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She followed her star 

Editor’s Note: The Forward is featuring essays, poems and short stories written for our Young Writers Contest. Today’s entry was written by Lara Fraenkel, an 11-year-old student at École Buissonière in Montreal, Canada. You can find more work from our young writers here

A young girl stared out a window. Her wavy brown curls were tied up in a tight bun that hurt, and tucked under a frilly white bonnet. She was watching a group of boys from the village with envy. They ran and laughed with their hair flying around in their faces, not caring about their clothes or postures. She lived in an age when the only things one could see when one looked up were the sun, the moon and the stars. No airplanes ran across the sky, no skyscrapers tickled the clouds. Not yet and not for many years to come. In those days, many preferred horse drawn carriages as cars were expensive and slow.

The girl’s startling blue eyes were following the boys as they sat down and discussed what they would do when they grew up. One wanted to become a poet, another a lawyer, or perhaps a doctor. She closed her eyes and rested her long eyelashes. Her often rosy cheeks looked pale as she thought of how unfair the expectations for her life were: marry rich and have children. It truly wasn’t right, she thought, that she’d hadn’t been given a choice.

Lara Fraenkel

Contestant: Lara Fraenkel is an 11-year-old student at École Buissonière in Montreal. Image by Courtesy of Lara Fraenkel

“You think too much!” her mother would say, her mother who seemed perfectly content with what she had. The girl sometimes wondered if her mother had ever thought about it at all or if all her life she had simply let others decide for her. It made sense, for every time she asked her mother why things were as they were, her mother never answered, perhaps because she couldn’t, never having bothered to question the conventions. The girl’s tight dress was itchy and uncomfortable and she more than ever wished she could dress as she pleased, without disappointing her mother.

If the girl had had X-ray vision, and she could see through the village, she knew she would see the prison, an old solitary building at the base of the mountain. Sometimes she thought of the prisoners as lions. The law was their cage. When they broke it, they were transferred to an even stronger cage (the prison). When everyone was convinced they had learned their lesson they were put back into the first cage. The prisoners were scorned by everyone, and what they did was wrong, but for a few seconds, in between the first and the second cage, they had been free. Of course she didn’t want them to be free in this way. But she felt that she too was in a cage.

Not the same kind, more like a net. A net of unsaid laws as well as formal ones. She was more than certain that no written law forced women to wear tight, uncomfortable, itchy dresses!

The sun was going down and the stars had started to come up. She saw one and imagined that it was her star. She pictured other people’s stars too, those of her mother and father, those of lawyers and doctors, teachers and poets. More and more stars were appearing in the sky. And then she understood something. She thought of each star as a goal, a reason to live, a thought that was yours. She saw that her mom had already abandoned her “star” and was following someone else’s. The girl somehow knew that to be truly free was to follow one’s own “star”. She was never going to let go of hers.

Many years later….

A young woman with beautiful brown curls that flowed openly down her shoulders, who wore a comfortable white shirt and black pants, stared out a window on a starry night. Her husband whom she had married out of love would take care of her daughter while she went to work to change those said and unsaid laws. Her startling blue eyes that now had a sense of purpose in them gazed at the night sky. She had held on to her freedom and followed her star.

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