Jewish World Review Nov. 1, 2005 / 29 Tishrei, 5766
By Libby Lazewnik
Startled into nearly dropping her fork, his older sister, Gila, asked sharply, "What was that about?"
"There's no drumsticks left! I wanted a drumstick!" Though he didn't cry, Danny looked forlorn.
"I'll check whether there's any more in the kitchen," Ma offered. She was back inside seconds, shaking her head regretfully. "Sorry, sweetie. No drumsticks left. Do you want another piece of chicken?"
"No," the little boy sighed mournfully. "I just wanted a drumstick."
"Well, you don't have to act like it's the end of the world," his big brother, Shooey, said ungraciously. "Chicken is chicken! Who cares what shape its in?"
Daddy decided that it was time to defuse the situation.
Smiling at his youngest son, he said, "Danny, I know it's disappointing to you, not getting a drumstick. But tell me this:
In, say, ten years from now, will it still bother you?"
"You'll be sixteen then," Gila volunteered.
Despite himself, Danny giggled. "When I'm sixteen, nothing's gonna bother me!"
His parents exchanged an amused glance. Then Daddy said, "What I like to do, in situations like this, is to fast-forward. You know, the way you move a tape ahead? Just peek into the future and ask yourself if this disappointment will still loom as large ten or twenty years from now. Usually, the answer is 'no'. And that, somehow, makes it seem a bit more bearable right now."
He watched Danny indulgently. "Am I right?"
The little boy thought a moment. "I guess not," he answered finally. "But since I'm feeling disappointed right now can I get extra dessert?"
The discussion ended in laughter, but it lingered in Gila's mind all through the rest of the meal. Later, as she stood in the kitchen drying the dishes that her mother was washing, she asked, "What did Daddy really mean, back there? About moving the tape forward, I mean. Why should things bother us less in ten years than they do now? If it's a real disappointment, why shouldn't it last even till then?"
Ma placed another glistening plate in the drainer. "Let me ask you something, Gila. When you were a little girl, three and four and five years old, there were lots of times when I took you shopping and you'd say, 'Buy me this!' and 'I want that!' When I said no, you were disappointed. You really wanted that thing, then. Do you still feel the disappointment now?"
Gila laughed. "I don't even remember it now!"
Ma smiled. "My point exactly."
"I don't even remember yesterday, hardly!" came a voice from under the kitchen table. It was Danny, playing unseen and unheard while they'd worked and talked.
"Isn't it possible to ever have any privacy around here?" Gila asked plaintively.
There was no answer to this, so Ma didn't make one.
The evening wore on in its usual way, with Gila spending the lion's share of it talking on the phone to her two closest friends, Miriam and Faygie.
Before turning off the light, she sat propped up in bed and read three chapters of her new book. As soon as darkness settled over her, however, the dinnertime conversation returned.
Fast forward ... She peered into the future, trying to see herself in ten years, and then twenty, and even thirty. It was like looking into a fogged mirror. Nothing was clear. And how could it be? She could not possibly see what did not yet exist. Adulthood lay like a shining, distant shore, and she had years to travel before she reached it.
She thought of her parents, already in that other country, where everything, it seemed to her, was clear and certain. They'd left the question-marks of childhood behind. Things came easily to them, there in that other land. They had a serenity, a confidence, that Gila herself longed for and wondered if she would ever own.
She fell asleep thinking of that distant country where the sun always shone. She hoped she'd dream of it, too, but her dreams were dim and uncertain, and when she woke the sky was gray, and it was raining.
She was doodling in the margins of her History notebook when the teacher, Miss Hess, made an announcement that stopped her in mid-sketch. The announcement was about an upcoming project.
"This project will count for a full one-third of your semester grade," the teacher said crisply. "I want you girls to divide into groups of no less than three and no more than five. Each group is to choose a period or an event that we've studied in American History this year. In two weeks time, you will hand in a written report of no less than six pages, as well as a poster or diorama having to do with the topic you've chosen. I suggest that you form your groups and choose your topics quickly, and tell them to me so that I can mark them down."
She went on to list the periods and places to be included in the list of possibilities. There was a subdued hum through the class as the first tentative coalitions began to form. Miss Hess stopped them with a smile. "Not now, girls. Wait till the bell rings for recess..."
Gila was comfortably aware of Miriam and Faygie, seated behind her on opposite sides of the room. (It never took teachers very long to discover which friends needed, in their opinion, to be separated.) Projects such as this one posed no threat.
For one thing, she always had a built-in group to work with. And, for another, she was a talented artist who actually welcomed the chance to work on a poster or diorama, though she would not at all have minded leaving out the part about writing a report... When the bell rang, she was in no hurry. Despite the concerted rush all around her, Gila reached leisurely into her schoolbag for an apple.
