by Chaya Bockian, age 15, from IL
Illustrated by Yehudis Keller, age 14, from NY
I stopped. I was right in the middle of solving a difficult math problem, but I had finished all the hard parts, and now all I had to do was divide the number by seven. Instead I showered, relaxed, and went to bed.
I have a name for when I suddenly stop like this. I call it my “breaking point.” It comes at different times. It’s like a heartbeat; it’s uncontrollable, and I can’t stop it from happening.
It took me a long time to realize that most people don’t have breaking points–I was halfway through first grade. My teacher had called on me to spell “Friend” on the board. I walked up to the board and spelled out F-R-I-E-N when my breaking point came. I stopped abruptly, turned around, and sat back down in my seat. My teacher was the kind of teacher who was never angry, so instead she was confused. So were my classmates. They couldn’t understand why I would turn away from the board when I was about to finish spelling a word.
“Sarah,” Mrs. Manehad said coolly. Mrs. Manehad is the kind of teacher who has every gray lock of hair in place, keeps her back perfectly straight, and never allows tardiness, nonsense, or just plain fun. Therefore, I am definitely not her version of perfect. My messy, long, red hair and shining green eyes made her hate me from the second she saw me, even if the school uniform toned it down. Soon after, she actually had a reason to hate me. I’m not her kind of person at all.
“Here!” I called out cheerfully. Mrs. Manehad’s eyes narrowed. Being happy is a crime in her book.
I am fourteen now, and I’ve gotten used to my breaking point. It’s harder getting used to the people who think I’m stupid. Before people even have a chance to know me, they give up on me. Without my breaking point, I know I would do well. I can even speak Ivrit (Hebrew) fluently, yet I’m stuck in the lowest Ivrit class.
If people knew me, they would know this. But beyond small talk, no one has bothered.
My best friend doesn’t know about my breaking point, but that’s actually not because she doesn’t know me. It’s because I’m embarrassed to tell her. Her name is Chava and she has lived across the street from me since we were two. She also has red hair, but that’s where our similarities end.
Chava is not in any of my classes. She’s brilliant, and everyone knows it. Everyone has heard from their teachers or parents at one point or another, “Why can’t you be like Chava?” She’s friendly and mature, but not “I am better than you” mature, just “able to handle things” mature. She’s funny, too, and pretty. Girls like her should not even exist.
“Pencils down,” Mrs. Manehad called.
For the first half hour we had been given to finish the test, I have been writing this down. I guess I’m going to fail. Again.
I passed up my test and stared glumly at what I had written down in my notebook. I wish I could figure out how to fix my breaking point. More than that, I wished what I had written was fiction.
That was when Mrs. Manehad said, “Sarah.”
I looked up quickly, hoping Mrs. Manehad wouldn’t notice that I hadn’t been paying attention. Though, come to think of it, that’s probably why she called on me in the first place–to catch me in the act. Teachers are vindictive.
“Sorry, what was the question?” I said in a small voice.
Mrs. Manehad obviously had a hard time refraining from a glare. “I was just telling you that passing in a test with only five completed answers is not acceptable. You will come in tomorrow, and you will finish the test. If you don’t, I’m afraid you’ll have to retake eighth grade.”
I had grown up realizing that I would never be considered a top-notch student. I had also realized from a young age that most teachers weren’t going to like me. But had Mrs. Manehad just threatened me like that in front of the entire class?!
Then I remembered that I had a much bigger problem on my hands: I was in danger of failing eighth grade.
But what was I to do about it?
I buried my head in my hands, not caring that all the girls in the class were staring. There just had to be a solution, if I thought hard enough. There had to be some scientific explanation for my breaking point.
In fact, who said that I was the only person in the world with a breaking point? Sometimes I can be so stupid. Every time you think that you are unique, or that you have done something special, remind yourself that there are six billion people in the universe, I told myself severely. It was something Chava had quoted to me once. It was so true!
I decided I would Google my condition and see what came up. I just had to wait for Mrs. Manehad’s class to end, and then I was free.
Google was not much of a help. First I searched “Breaking Point,” and it came up with song lyrics, career opportunities, movies… Obviously I was the only one who called this situation a breaking point. I needed to figure out a different way to search it.
I tried “Stopping point” next. There was a definition given that perfectly described what I was going through (the temporal end; the concluding time), but nothing about my condition. In utter frustration, I finally typed “What to do when you keep stopping in the middle of doing something and can’t continue.”
Articles about bullying, lack of sleep, leg cramps, and changing eating habits….
