And that’s when I know this past year had changed me. Because I didn’t hesitate at all
Ninth grade is three-quarters over and I’m feeling like a pro. No more freshie mistakes, no getting lost trying to find the lab, or wearing regular shoes on gym days. That’s why when Rebbetzin Liebstein calls me into her office, I’m pretty much shaking in my cute black booties. I mentally run through my guilty conscience, and nothing raises a red flag. Okay, I was super late for tefillah twice this week, and Mrs. Warren did not appreciate my comment about trigonometry being useless, but would she tell the limudei kodesh principal? Probably not.
Okay then. I flip my thick ponytail over one shoulder, shrug, and follow the 12th grader who’d called me away from lunch, down the hallway.
“Uh, I was just supposed to call you, not actually bring you in.”
Oh, that’s awkward.
“’Kay, thanks,” I say, flashing my most confident smile.
I stop outside the Rebbetzin’s office door and take a deep breath before knocking.
Well, here goes nothing. Although, with my luck, I’m probably about to be expelled. Ohmygosh, what if something happened to Babby or Zeidy? My palms start to sweat, and I need to swallow twice before pushing open the door.
The Rebbetzin’s blue eyes are twinkling as she offers me a seat, so I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that nobody died.
“Bella Rena,” she says warmly, “how are you doing? How has ninth grade been treating you?”
Oh, ninth grade has been fabulous. Classes have been great, almost broke my tendon forever, had to quit my life’s passion. “Fine,” I say. “It’s been fine. Uh, baruch Hashem.”
The blue eyes pierce mine and I can’t help feeling that she’s reading my mind.
But all she says is, “I’m so glad to hear that.”
“Is everything okay?” I ask, trying to keep my voice from shaking.
“Of course, Bella Rena, you’re a wonderful student and respectful as well.”
I blush at this praise, but I appreciate it nonetheless.
“I just wanted to discuss color war jobs with you.”
Huh? Seriously? What a waste of nerves.
Color war is a big deal, especially since it’s every other year, switching off with production. Since last year was a production year, this year is color war and we all had to sign up like the first week of school for our preferences. It was a little extra, but I can’t say I’m not excited.
Rebbetzin Liebstein leans forward. “I wanted to know if it was okay if I switched your job? You were actually chosen to be dance head for team Chometz, but I’m guessing that’s irrelevant now?” Seeing my face, she hastened to say, “Or at least off the table?”
I sit back in my chair. Dance head. I had been chosen as dance head and now they were taking it away from me? Why? Why was this happening to me? Why was everything I loved, everything I wanted, being pulled away? Winter recital, dance classes, color war? It just isn’t fair. It’s just not.
“No!” I blurt out.
The Rebbetzin sits back, the serene eyes are startled. “No?”
“No! Why is that fair? What did I do wrong?”
“Bella Rena?” And now the eyes are filled with pity. “Bella Rena, you did nothing wrong. But you can’t dance anymore.”
And that’s when I burst into tears.
So just when I’m feeling like a pro at high school, I discover something new: Rebbbetzin Liebstein is an amazing person to open up to. She’s a great listener and an even better advice giver.
I’m standing in the student lounge, contemplating the soda machine. The Rebbetzin gave me two dollars to “refresh myself.” Don’t mind if I do.
I purchase a ginger ale and then sit on a beanbag chair, sipping slowly.
So now I’m on the sewing committee and I’m not mad about it. I’m actually excited. Not that I’m a sewing pro yet, but I can do some basic stitches and I mean, c’mon, it’s color war costumes, not a wedding or anything.
Costumes for the actresses… and costumes for the dancers. My heart constricts at the thought of outfitting the new dance head and her group. And I have a feeling I know who that dance head will be.
As I was leaving the Rebbetzin’s office, shredded tissues clenched in my hand, Rebbetzin Liebstein had stopped me. “One more thing: In your professional opinion, who would make a good replacement dance head for color war?”
And that’s when I know this past year had changed me. Because I didn’t hesitate at all.
Gazing steadily back into those blue eyes, I said, “Atara. Atara is an amazing dancer.”
Would I consider myself a selfless person yet? ’Kay, no. But I did something good. I referred Atara, I opened up to my principal, I didn’t crumble into two million pieces, which was my first instinct when my job was taken away. So why didn’t I feel better? Why did I feel drained in a way that no amount of bubbly soda would help?
The question bothers me all through English classes, all along my short walk home, to Judy Cooperfeld’s house and back, while power walking and eating supper and hanging out with Effie so Goldie can go to a shiur. And only later, once safely ensconced in my beautiful room, does the answer come to me.
Because nobody ever said that growing up would feel good.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 812)
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