I walked through the living room in the direction Mrs. Kremsler pointed. I stepped out onto the patio and froze
"Mommy, guess what! Chavi is coming to visit her cousins on Chol Hamoed. We’re gonna get a chance to meet in person!”
“I’m so happy to hear that,” Mommy said.
Chavi and I have been phone pals for the last year. To make phone learning during Covid a little more interesting, our schools matched us up with girls in other schools. They tried to give us phone pals with similar interests. Chavi and I both love art; drawing, sketching, painting — all different styles. We really wanted to get together in person so we could actually see each other’s artwork. Chavi’s cousins, the Kremslers, live down the block from me, so it will be really easy to meet when she’s there.
The next day, I went shopping with Mommy for Yom Tov. I held up an outfit with a tiered skirt and sash that tied at the waist.
Mommy raised her eyebrows at me. She’d already bought me two new outfits for Yom Tov and we’d agreed that that was enough.
“What if Chavi thinks I’m a loser? I really need this. I saw tons of girls getting it,” I pleaded with Mommy.
“Of course, Malky, that outfit is exactly what you need for Chavi to like you. I wonder how you ever made any friends before it came into style.”
I rolled my eyes, but I couldn’t help smiling. Probably Mommy was right. Chavi didn’t sound like the kind of person that would judge me by my clothing.
Just to be sure, when our meeting day arrived, I did wear one of the new outfits Mommy had agreed to buy me. It was Chol Hamoed after all.
The plan was that I would meet Chavi at her cousins’s house. We’d agreed that we’d each bring all of our artwork with us, so we could finally see all the projects we’d discussed on the phone together.
We both love nature, so I figured if we had time, we could go on a hike together along the creek behind my house.
I looked in the mirror 10 or 15 times, making sure I looked okay. My wavy black hair was neatly pulled back in my ponytail, and I tied a pretty ribbon, which perfectly matched my outfit, around my pony. I tucked my portfolio under my arm and headed to the Kremslers where Chavi was waiting.
“Hi, Malky,” Chavi’s aunt, Mrs. Kremsler, greeted me. “Chavi’s on the patio out back waiting for you.”
I walked through the living room in the direction Mrs. Kremsler pointed. I stepped out onto the patio and froze.
There, sitting in a wheelchair, was a blond girl about my age.
“You’re Chavi?” I asked, trying to sound polite. Why hadn’t Chavi ever mentioned that she was in a wheelchair?
“Hi, Malky,” Chavi replied. She immediately guessed what I was thinking. “I guess it never came up in conversation that I’m in a wheelchair. It just seemed a little awkward to mention. Like, what was I gonna say, ‘So Malky, do you prefer acrylics or water colors? I love acrylics and I’m in a wheelchair’?”
I had to laugh. “Yeah, I hear that. I also assumed you were dark like me. I never guessed you were blond and blue eyed!” I was having a really hard time believing that the stranger I saw in front of me was the owner of the voice I’d grown to know so well over the phone.
“And you’re tall. You’re really tall. I imagined you with dark hair and dark eyes, but I also assumed you’d be petite like me.” Chavi paused. “Are you mad at me? That I didn’t tell you… “ she gestured to her chair and trailed off.
“No, I’m not mad. But you look so different from how I imagined you — not just the, uh, wheelchair… The whole look. Aren’t artists all dark and serious looking?”
Chavi laughed, the laugh I knew so well over the phone coming out of this beautiful blond girl I didn’t recognize, and said, “Yeah, it’s really weird talking to you. Your voice is so familiar — my mind is doing flip flops hearing it with this face I’ve never seen before!”
Then, noticing the thick portfolio I was holding, she pointed to the table and wheeled herself over. “Pull up a chair. I can’t wait to see what you’ve got.”
I noticed another thick folder already on the table. I figured that must be Chavi’s artwork. Time flew as we sat there oohing and aahing over each other’s work. We’d discussed a lot of techniques over the phone together, but it wasn’t like actually seeing things.
We sat there for over an hour, totally lost in the conversation. I felt like I was with the Chavi I knew and loved over the phone for the last year.
