeah, somewhere around then.”

I picked up the phone to go back to my conversation, but Mommy didn’t seem to be finished. I hesitated. “Um, Mommy? Is there something else?”.

“If you could get Chaim and Yehudis into pajamas...”

Exactly what I’d feared. My least favorite job.

“Do you really need it, Ma?” My voice sounded whiny. But she just looked at me, and I knew I had lost this round. “All right, I’ll get them into pajamas!”

The conversation over, I turned back to my phone call with Devorah, making sure to note that I needed to hang up a half hour later.

***

At eight forty, I found Mommy in the kitchen baking muffins.

“Hi, Ma, bedtime went okay?”

“Yup. Thanks for your help. Come sit down and have a muffin. These just came out of the oven.”

“You know, Ma,” I sat down and took a muffin, “my teacher just assigned us this project. Devorah and I will be working together.”

“Oh? Did the teacher put you with Devorah?”

I laughed. “Of course not, Mommy. No teacher would ever put me and Devorah together for anything. We always turn things into a joke.”

“And do you really want to turn a school project into a joke?” Mommy asked.

The muffin in her hand was still in its paper. I had a feeling I knew where this was going. We’d had this conversation before.

“Not really, Ma. But you know what it’s like when I do anything with Devorah. It always gets out of hand, a little. Devorah thinks it’s a riot, and I think she’s a riot. It makes school a little more exciting. You know, it’s good for both of us!” I explained.

“Good for both of you?” Mommy’s question almost didn’t sound like a question.

“Well,” I contended, “we’re friends. Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Yes.” Mommy sighed. “Are you really happy spending every waking minute with Devorah?”

I didn’t have to think about that question for long. Somewhere in me I knew I wasn’t very happy. Devorah and I were great friends, but we had always been part of a whole class of fun girls.

That was how it was all the way up to the year I started fifth grade. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but somewhere around that time Devorah started taking over. She liked to goof around. She didn’t like to study for tests. Eventually she was making most of my decisions for me. She was even choosing the clothing I wore.

I didn’t think it was such a big deal because somewhere there was still a little of me included. Until this year. Devorah’s tzniyus standards just weren’t the same as the ones my parents expected from me. And that earlier conversation with my mother about bedtime? That was more Devorah talking than me. The problem was, it seemed I cared more about her opinion than my parents’ — or even than my own.

“But what should I do about it, Ma? Devorah’s, like, my best friend. I can’t just drop her. I don’t even want to.”

“I don’t know, Shifra. Although you do have other friends you could try to hang out with more.”

“Who?” I held back a snort. “Chavi and Tzipporah? I can’t exactly drop Devorah and stay friends with them. We do everything as a group. If I drop Devorah, I’ll lose all of them. And then I’ll have no friends!”

“What do you think?” Mommy asked.

“You’re right,” I whispered dejectedly.

“Think it over,” Mommy said. “Tatty and I will, too. We don’t have to decide right now.”

By the time I heard Tatty’s key in the lock, my mind was made up.

“Ta?” I called softly.

“Shifra.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “How was school? What did you have up your sleeve today?”

“I sort of wanted to discuss that with you.”

“Sounds serious.” Tatty’s smile deepened. My ideas were usually a little bold; he did have reason to smile. “How about we move this conversation into the kitchen? I’m sure Mommy has something yummy hiding in there.”

My second muffin of the night, I thought. Shrugging my shoulders, I followed my father into the kitchen.

We were already peeling the paper off our muffins when Mommy found us.

“Can I join this meeting?” she asked, pulling up a chair as she did so.

“Sure, Ma,” I said, “I just had an idea about what I should do about the whole Devorah thing.”

I turned to my father to fill him in on the previous conversation I had with my mother. Then I took a deep breath, my fingers methodically reducing my muffin crumbs to dust-sized particles.

Tatty was smiling again. “So, are we all moving to China, or just you?” Tatty joked.

“Nah,” I said lightly. “Seriously, though. I don’t want to cut Devorah totally out of my life.”

“We wouldn’t want you to, Shifra,” Mommy said, looking me straight in the eye. “Maybe just tone it down a bit.”

“But I can’t ‘tone it down.’ She has this pull over me. If I don’t spend so much time with her, then she’ll feel like we’re not really friends!”

“So what’s your idea?” Tatty asked.

“I think I should switch to Bnos Rochel.” There, I’d said it.

The clock behind Mommy seemed to tick really loudly. Five after ten. Tick, tick, tick.

Finally Mommy spoke. “I’m not sure we need something so drastic, Shifra.”

I looked at Tatty.

“Maybe tell us why you think switching schools is a good idea,” he said.

I was waiting for this. The hour in my room waiting for Tatty to come home had given me lots of time to think. I told them how I couldn’t just drop Devorah. I loved being her friend. If I switched schools, we could still spend hours talking after school, just like we always did. And Devorah would never suspect a thing. With so many hours apart during the day, it wouldn’t really matter what we did after school. And besides, I know so many girls in Bnos Rochel, it probably wouldn’t be so hard to switch.

The clock now read 10:08, but I felt like it should read 10:30 at least.

“You seem sure about this, Shifra,” Mommy interjected. I nodded.

“Let’s think it over for a few more days,” Tatty added. “We’ll see.”

***

So here I was, in the middle of November, getting into a brand-new uniform. Devorah’s “How could you do this to me?!” from the night before was still ringing in my ears.

But ironically, those very words were making me so sure I was doing the right thing. For the first time in months, I had made a decision all on my own. It felt right. It felt like me. And I couldn’t wait to finally find me under all those layers of Devorah.

Underneath all the butterflies dancing in my stomach, a feeling of freedom was welling up. In a few more days, I knew, that feeling would have a chance to burst out. Freedom. I could almost taste it.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 789)

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