I was terrified of my interview, terrified I would mess up or even not talk at all.
My afternoon teacher that year was a little intimidating, so my confidence failed slightly. I didn’t speak in her class the entire year.
When I came home that first day that I spoke in school, my mother gave me a giant bear hug. “I’m so proud of you!” she exclaimed, tears shining in her eyes. Then, she told me how she’d heard about my successful day.
“Mrs. Gordon gave me a call today. She told me that your morning teacher, Mrs. Brody, refused to hear anything about her future students before school began, even though your principal begged to tell her about one girl who didn’t talk. Mrs. Brody told her not to divulge who this girl was, as she wanted a fresh start with her new students. So, as soon as your teacher finished her first class, Mrs. Gordon asked her if she’d noticed that you, Tzippy Hartstein, don’t talk. Mrs. Brody looked at her in confusion and said, “What? You must be confused. Tzippy talks normally like everyone else. Are you sure you don’t mean that shy girl, Henny Fine?” Your principal couldn’t believe what she was hearing, and she called me up right away to tell me this.”
That was probably one of the most memorable days of my life. It was a new dawn. A breakthrough.
Now, the challenge was keeping it up.
The years went by, each year slowly chipping away at my diffidence and building a new, more confident character. I tended more to the shy side, though. There were always those more intimidating teachers whom I never spoke to unless I had to.
When the time came for high-school interviews, I automatically retreated into my shell. This was high school we were talking about — bigger, scarier, and many more teachers. I was terrified of my interview, terrified I would mess up or even not talk at all.
I arrived shaky and sweaty from nerves. There were goosebumps all over my arms. I was given a test paper to fill out and was grateful to have a few more minutes before meeting the principal.
When I entered the room, I sat down gingerly on the hard, plastic chair opposite the principal. She smiled at me, making me feel a little calmer.
“What are your favorite subjects?”
At first, I whispered, but she kept asking me to repeat myself, so I strengthened my tone of voice and, baruch Hashem, the rest of the interview went pretty well.
When I got accepted into Bnos Rivka, I was so relieved; one huge thing off my chest. I was glad that most of my friends and classmates were going to the same place.
Now that the new school year loomed ahead, I was a bundle of nerves and stress. I arranged to walk to school with my friend from elementary school. That helped ease a bit of the tension building up in my head. I don’t think I slept the night before orientation.
Well, like all first days, it was extremely overwhelming, meeting new faces, and having to make small talk. I was glad when the welcome assembly was over so I could unload my school stuff into my locker and head home. I was physically and emotionally drained. I just wanted to hit the pillow and forget about school.
I couldn’t hide forever though. School was beginning the next day. I was determined to make the best of it. Nobody in high school knew about my selective mutism past and nobody would have to find out.
I was true to my word. Perhaps I wasn’t the loudest girl in the classroom, and nope, I didn’t participate in lessons as much as the teachers would have liked, but I was no longer the girl in the corner who wouldn’t allow speech to pass her lips. I was considered a quiet girl by my peers, yet with personality and charm. School may have been a challenge socially, yet, with Hashem’s infinite kindness, I came out of high school with a few close friends who I keep up with to this day.
to be continued...
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 973)
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