“I love the shading you did here.”
“How did you get this apple to look so real? I want to eat it right off the page!”
“You want it? Why don’t you take it?” I offered.
“Really? It will look amazing in my bedroom. Are you sure?” Chavi asked.
“I would be honored to have my work hanging on the wall of such a talented artist!” I said, bowing toward her in my chair.
“Now you have to choose one of mine.”
I flipped through Chavi’s work for 15 minutes before I could choose. “This is my favorite,” I said, holding up a watercolor of a midnight sky lit up by a full moon, “but this will match my room better.” I waved a colorful acrylic of two swans on a lake in my other hand.
“Take the one you love; since when does the sky not match a room?”
We finally closed our portfolios and leaned back in our seats. “This was great,” Chavi said. “I’ve been waiting so long to see your work and show you mine. We have some time left. Any ideas?”
“Actually, I was planning to show you this really nice hike. But I don’t think we could do it with your chair.”
Chavi looked like she was deciding whether or not to say something.
“Malky, I should have told you before you came. I didn’t tell you because I wanted to see your reaction for myself when you found out. I wanted to see if you would still like me. Do you forgive me?”
“Of course I forgive you. Did you really think that after all these months of friendship I would change my mind because you roll around instead of walk around?” I asked.
“Not really. But I didn’t want to take the chance,” she said.
I thought about the outfit I’d asked my mother to buy me. Wasn’t I assuming that Chavi would judge me by how I look? The difference was, I wanted her to see how cool and stylish I was, and be impressed with me because of it. How embarrassing — good thing my mom didn’t agree to get me that outfit.
“I tried to get my mom to buy me a nice outfit to impress you,” I confessed.
“You for sure don’t need an outfit to impress me. You look great in what you’re wearing anyway.”
“You’re funny. You don’t want me to judge you by the outside, but you’re complimenting my outfit.”
“So? It’s important to look nice. It just shouldn’t be more important than what’s on the inside.”
“But Chavi, didn’t we just choose the artwork we liked, just based on how it looked?” I waved the moonlight picture at her.
“Yeah, of course. What’s wrong with that?”
“Why is it okay to do it with art but not with people?”
“That’s all art is — how it looks. It doesn’t have thoughts or feelings. It can’t choose to be mean or nice. But a person is full of thoughts and feelings and ideas that you can’t see. For a person, the main part is what’s inside.”
I laughed aloud. “Right, good point. I really didn’t need you to tell me that. I just got confused for a minute.”
Then Chavi started laughing — the cracking-up, can’t-stop, tears-rolling-down-her-cheeks kind of laughing.
She had to calm down just to explain what she found so funny. When she finally caught her breath she said, “For a person, the main part is the inside, but people sometimes forget and pay too much attention to the outside.”
She pointed at the apple painting I’d just given her. “What would happen if we did that with art? Like, what if someone forgot the painting was the most important part?”
She waved her fingers above the painting. “Imagine a frame with sequins and pom-poms and lace, maybe some flashing lights or tassels hanging down, lots of color…”
“You would barely be able to see the picture,” I said, and also started laughing.
But then Chavi got really quiet.
“I have a lot of great friends. They’re used to me like this and treat me like everyone else. But a lot of people only see my wheelchair. They’ll talk to the other girls I’m with and act like I’m not even there. Or they talk to me really loudly and slowly, as if just because my legs don’t work, they think my ears or my brain don’t work either.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. “I think I would get really annoyed if people ignored me or talked down to me.”
“That’s one of the reasons I was so excited to do the phone pal thing when my school offered it,” Chavi said. “I knew over the phone you would treat me normally.”
“Well, I hope I passed the test in person. I was surprised, but I didn’t think you were a different person than the one I spoke to on the phone.”
Chavi laughed again. “I think the next time someone pays more attention to my wheelchair than to me, I’ll picture that silly frame with sequins and pom-poms and I’ll just laugh.”
“Here, I think this will help remind you.” I pulled the sequined ribbon out of my hair and tied it around the armrest on Chavi’s wheelchair.
We both grinned.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 878)
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