When I was in pre-1A I felt tremendous. After all, I was in the senior division of pre-school. But then I entered first grade, and suddenly I was the youngest with a long line of grades above me. I still had to get till eighth grade if I ever wanted to get out of elementary, and that was eight years away. An eternity. Besides, I was convinced that by the time I would get to eighth I would be at least 90 years old and there wasn't much left to do with my life anyway. So why was I going to school in the first place?
I tried to convince my mother of this simple logic, but she wouldn't listen. So I sulked on the steps as I waited for the school bus, contemplating life and why adults never understood anything.
I clutched my milk munch in one hand and fruit drink in the other and for the tenth time in one minute looked down at my new shoes. The shoes didn't look like they were going anywhere without me, but I kept checking anyway. After all, they were my first pair of slip-ons, and they would make the crucial difference to my social status.
The school bus arrived and I was off on my first day of elementary. Miss Fine was our first grade teacher, and she happily welcomed us into the big people's world. She made elementary sound so exciting that I almost forgot that I would be 90 by the time I would leave. But then she told us that the first thing we were going to do was learn how to pray.
That's when I noticed the girl in the wheelchair. A small, gray metal wheelchair; the kind I always wished I had.
I thought that was ridiculous. When adults prayed they whispered and mumbled, and sometimes yawned. I never could understand how they expected God to hear them all the way up in heaven. When I wanted to have a talk with God, I closed the door to my room and spoke very loud. I told God exactly what I wanted in simple English, and if I didn't get it, I repeated my request louder. Maybe He hadn't heard or was busy with someone else.
That's when I noticed the girl in the wheelchair. A small, gray metal wheelchair; the kind I always wished I had. Before the break Miss Fine introduced us to the new girl and said her name was Goldy. As soon as the lunch bell rang we all crowded around Goldy. She boasted that the wheelchair rode as quickly as a car. She zoomed down the hall and back, then spun round and round with it, and zigzagged across the classroom. It looked like so much fun that Aviva offered her snack in exchange for a ride in the wheelchair. Before long there was a long line of impatient girls waiting for a turn to the wheelchair ride. It was finally my turn -- I had promised her tomorrow's milk munch -- and as I zoomed down the hall I felt like I was flying.
Goldy and I soon became good friends. We sat near each other in class, and she often let me have a free ride in the wheelchair.
A few weeks passed, and one day my mother told me that she would not be home after school so I would go to Goldy's house to play for a while. I was so excited that I even gave Goldy half of my milk munch that day. After school, Goldy's mother drove us home in her car, and we happily planned out our evening's program.
Goldy's room was on the first floor, and she proudly welcomed me in. When I first walked into her room, I thought I had walked into a toy store. The shelves were packed with porcelain, plastic and cloth dolls of every color, shape and dress. Her bed was lined with stuffed animals, and there were two big boxes filled with every toy imaginable. There was a painting table between the toy boxes, and a miniature plastic kitchen set near the bed.
"Who gave you so many toys?" I asked in amazement.
"It's because I'm sick," Goldy boasted as she spun around with her wheelchair.
"You are?" I asked. "How do you know?"
"Everyone knows," she said importantly. "I was even in the hospital last year for almost six months."
I was in awe.
"Why were you in the hospital?" I asked wonderingly.
"Because I was sick," she giggled. "And that's where I got all those presents from."
I could not believe her luck. She had a wheelchair, she was sick and to top it all off, she had been in the hospital with all those presents.
"Wow! Did you have fun in the hospital?"
"Well," she thought for a few moments, "sometimes... Everyone always bought me ice cream and presents and stuff. That was fun."
"Are you gonna go back to the hospital?" I asked jealously.
"If I get really sick again," she said. "You wanna play with my walking doll?"
I stood near her as she whispered her secret into my ear. "I'm going to die."
We played for a few minutes, but then began to fight over who would be the doll's mother. Goldy promised to tell me a secret if I let her be the mother, so I did.
"But tell it to me now," I begged.
"Ok," she said, and I stood near her as she whispered into my ear.
"I'm going to die."
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I'm sick, " she said matter of factly. "And when you're sick, a lot of times you could die. I even heard the nurses saying it."
"And what are you going to do in heaven?"
"I'll be right near God…"
Of course. God was in heaven, and she would be right near him. Life just wasn't fair.
"I could ask God for whatever I want," she said proudly. "And I won't have to pray, 'cause I'll be right there."
It was then I thought of a brilliant idea. If she was going to be right near God, she could ask for me too. When I put forth my suggestion she happily agreed.
"Yes," she said excitedly. "I'll tell God lots of good stuff about you, 'cause you're my friend. I'll ask Him to listen to you whenever you pray."
I was so delighted I could hardly wait.
"So when are you going to heaven?" I asked her.
"I don't know exactly," she said thoughtfully. "But before I go, God will send angels to take me, so I'll know then."
"Wow," I thought to myself, I was sure lucky to have such a friend.
We continued playing with the dolls until my father came to pick me up. That was the last time I saw Goldy. A few days later, Miss Fine told us that Goldy was in the hospital because she was very sick, and that we would pray for her every morning. Everybody made get well cards for Goldy, and in mine, I drew a happy girl sitting on clouds, hoping she'd remember me when she got to heaven.
Goldy died a few days before Chanukah. I was sitting in the office with fever waiting for my mother to take me home. I was finally sick and I wasn't even enjoying it. Suddenly, the principal rushed into the room and whispered something to the secretary. I could see tears filling her eyes, and wondered why she was crying. Then Miss Fine came in, and I watched in awe as the principal hugged her and they both cried. My mother came a few minutes later. The adults stood huddled together whispering, and I wondered if my mother would cry, too.
But she didn't. She just sat down near me, cupped my chin in her hand, and told me that my friend, Goldy was in heaven. She told me that I shouldn't be sad, because she was very happy being right near God. I knew that already, and I couldn't understand why she was telling it to me. And if they knew Goldy was happy in heaven, than why were they all crying?
I knew Goldy would go to heaven, and I knew that she was right near God and that she would remember me. We spoke about it when I was at her house. I just couldn't figure out why the principal, Miss Fine and my mother were acting so strange.
"But then again," I thought to myself wearily as I watched them wiping their eyes, "adults just don't understand anything."
A version of this article originally appeared in Hamodia.