She had not yet taken her first bite, however, when a voice two voices pressed urgently upon her.
"Gila! We want to ask you something!" The voices belonged to Etty and Devorah. A third girl, Shulamis by name, crowded up to join the first two. "Want to do Paul Reveres Midnight Ride?" she asked breathlessly. "We want to get to Miss Hess before anyone else does!"
"Sounds great," Gila said. Shed already decided that the Midnight Ride presented interesting artistic possibilities.
"Can Miriam and Faygie join, too?"
"That would make six of us," Etty said. "And Miss Hess said up to five. But we can ask her."
"I'll get back to you," Gila said. But she was talking to three backs. Already the other girls were rushing over to the teacher.
"Or rather,"she called, "you get back to me." If Miss Hess agreed to allow six girls in their group, shed let Miriam and Faygie know. Her mind moved into high creative gear, thinking about how she might best depict that famous breakneck ride through the night, to warn the American colonists that the Redcoats were coming...
Meanwhile, at the back of the room, other negotiations were taking place. Miriam and Faygie usually got together with Gila on recess, and they planned to do the same thing now. The reason they hadn't made it up to the front of the room yet was because they'd been cornered by a trio of girls who were eagerly discussing the Boston Tea Party.
"Want to do it together?" one of them asked Miriam and Faygie. "The larger the group, the less work there'll be for each of us."
"We can't," Miriam said promptly. "You three, plus us two, plus Gila, makes six."
"Oh, that's right. We forgot about Gila." The other girl looked disappointed. "Oh, well," she shrugged. "I guess well look around for two other girls..."
As Miriam and Faygie detached themselves and started for the front of the room, Etty, Devorah and Shulamis hurried back to where they'd left Gila moments before.
"We got it! We got Paul Reveres Ride!" Etty crowed.
"Lets meet at my house on Sunday," Shulamis offered.
"Gila, do you have the address?"
Gila looked startled. "Uh, did you ask if we can have six girls?"
"We asked. Miss Hess said no. I live at 1643 "
"But I told you to get back to me!" Gila protested.
"You did?" Shulamis looked blank. Etty said, "Guess we didn't catch that. Anyway, your name is written down as part of our group. You can do the diorama, Gila. It'll be fantastic!"
Miriam and Faygie walked up just in time to hear these last words.
Catching their puzzled looks, Devorah said helpfully, "Gila's doing Paul Reveres Midnight Ride with us. Sorry we couldn't fit the two of you in the group..." And then she and her friends were off to enjoy the rest of their recess leaving Gila and her two friends staring at one another, like three pop-eyed fish.
"You're what?" Faygie asked carefully. Her eyes were smoldering, but she kept her temper in check.
"I don't know how it happened," Gila said, upset. "They asked me to join their group, and I said only if you two could join, too. And they said they'd ask..."
"And the next thing you knew, you were in, and we were out," Miriam ended for her. Her tone was anything but sympathetic.
"That's right!" Gila heard the words, but missed the tone.
"I don't believe this," Miriam said. "Gila, how could you? I thought we were friends!"
"Of course were friends! We've been friends for ages! And I didn't do anything, really. I just said that the Midnight Ride sounded great, and they went off and signed me up for it."
Hopefully, Gila said, "maybe we can still get it changed."
"And maybe not," Faygie said frostily. "Boy, talk about loyalty. Here, Miriam and I just turned down another offer because they couldn't fit you in. And you go and stab us in the back like that!"
Gila gazed searchingly into her friends' faces. Faygie looked outraged. Miriam looked wounded. She, herself, felt innocent and guilty at the same time. She was also distressed because Midnight Ride or no Midnight Ride shed of course have vastly preferred to work with her best friends than with anyone else.
All at once, she had an inspiration. Smiling, she said, "Listen, you two. I now you're disappointed I am, too. But lets get the right perspective here. I mean, ten years from now, will any of this really matter? Will you even remember it?"
She waited, still smiling, for her logic to penetrate.
They didn't smile back.
"As a matter of fact," Faygie said coldly, "I think I will remember the day my so-called best-friend betrayed me."
"The day my best friend left me standing out in the cold," Miriam added with bitter relish.
"The day my best friend was heartless enough, after she went and hurt us, to actually ask whether wed even care in ten years!" Faygie continued, warming to her theme. "Yes, I do believe I'll remember."
"And care," Miriam put in.
"Not that we do care, really," Faygie said quickly, tossing her head. "You're free to do whatever you please, of course, Gila. Come on, Miriam. Lets go tell those girls that we can join their group after all."
With that, Gila's two closest friends walked away, leaving her staring open-mouthed after them.
Ten years? It had taken all of ten minutes, just now, for her world to fall to pieces.
