L esson learned for next time: Don’t listen to your husband’s bright ideas. A school tea was not the place I was going to meet my new BFF. I stepped into the basement — which was the first problem, really, basements feel like basements no matter how beautiful they are.

The first thing I saw was rows and rows of sushi, which got me excited because, yay, sushi. But when I got closer, I saw it was only vegetable or cooked fish rolls. Really, do they think women can’t handle raw fish? I took a few pieces on a plate and looked around. Where to sit?

There were only small, round tables. Way too intimate for an intruder.

But wait, was that a smile? That lady over there with the bob, was she smiling at me? She looked like she was smiling at me — the eye contact seemed pretty direct. Did I know her? Was I supposed to know her? I’m terrible with faces, and people look so different when they’re all dressed up. She lifted her hand in a wave and I approached.

“Hi!” she said. I tried mustering a matching smile, my muscles weren’t cooperating, and then Bob Lady pulled a sneer. I whipped around and saw another bobbed lady quickly exchanging a grin with her. The smile was not for me. Okay. Let’s try to maintain some dignity here.

I saw an empty table in the rear near a back entrance and made my way to sit down.

Sushi was good; at least I had that — and my phone. It’s so much more socially acceptable to ignore people these days if you have a phone. Although, in all honesty, I wasn’t ignoring people. I just felt grossly uncomfortable that I didn’t know a soul and had no idea how to change that.

You read in books about how two people reach for the same serving spoon at a buffet and suddenly it’s “Hello, what’s your name, what do you do, oh, that’s so funny; let’s go talk and laugh and be BFFs forever; how amazing that we met over salad.” You know how it is in real life: desperate silence. Even if I’d bumped into someone (which I did not because I was self-conscious about the space my body was taking up, like it knew it didn’t belong here), I would have mumbled a sorry and shifted along.

I slathered wasabi on my next piece of sushi. It wasn’t like anyone was going to be close enough to me to smell my breath. I savored the pungency and then exhaled fire… when someone clapped me on the shoulder.

“Abby!”

I froze a second — who?! But the answer came in an instant — who else?

“Chana, hi!” I tried to sound enthusiastic and warm and normal, I guess.

“Abby, Abby.”

She said my name twice; I don’t know why.

“You came to the tea; I thought these things weren’t your cup of tea.” And she snorted a laugh at her own joke. I laughed too because her laughing at herself was funny.

“Yeah, I came to meet the parent body and stuff.”

“You’re in the worst seat in the house. All you see is everyone’s back. Come, get food with me and I’ll introduce you to everyone.”

She pulled my upper arm, and like a sweet puppy, I followed. Hashem was being kind to me — sending me a wingman, er, wingwoman, when I didn’t think to bring one myself. With Chana leading the way, I wouldn’t have been surprised if by the end of the night I was crowned Miss Congeniality.

“I’m so happy to see you. I love new faces. I’m not ‘the boring secretary’ to you yet — you don’t know any of the five stories I tell over and over, and you still laugh at my jokes.”

“Don’t you know everyone here?”

“I know too much about everyone.”

“Like my Daniel’s suspension?”

“Ha, that’s nothing.”

Nothing? Suspensions are nothing? Is she telling me I’m supposed to be grateful?

Chana tugged at my sleeve and muttered, “On your left, third lady from the right at the buffet — that’s Mrs. Wachtel.”

“So basically, I should ignore her — or apologize.”

Chana waved her hand. “Nah, she’s super sweet. She knows her Binyamin likes to chepper a bit. This wasn’t the first time he’s been manhandled.”

I guess that made me feel better. We approached the buffet and I headed for the sushi, but Chana pulled me back. “All the mothers are at the salad station.”

“But I like sushi.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 564)