| Teen Diary Serial |

The Voice Within: Chapter 2

I suppose my young mind had already made itself up. Talking was scary in public settings. The fear was still looming largely in the back of my head, holding me back from expressing myself.


My parents tried persuading the school to do research on selective mutism so they could provide extra help for me, but they weren’t on board.

My father received a call from the principal one day. “If we don’t see any significant changes soon, we’ll be forced to do something drastic,” she said. “Tzipporah will have to move down a class.”

“So why don’t you just expel her?” my father countered. “It will solve all your problems.”

She was silent. She had obviously received the message.

My parents were left with two options. Either I could leave the school and find a qualified institution, or I could stay, and the situation would remain the same. Or get worse.

As my year in first grade progressed, there was no progress whatsoever. Every day I fought a fresh battle. I cried bitter tears before and after school. I begged my mother to take me out of that school, far away from the terrifying clutch of the class bully. I wanted a fresh start.

In the end, I won. With the guidance of daas Torah, my parents pulled me out of school in the middle of the year, much to their relief and mine. My parents agreed that a new school would be the perfect way to help me start talking. But there was one condition. I would only be accepted to the new school if I would speak at the interview. I was terrified. It was an enormous mountain to conquer. But I was determined, so I acquiesced.

It was with butterflies fluttering in my stomach that I stood next to my mother waiting outside the brown oak door that led to brand-new prospects.

Mrs. Gordon, the principal of Beis Peninah, was young and slender in her classy gray suit, with dark-brown eyes and a kind face. I liked her immediately but was deeply intimidated at the same time.

She took us through a corridor and up a flight of stairs into a small room with a whiteboard, desks, and chairs that would very soon become my new classroom.

“What’s your name?” Mrs. Gordon asked as she peered into my face with a kind but serious look in her eyes.

My throat felt tight and at first, I didn’t think any words would pass through my lips. My mother squeezed my hand and nodded encouragingly at me. I thought of my promise and that my future depended on me. I had to speak. No wheedling out of this one.

“Tzippy… Hartstein,” I managed to whisper my new shortened version of my name, Tzipporah. Yes, I changed my name because I wanted a fresh start.

I couldn’t believe I had actually uttered words to a strange adult. But with this hurdle bypassed, baruch Hashem the rest of the interview went much smoother and voilà, I was accepted to my new school.

An interesting thing occurred, though. I never spoke directly to Mrs. Gordon for the rest of my school years, so traumatized was I from being forced to talk to her at my interview.

I started attending Beis Peninah and life was so much rosier. No class bullies, no verbal abuse from staff, and no morning tantrums about going to school. Yet contrary to my parents’ and teachers’ expectations, I still didn’t speak in school. My lips remained permanently shut throughout the entire school day.

I suppose my young mind had already made itself up. Talking was scary in public settings. The fear was still looming largely in the back of my head, holding me back from expressing myself.

Although I settled in nicely at school, made some friends (on playdates, in my house only, arranged by my mother), and did well academically, there was an invisible piece of tape stuck over my mouth from when I entered school until I exited the school grounds.

I was a little kid living a double life. My friends who knew the real me from the playdates in my home would beg me constantly to reveal my true colors at school. If only they knew how much I wanted to. If only they knew how I scared I was.

to be continued...


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 968)

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