I turned the computer off and reached for the phone. Obviously, it was time to tell someone about this. I had to come up with a solution before tomorrow!
“Hey, Sarah,” Chava’s voice sounded relaxed and uncaring. She had probably finished all her homework by seven o’clock.
“Chava.” I hesitated. I had never told anyone about my breaking point, and I was going to tell my best friend even before my mother? Suddenly I wasn’t so sure about my decision. I wasn’t sure about anything. I could feel something tugging in me, and with a hopeless finality I realized that my breaking point had chosen this most important of important times to come.
I hung up abruptly, having no choice. I sat in front of my computer, holding the phone, reflecting on how I had chosen to live my life.
I had chosen to live with my breaking point, acting as though that was the only reason that I wasn’t capable of doing anything. I had chosen to come to class every day and not finish my test because I couldn’t. Why had I never before tried to figure out why or how I had one? Only now, when I really needed to end it, did I think about it.
Did that mean that all my failed tests, my teacher’s disapproval, my parent’s suffering, my own suffering, had been nothing to me?
Great time to question yourself, I thought sarcastically. At the most important moment of your life…
There was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. I was left to the inevitable.
I came to school the next day with low spirits. My mother was busy all night and couldn’t talk, even when I told her it was urgent; my dad was at work until very late at night; and Chava was of course not an option. So I had nothing to do but wait.
Mrs. Manehad’s class came, and with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I walked to her classroom slowly. Turning the knob of the door was like turning the knob of my fate. I was entering a totally new world, a world of what felt like utter failure.
With that cheerful thought, I pushed my hair out of my face and stepped tentatively into this new world.
The people who were already in the classroom turned around and started whispering, but I only had eyes now for Mrs. Manehad’s finger as she pointed at me to come to her. With a resigned sigh, I walked over, grabbed the test, and sat down.
I kept expecting my breaking point to arrive, that tugging feeling to force me to put down the pen as I took the test. It never came. There was one point where I started to feel it, but just then my pencil broke, and I had to replace it with a new one. By that point, the feeling was gone.
When I stood up to hand the test to Mrs. Manehad, everyone looked up from the books they were reading to watch avidly.
Mrs. Manehad took the test from me. Her eyes passed over it briefly, then, seeing that everything was filled in, she looked more closely at it.
I could see her eyes bulging as she read my answers.
“See me after class,” she commanded, her voice hard and unfriendly.
Confused, I was sent, shamed, back to my seat. Everyone was whispering now. What had I done wrong? I had finished the test. Wasn’t that what Mrs. Manehad wanted?
As Mrs. Manehad had told me to do, I came to her after class and stood by her desk until the classroom had cleared out. When, finally, everyone had left, Mrs. Manehad turned to me.
“I do not pass cheaters. You will be retaking eighth grade,” she said.
“I didn’t cheat,” I said sharply, immediately understanding. Mrs. Manehad didn’t think I was capable of passing this test without looking at someone else’s paper.
“Then why have you gotten every answer right when normally you don’t even complete a test?” Mrs. Manehad said.
“Panic is my muse. Please believe me,” I said sincerely.
Mrs. Manehad looked at me. “Young lady, I honestly do not want to pass you. But I will. Only because I have no proof that you cheated,” she added.
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Manehad,” I said, relieved.
“You could have been a good student,” Mrs. Manehad suddenly said, as I was leaving. “If only you had tried.”
I didn’t answer.
My phone rang, breaking the total silence of my house.
“Hello?” I said into the phone.
“Did you get through? I heard about how you might be retaking eighth grade!” Chava cried immediately.
“Oh, yeah, I made it!” I said. “Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I was a little overwhelmed.”
“I guess so.” Chava paused. “I want to tell you something.”
“What?” I asked.
“Well,” Chava said, “There was a time when I had something I liked to call a breaking point…”
“Wait a second,” I interrupted. “But you’re the smartest girl in the grade!”
“Do you know what it is?” Chava sounded surprised. “I thought I was the only one who had it…”
“Every time you think that you are unique, or that you have done something special, remind yourself that there are six billion people in the universe.”
I could almost see Chava smiling on the other end. “Who else has it?” She asked after a while.
“Just tell me how you overcame it,” I urged.
“I just picked up a different pen, or used a different piece of paper, and kept going. Or I went to a different room. A change of scenery was enough to let me start again,” Chava explained. “That’s how I’ve been doing it for years.”
“Just goes to show, when you try to find a solution, you’ll find one,” I wondered aloud.
“So who else has it?” Chava asked, not listening to me muse.
“Oh, are you in for a surprise…” I said.