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A Case of Mistaken Identity

Bassy Goldhirsch

I don’t know why my parents bothered to name me Chavie. It’s as if I was born wearing a name tag reading: “Penina’s sister”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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P enina’s sister, can you come here?” I’m about to enter my classroom, when three of Penina’s classmates quickly surround me.

I don’t know why my parents bothered to give me the name Chavie. It’s as if I was born wearing a name tag with big black letters reading: “Penina’s sister.” Not that I mind. I actually love Penina. She’s the most amazing, compassionate, kindhearted person. Her sleek, golden hair is stylishly yet modestly cut, and her uniform looks like it was tailor-made for her. Her graceful walk complements her sparkly, sea-blue eyes, which are like two captivating magnets. And it’s not only me who thinks that way. Her teachers, friends, and neighbors alike all drool over her hundred-watt smile. Oh, and I forgot to mention, that she’s the only one who actually remembers to call me by my real name. In fact, I consider it an honor to be her sister.

“Where’s Penina? Why isn’t she in school today?” Baila asks.

“Yeah, we’re missing her,” chimes in Frizzy Hair. That’s the nickname I mentally dubbed this friend, as I never got her name right.

“She’s not feeling well,” I reply, one foot holding the door.

“She’s not feeling well?” Frizzy Hair repeats, concern splashed all over her freckles. “What’s with her?”

“Oh, just the regular. Sore throat, cold, a little fever.” I open the door a little wider. I still have to review my biology notes, and I’m itching to get back into class.

“That’s terrible!” Chany exclaims. “Imagine sitting home sick all day. She’s probably so weak. How high is her fever? We have to do something. Is she up for visitors?” Chany’s hands are fiddling with her zipper, and I see she’s worked up. I suppress a snicker watching her distress. She looks like I told her the school canceled midwinter vacation.

“Right,” Baila agrees. “We have to think of something. School just isn’t the same without her. Maybe old-fashioned get-well cards?”

“Ooh! Great idea.” Frizzy Hair claps her hands and her curls jump up like a jack-in-the-box. “We’ll get all our classmates to make cards and they’ll each write something personal. Penina’s sister will be our messenger service, and the cards will make Penina’s day!”

I nod my consent and resist the urge to roll my eyes. It’s quite comical. Eleventh-graders busy decorating get-well cards? For a classmate absent exactly one day? But then I remember that it’s not just any classmate. They’re making cards for Penina, and Penina must be truly something if her friends are so concerned about her.

I’m tempted to call after them, to remind them that my name is Chavie. But I don’t. I think of Penina. She wouldn’t correct anyone older than her. So I just smile, wave goodbye, and try to emulate my big sister’s ways. I’ll walk the walk, talk the talk, and act the part as Penina’s sister.

For some reason my biology notes don’t pull me anymore. There’s something deeper that’s whispering in my head, grabbing my attention. An image of Penina pops into my mind. She’s so accepted and admired. How’s it possible for someone to be so popular? For a fleeting moment I wonder if I’m as well-liked as my sister. Would anyone notice if I were absent for a day? Would anyone miss me? I consider the option of playing hooky and feigning sickness, but quickly banish those thoughts. I will not enter the territory of self-pity. I’m perfectly happy the way I am. I’m perfectly happy with my mediocre self. And I’m exceptionally happy I was born to be Penina’s sister.

Okay, maybe exceptionally happy is a bit exaggerated, but I’ve definitely made peace with the circumstances — haven’t I?

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