T he first time I saw you you were airborne.
I was at the very beginning of my high school career; you in 12th grade were at the tail end of yours. As a nerdy ninth-grader with wire-rimmed glasses who started wearing her hair in a bump a year after it came into fashion I was captivated by your easy confidence and poise.
From the side (I no longer remember if that was by choice or not) I watched you dance along a low fence laughing demonstrating your balance and dexterity. You landed light as a butterfly when you hopped off. You were a star ballet dancer; you were popular confident and cool. You were everything I wasn’t.
I trailed behind watching you for a long time. But you couldn’t have known that.
Later that week they broke out Shabbaton. We were divided into groups and for some reason the teachers involved — either feeling sorry for me or sensing some innate talent — placed me in dance. (Later once I’d grown into myself I indeed became dance head myself.) For me the most exciting part was seeing your name at the top of the list.
You came down the stairs eyes skimming the lists on the bulletin board. I stood next to you wondering if you even knew my name. And I remember the moment where you felt my gaze turned to me and said with a smile “Are you in my dance? That’s great!”
My world turned just a little bit brighter that morning.
We kept up our relationship long after Shabbaton ended. I can’t imagine having had the guts to ask — it must have been your doing. We started getting together each week on Sunday evenings. You taught me to play guitar and dance but more — you taught me to have confidence in myself and to spread my wings. Having a “big sister” in 12th grade was a huge boost to my struggling self-esteem. I had made it in high school — and it was partially thanks to you.
We lost touch after that year. You left for seminary stayed on in Israel. Ours wasn’t a keep-in-touch kind of relationship maybe because it had never been one we thought about — it just was. Until it wasn’t. You moved on I moved on. I didn’t really mind losing the status symbol: I had found myself.
I used my guitar — which I’d bought with your encouragement — rarely. But I still thought about you often. Until the day I mentioned your name to a well-meaning teacher. Her eyes widened.
“You mean you don’t know what happened to her?!”
I didn’t know. But apparently things hadn’t gone easily for the golden girl I remembered from my early high school days. What went wrong I still have no idea. But the words depressed off the derech suicidal reverberated in my brain.
I didn’t sleep that night.
The last time I saw you you were falling.
It was at a kiruv shabbaton. I came to reach out to you; you hung out with your nonreligious college friends. When we went for a walk Shabbos afternoon to “catch up ” you took me to meet your non-Jewish boyfriend. I swallowed my horror and made an exit as soon as I could.
I haven’t seen you since. But I haven’t forgotten you either. And I wish I could tell you that when I picture you whatever you’re wearing or doing or thinking I don’t see a girl with sad empty eyes and a desperate thirsting soul. I see a girl who took the time to reach out to a socially awkward freshman and help her break out of her shell. I see a girl with a beautiful smile and grace in her step who showed me the colors of my wings and taught me to dance in the wind. And I wish and pray that someone will help you set yourself free in just the same way.
I’m davening for you and I hope that someday soon we will once again dance together.
Your “Little Sister”
(Originally featured in Family First Issue 562)
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