Eileen W. Fisher
Copyright 2018 by Eileen W. Fisher
of one’s friendship hurts at any age, but it was especially
painful to me as a lonely fifth-grader trying to extend a school
friendship beyond the confines of the schoolyard. I want to share
this story in the belief that others have experienced similar
situations as myself when I was struggling to understand how others
perceived me. I have come to perceive of myself as a worthy person.
didn’t show up. I had gone down to the movie theater at noon,
an hour early, just so that I could watch for her.
wasn’t going to leave anything to chance; she might show up
early and not wait. After all, I
was the one who had
initiated the date. I was as tense as a coil ready to spring open.
was a girl from my fifth grade, and we just recently began to play
together after lunch.
and shy, her petite build made her appear younger than her age. The
girl could have been my kid sister. Her light brown hair curled
neatly under in a simple pageboy. She wore plain clothes;
solid-colored skirts that ended below the knee, loose fitting cotton
blouses, and white knee-high socks, just like me. My mother bought
all my clothes on sale. I liked her soft-spoken ways,
— the way she smiled at me. Now after lunch, I had a reason to
rush back to school. My
felt so comfortable with her that I surprised myself by suddenly
asking, “Do you want to meet me at the movies on Saturday?"
It's not that I exactly needed her to go to the movies; I went by
myself every Saturday to the double feature. What I needed was a
friend to make the experience come alive; someone to joke with
wanted so badly to have a date, just like the other kids. But as soon
as I asked her, I sensed that it might have been a mistake. Her body
stiffened almost indiscernibly; I had put her on the spot. We looked
at each other awkwardly, but after a short pause,
agreed. I pretended not to have noticed.
was different. There
were plenty of kids.
It was easy to join in since the ground rule was that whoever was
downstairs at the time, got to play. Groups were fluid, and no one
even blinked an eye that the kid who could jump rope best was an
Italian boy, Ralph. However, it wasn't quite that straightforward at
school. You couldn’t just join in. You had to wait to be asked.
my academic ability might have won me the admiration of my
classmates, it did not necessarily help me gain their friendship. I
could devour library books, but could not read social cues quite as
and only once, I brought home a report card with an ''N'' rating. My
third-grade teacher had written on the back, ''Eileen needs
improvement in the area of 'plays well,
gets along with others’.”
was as shocked as my mother was when I got home.
took off her heavy brown-rimmed glasses, placed them on the Formica
kitchen table, and looked up at me. I looked down.
what does this mean?" I raised my eyes to meet hers, but said
going to school tomorrow,” she said, and with that the
conversation over. There was no point arguing with her to just let it
go. I didn’t want to talk about it, and I certainly did not
want my mother to discuss this with my teacher.
I came home the next day, my mother sighed with exasperation and
teacher says you bother the children when they’re trying to
work. You go over to them,
mind their business. You interrupt them when they’re trying to
teacher can’t always call on you. There are other children in
the class. You have to give them a chance to answer, too."
a word, I went to my bedroom, at a loss to make sense of the
did I bother? Was it when I went over to that girl's desk offering to
help? Did she complain that I was too bossy? Was it when I went over
to the kids in the back of the room during a break? But I was just
trying to be friendly! Did I really raise my hand too much? But I
knew the answers!
that time on,
I became quieter,
compliant at school, but also sadder and lonelier. I threw myself
into my schoolwork. Yet yesterday, I had felt confident enough to
make a date! We had even exchanged phone numbers.
Saturday afternoon, I stood near the box office, peering down the
avenue from one end to the other, hoping to catch a glimpse of her as
she approached. Although I didn't know in which direction she would
be coming, there was no doubt in my mind that she would be —until
one o'clock drew near. Then I became frantic. I walked a few feet
away from the theater in each direction,
to see her rushing forward with some explanation of why she was late.
With her face flushed, she would politely say, ''I'm sorry I'm late.
Something came up." And I would reply casually, "That's
okay. Let's just go in.”
one o'clock became one fifteen,
one thirty, a knot formed in my stomach. Did I make myself clear
that it was for this Saturday? Should I have called her in the
morning to remind her? But, that would have given her a chance to
back out. Had I denied the reality of the situation,
given her initial hesitancy?
waited an hour after the last child had gone in,
after there was any reasonable chance that she was coming. I fought
back tears to hold back the truth
she wasn't coming. Whether she had changed her mind, or never really
had intended to come, I would never know. It wasn’t important.
What was important was that I had opened myself up to this girl. I
was left standing with an open hand extended,
one to take it in theirs. It hurt. What a fool I was to have misread
her friendliness for friendship!
I walked in the door, my mother jumped up from her seat in the
kitchen, and followed me into the foyer. The house was so quiet, the
silence calming. My father wasn't home from work yet.
happened? Why are you home so early?" The concern in her voice
was so comforting that I could no longer hold back my tears.
didn't come. Why, ...
didn't she show up?", I wailed.
mother stood over me, not knowing what to say. ''Maybe she forgot.
she just got the days mixed up. Look,
something just came up."
my mother, I shouted, ''Then why didn't she call?"
with me to stop crying, she reached for the phone. "I'll ask her
if she wants to come over."
controlled myself so that I could listen to the conversation. At
least my Mom was trying to salvage part of the day. Maybe there was a
reasonable explanation after all. Maybe, and with that ''maybe,''
was waiting for you at the movies", I heard my mother say.
"Would you like to come over now?"
a minute or two, she hung up, turned to me and quietly said, "Eileen,
said she was there, but when she didn't see you,
I screamed. The look in my mother’s eyes told me that she knew
it was true. I saw the anguish on my mother's face. With that, I
began to sob
mother could never bear to see me cry. She told me more than once
how it reminded her so much of her childhood in Russia when,
as an orphan, she cried herself to sleep longing for her mother. "I
cried so much that I have no more tears left."
painful as it must have been for her, my mother raised her right
hand, and slapped me across the face. Stunned, I stopped crying.
Disoriented, I sat still until the world came back into focus. ''I'm
sorry, Eileen,” she murmured.
I wasn’t angry, just exhausted. I stood up, turned to the
right, and walked down the long hallway to my room.
mother turned to the left, and went back to the kitchen.
was the only time my mother ever slapped me across the face, and the
last time she ever hit me. It was also the last time in that school
that I ever tried to arrange a date with anyone. And,
it was the last time I ever spoke to that girl.
I don't remember the girl's name. Why would I have wanted to?
Eileen W. Fisher’s
first love has always been the arts, but has also had a career in
public education. After retiring, Eileen decided once more to pursue
her interest in the arts. She currently attends classes in painting
and sculpture, and has taken courses in creative writing. Eileen
earned her M.S. in Supervision and Administration from the City
University of New York, and resides in New York City.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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