Even worse was the fact that I knew she was right about my friends. They were changing — not for the better
“Just because the mall has late opening hours, doesn’t mean I want you hanging around there at night,” my mother said.
“But all my friends are going,” I protested. Avital’s sister had just gotten her license and since driving was still a novelty, she didn’t mind chaperoning her younger sister and friends if it meant more time behind the wheel.
“I honestly feel bad for you to be the odd one out,” my mother sympathized, “but that doesn’t justify me giving you permission to go somewhere I don’t feel is appropriate. And a group of teens hanging out in the mall on their own — at night — definitely fits into that category. I don’t like being the one to say no,” my mother continued, “but lately it seems more and more that the things your friends want to do and the places they want to go are not the things Daddy and I are happy for you to do. I know the four of you have been friends forever and I don’t know what’s changed, but maybe it’s time to start exploring new friendships — girls who are more in line with our, and your, standards.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear right then, and I exploded. It was bad enough that she didn’t let me hang out with my friends in the mall. Even worse was the fact that I knew she was right about my friends. They were changing — not for the better — and sometimes even I wondered if I was headed down a slippery slope together with them. Still, my friends were my life, and at this stage in high school I didn’t have the courage to start over. In my opinion, I was old enough to make my own decisions and I wished my parents would give me the freedom to be like the rest of my friends, instead of constantly rejecting the clothing I wanted to wear, the activities I wanted to do, and the places I wanted to go.
It was all Becky’s fault, I thought angrily. She had joined our class at the beginning of this year and had slowly wormed her way into our little group. My three other friends loved her spunk and charisma and it seemed like only I recognized the negative effect she was having on the rest of us (not that I would ever admit that to my mother). Ever since she joined, standards had definitely sunk and some of the topics she raised for discussion made me feel very uncomfortable. I wished Becky would leave our school, or at the very least find other girls to be friendly with, but right now it seemed she was here to stay, and my social life seemed to be conflicting more and more with my home values.
“It doesn’t work out for me to come,” I told Avital on the phone when she called back to see if I was joining.
“Shame.” She sounded genuinely upset. “Becky will be happy, though. She really wanted to come with us, but we didn’t have enough space in the car, and you definitely come first.” Avital was trying to be nice, but she only made me feel worse. Bad enough my friends would be going to the mall without me because my mother didn’t let me go, but now Becky would be taking my place. In more ways than one.
My mother, feeling bad, offered to bake or play a game with me, but I not-so-graciously refused her offers. Seriously, what was she thinking? That she could placate me with some humdrum activity? I moped around the house for the rest of the evening, snapping at anyone who was unlucky enough to come into my line of fire. But the next day, looking at the crazy pictures my friends had taken of themselves in the mall, I knew that if I would have been there with them, I too would have acted in a way that definitely would not have made my parents proud.
Over the next few months, things continued to go downhill. Not being allowed to do a lot of the stuff my friends were doing (with or without their parents’ permission) meant more and more exclusion from my friends. In order not to lose the friendships totally, I was doing my utmost to fit in with their lowered standards wherever possible. I was slipping, and although I didn’t like the person I was becoming, I was too weak to fight it. I was spending so much energy fighting my parents, fighting my teachers, and fighting to preserve my shaky friendships, that I had no energy left to fight my conscience.
Things came to a head a couple of weeks before Pesach. I wasn’t in school the day “it” happened, due to an appointment — a lucky coincidence for me. My friends had cut class and hung out in the park instead. They had been caught and suspended for three days. Though I wasn’t always the model student, suspension wasn’t a stain I wanted on my high school record; especially not with all the pressure nowadays of getting into seminary and shidduchim. I knew without a doubt that had I been in school that day, I would have joined them and been suspended too.
The next day in school without my friends felt weird, especially since I felt like everyone was probably thinking I should have been suspended as well. Although I felt a little lost, a couple of girls made the effort to include me, which was nice. These girls were good girls who did and spoke about normal things, and honestly, I found the change refreshing. Those three days were a breather for me. Away from negative influences, I began to discover the clarity I had been lacking the last few months. I knew I had to break away from the friendships that were dragging me down, and used the absence of my friends to start forging a tenuous connection to other girls in my class — girls who were on the standard I used to be on and aspired to return to.
I was lucky that the day my friends were due to return to school was the day I was leaving with my family to Eretz Yisrael. Although Pesach vacation didn’t begin for another week, we had a family bar mitzvah, so we were leaving early. The delay in facing my friends meant that I didn’t have to deal with the uncomfortable situation right away, and I hoped that by the time I returned, I would be stronger in my resolution in terms of what I really wanted, and who I wanted to be.
The day of our flight was busy and hectic. Everything took longer than planned and we left to the airport behind schedule. There was a lot of traffic, and everyone’s nerves were shot by the time we actually arrived at the airport. We checked in our luggage and raced to security. Once it was finally our turn, we had to remove our coats, belts, and shoes, and unload all our bags off the stroller into the waiting containers. It was pandemonium. Two of our bags beeped and we had to wait for them to be checked; one had liquids that we had forgotten to take out and had to be thrown away, the other bag contained an opened jar of applesauce for the baby, which they spent about five minutes debating before deciding we could keep it.
“All these rules and security checks are so ridiculous,” my younger brother complained when we were finally through security and waiting for our gate to be announced.
“Think about it,” my father answered him. “Imagine a new airline opened up offering no security. No waiting in lines. No having to unload. No getting suitcases opened and checked. It might sound like a dream in theory, but I doubt anyone would want to fly with that airline. The rules and regulations might be annoying, but they are here to protect us.”
Although my father wasn’t talking to me, his words resonated intensely with me. For months I had been chafing at the restrictions my parents had been placing on me, but now, slowly, I was recognizing that true freedom wasn’t the ability to act without restraint. By restricting my freedom, my parents were actually giving me the freedom to be the type of girl that I knew, deep down, I wanted to be.
I didn’t know what the future held, but one thing I did know was that I was ready to change. I also knew that making that resolution away from the direct influence of my friends was the easier part. Actually acting on my decision once I was back in school would be harder —excruciatingly difficult. But I had the next few weeks to think about the direction I wanted to be going in and to seek guidance from my parents on how to make it a reality. Because I deserved to give myself a chance to taste true freedom instead of the illusory freedom I had been chasing.
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 907)
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