Gila felt paralyzed. There was nothing she could do to make things better, at least not in terms of the history project. Even if she could get herself out of Etty's group, who was to say that Miriam and Faygie would be willing, now, to extricate themselves from the group they'd just joined? Judging by their faces as they'd walked away from her, she doubted whether they'd be eager to come anywhere near her for a long time.
Maybe even... forever?
The bell rang, ending the frozen moment. There was nothing she could do now, except wait for the end of the day and try to make up with her friends.
But when the last bell rang, Miriam and Faygie were out the door and halfway home, probably, before Gila had even finished packing her school bag. She didn't bother trying to catch up with them. They'd made their position perfectly clear. All she wanted to do, now, was to hurry home and pour the tale of the days woes into her mothers lap.
The first thing to do, Gila decided as she walked quickly through the familiar streets, was to understand why the line that had worked so well on little Danny at the dinner table last night had failed so abysmally this afternoon. It just didn't make any sense!
She found her mother seated on the living-room couch, alone for once. There was a small pile of mending beside her, and a shirt in her hands. One look at Gila's face was enough to make her set aside the shirt and take off her thimble.
"Come," she said, patting a place beside her on the couch.
"Sit down and tell me what's wrong."
So Gila told her. The moment her story was done, she burst out, "Ma, I don't get it. I used the same words, practically, that Daddy used on Danny last night. The whole fast-forward idea, remember? It cheered Danny up right away but made my friends more mad at me than ever. Why?"
Ma put an arm around her shoulders and gave a gentle squeeze. "The two situations are very different," she said.
"Can't you see how?"
Mutely, Gila shook her head.
"The first what happened to Danny last night was a circumstance beyond his control. There just weren't enough drumsticks to go around! There was nothing he, or anyone else, could do about it, except feel the disappointment and move on. That's the kind of situation where it helps to fast-forward into the future, and realize that its really a small thing, a trivial disappointment that'll be forgotten before long."
She waited for Gila to nod, and show that shed understood so far.
"But what happened in school today was different. Your friends felt betrayed. The disappointment they felt was directly related to something you had done to them. In such a situation, telling them that it wouldn't matter in ten years is like telling them that it doesn't matter to you, right now!"
"Because a problem in a relationship, or with middos [character], has to be worked on. It has to be fixed. It's not something beyond your control, like wanting a drumstick when there are none left. See?"
Gila thought about it. After a while, she said, "I can see why they thought it was kind of heartless of me, saying what I did."
"Yes! They needed you to show how much you regretted hurting them. They wanted to see that you were upset, too. Instead, by taking the long-term view, you acted like the whole thing really didn't matter very much... When it felt like it mattered a very great deal, to them."
This time, Gila nodded right away. Accompanying the nod was a heavy sigh. "Boy, I sure messed up, didn't I?"
"That's how we grow up, Gila darling. By messing up, and fixing up the mess we made, and moving on just a little bit wiser than before..."
Ma squeezed Gilas shoulders again, and let go. "Come on," she said briskly. "I baked a fresh chocolate cake today. Even though its before dinner, I'm going to let you have a piece. To cheer you up."
"I want to cheer up, too!" The high voice was followed by a small face, popping up from behind the couch. Danny looked earnestly up at his mother. "Ma, can I have chocolate cake, too?"
"Honestly! Can a girl never get an ounce of privacy in this house?" Gila demanded of the room at large.
"I want chocolate cake," Danny said doggedly.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, but you had cookies and milk when you came home from school. That's enough for now." Ma stood up and led the way to the kitchen.
"Its not fair! Gila gets to have chocolate cake, and I don't!" Danny groused, following.
Turning, Gila said sweetly, "Cheer up, Danny. Ten years from now, you wont even remember the cake."
"I'll always remember Ma's chocolate cake," Danny contradicted. He sat himself opposite her as she ate, gazing at each mouthful as if he could taste it. Gila was thinking again about that distant, shining place called adulthood.
She'd been wrong about grown-ups, she realized. If they were confident and serene, it was because they'd stopped at many stations on the way to the place where they were now. Somewhere along the journey from here to there, they'd picked up the tools they needed to handle whatever problems life threw their way.
Gila was standing at such a station now. The road wound on ahead of her, but she could not step onto it again until shed learned what she needed to learn at this stop. As soon as they had a moment alone together, she planned to ask Ma to help her figure out the best way to deal with Miriam and Faygie's hurt. She dearly hoped shed find what she needed, to solve her present predicament and to carry on with her into the future.
Because, if there was one thing Gila was certain of, it was that she wanted that future to include her two best friends all the way down the road.
The two of them, she believed, wanted the same thing. And so, though things might look bleak at the moment, if she pressed the fast-forward button she could just catch a glimpse of her friends patient faces, as they waited for her to find her way back to them.
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© 2005, Yated Ne'eman