Recap: The three civil rights workers were arrested and Yonah was allowed to go free because his relatives were associated with the Herrings. He goes to the jail and then the Freedom School. There is no sign of them anywhere. He fears the worst.
Chapter 29: Falsely Accused (Ruchama)
I stepped onto the campus and headed towards my journalism class. As I passed the south lawn, I noticed two girls standing there and pointing at me. I glanced down at my outfit to make sure I wasn’t wearing something odd. I entered Douglas Hall. A group of students standing in the lobby stopped talking and turned to stare at me. I felt uneasy as I made my way to my classroom. Then, when I walked into class all the conversations stopped. There was an uncomfortable silence and I felt everyone’s eyes on me as I strode to my desk and put down my bag. What was going on? I wondered. Baruch Hashem, Mrs. Lewis strolled into the classroom just then, and everyone turned their attention to her.
Instead of launching into her usual passionate explanations about writing strategies, she motioned to me. “The dean wishes to speak with you now.”
I wondered why. I supposed it had to do with payment or something like that. I asked where his office was, and she directed me.
When I got to the dean’s office the dean ushered me in and closed the door. “Take a seat,” he said. He didn’t smile. He was holding a newspaper in his hand and he pointed at something in the paper. “How dare you write this in our school paper! You have gotten the whole school in trouble.”
What was he talking about? I felt my heart begin to pound. “What do you mean, sir?” I asked.
He shoved the paper at me and pointed to an article. It said, “Queens College Endorses Radical Violent Jewish Group to Hold Event on Campus,” by Ruchama Bennett.
I stared in disbelief. “Sir, I never wrote that article. I don’t understand.”
“Your name is on it.” He stabbed the paper with his forefinger. “You are Ruchama Bennett?”
I nodded. My neck muscles tightened.
“I am considering expelling you. We can’t have dissident groups on our campus, and we certainly can’t have this kind of thing publicized. How could you write such a thing?”
I felt like an elevator had dropped me down from a high floor and I realized that, no matter how much I protested, he wouldn’t believe me.
“You are on probation, young lady,” he growled. “If I ever see any articles like this again, you are expelled from our university. Is that clear?”
I blinked back the torrent of tears. I would not let him see me cry. He was accusing me without even listening to me. I would not give him the satisfaction. “Yes, sir,” I said. I slunk out of his office.
I did not want to go back to journalism class. I realized now why everybody was staring at me today. I knew who had written that article. Anger bubbled inside of me.
I sat down by the fountain. I needed to think of a way to get myself out of this – to get the paper to publish the truth that Vivian Killen wrote that article.
Ella appeared by my side. “What’s wrong? You look so upset.”
I told her what happened. “You know what the dean said?”
Ella’s brow furrowed. “What did he say?”
“I’m on probation. If another article like that comes out under my name, he will expel me.”
“You told him you didn’t write it?”
“Of course I told him.”
Suddenly the world grew fuzzy. I tried to focus myself on something to stop it, but it kept getting worse and worse.
I felt myself falling into blackness…
I opened my eyes to Ella leaning over me.
Ella asked, “Are you all right?” There was a siren in the background.
My head hurt. I felt groggy and exhausted. I wanted to sink into the ground. I was so embarrassed. “I’m okay,” I whispered. “What happened?” I asked her.
The siren got louder. “You had a seizure. An ambulance is coming.”
I noticed the crowd gathered around, staring at me.
“Tell them to go away,” I whispered.
Ella stood up. “She’s okay. Please leave.”
Slowly the crowd dispersed.
The ambulance pulled up and two men appeared with a stretcher.
One of the men asked, “Have you ever had a seizure before?”
I sat up gingerly. “A seizure?”
“You were shaking,” Ella said.
I was mortified. Everyone had seen me. A seizure. That sounded horrible. I tried to stop my heart from pounding. “Thank you for being here for me.”
“That’s what friends are for,” she said.
I looked at her and I realized that instead of seeing someone who was different from me, I was seeing a good friend – my good friend. She’d stayed here and didn’t lose her cool when this crazy thing happened to me.
“I’m so mortified,” I said.
“We would like to take you to the hospital, Miss.”
“No, I am fine,” I pleaded.
“Well, then we will have to just check your blood pressure and you need to sign a document that says you refused to go.”
They checked my blood pressure and I signed the paper with a shaky hand.
After they left, Ella said, “You should see a doctor.”
It was obvious, and I was ashamed I had let things escalate to this point. Of course, weeks ago I should have seen a doctor, and this never would have happened.
“Come on, I’ll walk you home.”
“I’m really fine now,” I lied. I hated coddling. I wished I was fine. I wished this had never happened. My face flamed, thinking of it – everyone watching, seeing me have a seizure. It was too awful!
She ignored my protests and walked me home.
“Everyone on campus saw me.”
Ella stopped and said, “You know, Ruchy, we all have something not perfect or something we’re embarrassed of. Hashem gives us these tests.”
I knew she was right, but why did He have to give me this test? When I was inside, I told my mother what happened and how I experienced this strange, fuzzy feeling a few times.
She hugged me and said, “You should never be afraid to tell me if something is wrong, Ruchama. You must have been so scared today.”
She held me tight. All my pent-up emotions broke out in sobs. The embarrassment. The ambulance that came for me. The fear. I never wanted to go back to that campus ever again.
“I’m never going back there,” I said.
“You’re not alone.” my mother said. “We will get to the bottom of this and everything will be okay.” I wished I could believe that was true.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.