T he hardest part for Yehudis, even harder than sitting shivah, was returning to school. It wasn’t the pitying glances or the awkward silences following her entrances. It wasn’t even the teachers’ hovering over her. It was the chizuk and words of advice from her well-meaning friends.

Recess time on her first day back found her sitting next to Chaya, the class “psychologist,” who quite surreptitiously led her to a private corner in the yard.

“I know it’s so hard,” Chaya said. “Having to go back to normal life after you lost your father. There’s just something about shivah, you know, sitting together with your loved ones and all, that’s so comforting. And now, you have to face life again.… It’s really hard!”

Yehudis was quiet. She pulled a leaf off a branch and stared at the floor. She felt Chaya’s piercing glance on her and knew her friend was waiting for a response, so she nodded. What she really wanted to say was, “Oh, really? You know?! And how exactly do you know? Have you ever sat shivah before?” Even if what Chaya said was true, just the fact that she could speak with such confidence about something she had absolutely no experience with was just plain irritating.

“Yeah,” Yehudis mumbled. “Anyway, I have to go finish copying over my notes.” And she strode away, leaving Chaya with a puzzled look on her face.

Then came the questions.

“Did you know your father was sick?”

“How long was he sick for?”

“When was the last time you spoke to him?”

“Did he say goodbye to you?”

“I heard that Hatzolah still tried to bring him back?”

I mean, seriously? Yehudis had never realized how tactless people were. Their questions were not only insensitive but they were deeply personal. Yehudis felt extremely uncomfortable answering them, but she didn’t know how to avoid them either. She constantly found herself mumbling and stumbling, sometimes saying the truth and other times emitting answers entirely incoherent and meaningless. She just didn’t know how to admit to her friends that their questions made her feel both uncomfortable and violated. And so instead, she avoided contact with them altogether, spending her recess breaks engrossed in a book or studiously reviewing her notes time and again as if it were necessary. That way nobody would bother her. And she would be left alone.

That was the way she liked it. She just wanted to be left alone. She wished she could run someplace far, far away, where she’d be all alone, except for the sky and nature as company. A place where there were no people asking intrusive questions. A place where there were no people who thought they knew all the answers and understood everything. A place where she could just be… alone.

And that was why Monday on her second week back to school, Yehudis sought out a private spot in back of her school building, in a clearing between two trees. That was where she’d spend her recess breaks. Nobody would ever find her there, and at least for the time being, she’d be able to pretend she was all alone. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 696)