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First Day

First Day

I love the first day of school. I look forward to it all summer.

Yes, you read that right. I really do like school. I don’t understand the kids who don’t do well; all it takes is organization and good preparation. That’s what I’m good at, and no time does it show better than on the first day of school.

While everyone else in my family wiled away their time the last week or two, trying to soak up the last rays of sun before being confined to the indoors for large swaths of time, I was busy getting ready. I bought every possible supply, from a locker chandelier (yes, really) to colorful stick-on tabs for my loose-leaf.

By the beginning of the week I was all set. My knapsack was packed and each item labeled, courtesy of my very own label maker. My shoes were standing at attention under rows of pleated skirts and shelves of starched shirts. The Big Day was circled in red pen – no less than three times – on my wall calendar.

“Riiina,” groaned my sister Batsheva as she walked into my room that night and surveyed the display. “Whyyyyy? Why are you so…excited about all this? And for goodness sake, why are you so always so hyper-organized? You’re giving me anxiety.”

“Oh, come on Bat,” I said. “You haven’t done a thing to prepare, that’s why you have anxiety. And for the record, if you tried to be a little more organized – like me – maybe, just maybe, you’d do a little better in school.”

“You know, maybe you’d do better in life if you were a little more understanding,” Batsheva shot back, hurt flashing in her eyes. She grabbed my label maker off my desk. “Forget I said anything. Want to come with me to the candy store? Maybe they have those pencil shaving jelly beans in stock – perfect for you.”

She pulled a label off the machine and stuck it on her faded t-shirt. It said Summer Rocks.

“Give that back,” I ordered. “And very funny. But yeah, I’ll come. I’m all done.”

“Of course you are,” she answered, rolling her eyes.

The next two days crawled by as I arranged and rearranged my supplies for the hundredth time and helped my younger brother Benny get his stuff ready, too.

The night before school I could hardly sleep. Imaginary classroom scenes played in my mind while I debated the merits of ponytail versus braid. Would I be chosen for a job this year? Chesed head? There was so much to think about.

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep that did it, because I had felt perfectly fine when my head hit the pillow at 10 pm sharp. But at 6:45 the next morning, when my alarm buzzed rudely, I found I could not lift my head at all. A thousand hammers pounded the inside of my head – at least that’s how it felt – and the light filtering in through the slits in my shades blinded me.

I could not move.

I tried to rest some more – after all, it was still early – but found that nothing helped. Finally, when I heard familiar footsteps padding past my room, I let out a feeble, “Mommy.”

My door opened a crack and Mom peeked in. “Rina, everything ok?”

I moaned. Mom walked towards me and did a double take. “You look awful!” she exclaimed.

She felt my head. “You’re burning up!”

That explained the hammers.

I watched her survey my room, the neat pile of clothing set out on my desk chair, the stack of sefarim, my knapsack and shoes. “Oh, Rina.” Mom sighed. “Of all people to have to miss the first day of school.”

“That’s ok,” I said weakly. “I’m going.”

I pushed my covers aside and tried to get up. No go. I fell back against the pillows. “I guess I’m not going anywhere,” I mumbled.

“No, you certainly are not,” Mom said. “I’m going to bring you some Tylenol, and then I’ll get the others off to school before I call the doctor.”

Through my haze I heard the hustle and bustle of a busy morning – and Batsheva’s cry of, “Lucky Rina!” Why couldn’t that be me?”

Through it all, the hammers kept up their rhythm. And that is how I found myself home for not one, but three days. I the eager-beaver, actually missed the first three days of eighth grade!

But life went on, as life tends to do, and on the fourth day I woke up and felt a shift in my internal weather, an all-clear sign. I was back in business.

I ended up with a back seat, and I had no idea what in the world any of my teachers were talking about in any of my classes. Two of them skipped my name during roll call. And to top it off, I still felt the after-effects of my virus, which made me quieter and more withdrawn than usual. Forget the frantic waving of my hands to answer questions; I spent most of the day with my head on my desk.

It was hard to get on track.

But then, after dinner, as I watched Batsheva literally tear a hair out over a math problem while I started on my own homework, I suddenly got it. For the first time, despite my best efforts, I could hardly keep my head above water. Batsheva’s words from not so long ago resonated in my head. Maybe you’d do better in life if you were a little more understanding.

A thousand conversations – a thousand moments – flashed through my mind. Batsheva crying over her report card while I flashed mine proudly in the air. Batsheva asking for help organizing her folders while I lectured her on being organized. Batsheva listening wistfully as I regaled my grandmother with my latest test scores.

Maybe this is what it took, a wake-up call of sorts, to show me what it felt like to try your best but know that you started too far from the finish line.

“Batsheva,” I said, closing my folder. “Want to take a break? I’m not really dealing well with all this work.”

Batsheva looked at me in surprise. “Sure,” she said.

We walked out the door and I’m telling you, something already felt different between us.

It felt nice.

It felt like…a new start.

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