What Rivky didn’t tell her mother was that her classmates had built a wall of politeness around Rivky, and she was trapped inside. It wasn’t that the girls bullied her, not outright anyway. After all, picking on the principal’s daughter would be foolhardy. But the distance was just as bad.
Rivky did not have partners for group projects, she did not have study buddies. She watched her class dance around a bubble of mistrust that existed around her and could not be popped.
“Yes,” Rivky answers Leah, “she’s my mother.”
She waits for the usual questions: Does your mother ever get you in trouble? Do you ever get sent to the principal’s office? Do you get to come late to class? Do you get copies of exams ahead of time?
But Leah just says, “That must be rough.”
Rivky looks down at her sandwich and once more toward the sink where her mother is reprimanding a ninth grader. “It’s not fun,” she acknowledges.
“Have you gotten involved in any clubs yet?” Leah asks.
Rivky holds back her surprise. That was it? No interrogation about whether or not she has to wear her uniform at home or if she gives any input on school policy?
“Not yet, no,” Rivky says, and she feels an almost shuddering pang of envy at what life must be like for Leah, for all of them, girls who could sign up for clubs and be on teams without bringing a strain of forced politeness to the group. Her daughter, she could imagine them saying; all of them or just one them, it didn’t matter. They saw that first and nothing else after.
“Well, I’m on the newspaper and we always need people,” Leah says. “Do you like to write?”
Rivky thinks about her journal, filled with nightly scribbles meant only for her. “I guess.”
“Why not come to a meeting, then, and see if you want to take on one of the assignments? We meet after school on Wednesdays.”
Rivky finds the offer oddly appealing. She imagines herself a part of things but separate, not just a watchful pair of eyes but, at last, a voice, safely silent yet strong in the folds of a paper.
Rivky and Leah chat easily, Rivky forgetting about her neglected sandwich and even forgetting about her mother just a few feet away, eyes never far from Rivky. Eyes that shine with relief upon seeing her daughter having lunch with someone for the first time that year.