Yes, it was only one year of school, but an entire nine months of struggling, of 12th-grade exams and lots of note taking. How would I manage?
To make a long story short, I’m starting to work at Neshama right after my graduation, at the end of this coming school year. I’ll be joining them for short periods during any school vacations this year, to start getting comfortable with Lali and the staff. I’ll also be taking Lali out on Shabbos afternoons and some Sundays, so she’ll get used to me.
If the system is working, and Lali feels comfortable working with me, Neshama is ready to make an exception and reserve a job for me for next summer and on! That’s how desperate they are — no one managed to get Lali to talk before I did! I also suspect my mother told Mrs. Bergman some stuff I would have preferred to keep secret, but considering how this all worked out, I don’t mind. I won’t have to go to seminary, which I’ve been dreading since I entered high school. My parents agreed that seminary is out of the question for me. This is a nice way to fill the gap.
With that on the horizon, going back to school for 12th grade is slightly easier for me, knowing this will all be over soon and I’ll be able to turn over a new leaf. But the damage of the last year can’t be undone. I was a girl standing on the sidelines instead of being with it, like I used to be. I became part of the shadows in the classroom, there but not there. Some girls barely noticed I came back after my long disappearance. But I was fine with that. I was leaving anyway! I don’t have to go to seminary, and I only have one more year left of school!
Miriam, my good friend, was happy for me.
“Some people are just not cut out for school,” she said. “You’re very lucky to have gotten a job at Neshama!”
“I know,” I said, “I know.” As lucky as a near-school dropout could get, I guess, but I’m fine.
After the initial excitement died down, I realized what I still had ahead of me. Yes, it was only one year of school, but an entire nine months of struggling, of 12th-grade exams and lots of note taking. How would I manage?
I didn’t have the slightest idea. It’d be like swimming across the ocean with no life vest.
On the first day of 12th grade I walked into school, the familiar pit of dread deepening with every step I took. I was willingly entering the lion’s den. Did I choose wisely? Should I have insisted on leaving school? What if I’d been a bit more stubborn? Could I have gotten away with skipping 12th grade?
The whole first day, I felt like I was sitting on hot coals, ready to fend off any attack on my independence and dignity, but none came. The second day was a repeat: me sitting stiffly in my seat, but all the teachers acting completely natural toward me. It looked like school was safe again.
The second week, on a windy autumn day, I got my first reminder. I was in a Chumash lesson, marveling at my newfound security, when the secretary knocked on the door.
“The principal is waiting for you in the office,” she said, staring at me like she was expecting some kind of reaction. I just nodded coldly and walked off. I could see she was disappointed; probably promised the staff room some gossip. I was the main topic last year, so why not this year again?
I knocked gingerly on the door. I was hoping the principal wouldn’t hear me and then I could skip the rest of class, but she was waiting for me — the door opened right away.
“Hi, Shulamis.” She smiled. I didn’t return the smile. I hadn’t smiled at any school staff member in a long time, and I was not about to change. Call it attitude or whatever you want; I’d lost my trust in them.
“I’m glad you’re back in school with us, Shulamis,” she said warmly. I cringed in my seat. Warm voices were usually the prologue to something really nasty.
“I just want to make sure we’re both clear on a few things,” the principal said, her eyes stern, but still smiling warmly at me. “I don’t want to see any more skipping from you — not classes, not tests or quizzes. I want to see you trying your best, or I will not be able to give you a high school diploma.”
“I need different tests,” I said, glaring, my voice harsher than I intended. “I can’t do the regular tests. And you know I can score top grades when I get the help I need.” I wanted her to remember the bright student I was once upon a time.
“I know, Shulamis.” The principal was smiling again. It made me a little nauseous. “You’ll be getting extra tutoring and assistance for some subjects.”
“I don’t need tutoring,” I said, trying to keep cool. “But thank you anyway.”
I didn’t trust myself to speak respectfully anymore, so I sealed my lips and ran out.
It wasn’t going to be a picnic after all. Mrs. Adler had made her mark and I wouldn’t be able to erase it; not now and not ever. I would just have to live with it.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 876)
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