My issue with reading wouldn’t go away, but could my attitude toward it change?
For the first time since I started high school, I walked home alone. Miriam’s mother had left almost a month ago to be with Pinny while he was getting treatments and surgeries and all kinds of stuff done. Miriam and her father stayed behind with the family until the move was finalized and the school term finished. The original plan had been for Miriam’s father to stay here with the rest of the family until winter break, but then they got an urgent message that Pinny wasn’t doing well and they needed to move as soon as possible.
And now they were gone.
Miserable, I kicked a pebble and watched it roll into a shallow, muddy puddle. Miriam was out of reach now. I didn’t even try calling her, I knew she would be too preoccupied. I didn’t blame her; being like a mother to a bunch of siblings and dealing with the stress of her favorite brother being gravely ill, who had patience for friends? It was all about surviving.
But I was still upset. School was lonely today. I skipped math class on my own and had no one to share my cookies with. I spent lunch break walking the streets aimlessly; 12th graders were allowed out for lunch hour, but without Miriam, this tantalizing opportunity of a mini vacation smack in the middle of the school day lost its appeal. The English teacher gave a mountain of homework I had no chance of completing on my own. And I didn’t have anyone to complain to.
“Just find a new friend,” my mother suggested one rainy evening, when she found me curled up on my bed, staring at a picture of me and Miriam from last summer, when we had gone on a little three-day vacation on our own. It had been so much fun. Now fun seemed to elude me. And midterms were coming up. With barely any help coming from the school, I had no chance of passing. What was I going to do?
I hated feeling like a failure. I was a bright student. One of the specialists I went to at one point in my childhood told my parents that my IQ was high — almost in the gifted range. But I still couldn’t read!
“Ma, it’s not so simple finding a friend in 12th grade,” I said bitterly. “Everyone has their friends already, and anyway, nobody is even interested in me.” I began to cry, wallowing in self-pity like a stereotypical self-righteous teenager.
My mother looked at me for a second and then left the room, leaving me alone with my misery.
That night, I got a phone call from Miriam. We spoke for hours. I felt so much better after the phone call, but still couldn’t go to bed after we hung up, as tired as I was. Something she said was echoing in my head.
“Both of us have the right to drown ourselves in self-pity,” she told me, “but we could use those energies and do something useful instead. It’s all about our mindset. If we pity ourselves, we’ll turn into pitiful people who deserve the pity of others. If we channel this energy toward something productive, we’ll turn into better people, and in turn, society will view us more positively.” Her words were a bit halting — she was never one to preach — but I understood what she meant. She’d changed, Miriam. Challenge was making her stronger….
What about me? Was my challenge making me stronger?
I had spent the past two years pitying myself. I made myself miserable; I made myself pathetic; I felt sorry for myself. I spent so much energy being angry at people in my life that I didn’t even think about moving past the present. Being angry, and lashing out at people like Mrs. Adler, for instance, might have made me feel better at the time, but I gained nothing from it. I hadn’t done anything to improve myself or my reading.
What did you think, the solution would come on its own? I asked myself. That one day you’d just be able to read and this whole nightmare would be over?
I was ashamed to realize how childish and immature I had been for the past few years. And look where I was now: friendless, my grades hitting rock bottom when I was capable of so much more, my teachers thinking so poorly of me….
Did it always have to be like that? Could I change it? My issue with reading wouldn’t go away, but could my attitude toward it change? And what would happen if it did?
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 879)
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