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Normal: Chapter 54   

“I have no time for friends, no time for anything anymore. And my parents are stressed out all the time”


This is so not her type.

Mimi grips her gym bag tighter, hoists it over her shoulder. Should she leave? Stand there and wait? Or say something?

Say something. She should definitely say something.

“Uh... Lea? Are you okay?”

Of all the dumb questions. No, she’s not okay, duh.

Lea grabs a tissue, swipes at her eyes. “Whatever.” She looks at her watch, then up the road again. “I guess my mom couldn’t make it. I’m going to start walking.”

She’s heading in the same direction as Mimi has to go, anyway. Mimi falls into step beside her, wondering if she should say something, or just wait.

Waiting works. Lea gives her a quick, sidelong glance and then says abruptly, “My little brother. He’s sick. Like, really sick. And it’s crazy. The house is upside down. My parents are in and out of the hospital all the time. Even now, my mom planned to pick me up, but she also said if she doesn’t show up, I should just walk — she’s probably had to run back to the doctor or the hospital for some emergency.” She sucks in a breath. “Obviously, the worst part is Benny — he’s so sick, it’s heartbreaking to see him like that. You have no idea. But then there’s a million other things, things you’d never think of. Like my dad always helped me with homework, and now I’m totally falling behind. And I can’t keep up in class because I’m always babysitting the other kids, making supper, whatever, while my mom’s in the hospital. I have no time for friends, no time for anything anymore. And my parents are stressed out all the time.” She stops.

Mimi reaches out to touch her arm, awkwardly. “Oh, Lea. That’s so… that’s really hard. I’m so sorry. I… had no idea.”

“How should you know?” Lea shrugs. “Gymnastics, that’s the only thing I have left. I almost never miss a class, and my parents want me to keep it up too, they’re very into this type of thing. And it’s meant to be a fun place, a chilled place, the place where I get to let go and have a good time… and instead, it’s become such a pressure cooker. Everything needs to be perfect. I can’t handle it.”

Mimi suddenly sees the whole picture so clearly. Tova, with her drive for perfection and her own tough background, pushing each girl to achieve her maximum. Lea, coming to gym to escape the stresses of life with a sick sibling, resenting the atmosphere more and more. They both mean well, but they’re speeding in opposite directions. No wonder they’ve been colliding.

“I guess it’s a matter of mindset, if gymnastics is all about having fun, a healthy outlet, or if it’s about making goals, perfecting a routine, performing, all of that,” she says. “Tova doesn’t mean badly, you know. She’s just very… result-focused, and you’re — for you, it’s about doing it, being in the moment, having a good time… it’s like you’re there for two different reasons.”

“I guess so.” Lea’s breath gives a final catch, and then slows. “Whatever. The year is pretty much over. We’re performing on Sunday, and then next year we’re in a different group, anyway….”

Next year. Mimi’s chest clenches. She has to give Tova an answer soon, about the coaching next year. She’ll be joining the graduates’ group, where it’s more about keeping up their skills than learning new ones, but is she also going to be taking private coaching, learning how to become a coach herself? Beginning to dip her toes in as an assistant coach for the younger groups?

She needs to decide, now, today, or at least tomorrow — and tomorrow, she remembers, heart thudding to her sneakers — is the seminary test.

She and Lea reach an intersection. Lea’s heading across it; she needs to make a right turn. Home isn’t far away now.

With the steady stream of thoughts running through her mind, Mimi reaches home almost without realizing.

If I were Kayla, I’d journal now, to get my thoughts straight.

But she isn’t Kayla, so instead, she flops onto the bed, hugs her knees, and wonders….

How much has she changed this year? That conversation with Lea — she’d never have initiated that a year ago. Even a few months ago. And, like, being able to see where people are coming from — Lea, Tova, even understanding herself better — this was new. An understanding born of — challenges maybe? Struggle? The hard year she’s been through, honing strengths she never knew she had?

And Lea. Mimi understands her, she really does, but something is niggling, and slowly, Mimi’s able to crystallize what it is.

Lea’s using gymnastics as an escape. It’s not a healthy outlet for her; it’s everything, the key to her emotional survival. And it’s too much, too meaningful. That’s why Tova’s every word bothers her.

Was that what she, Mimi, had been doing, in the past? Relying on gymnastics for her self-worth, for her feel-good pick-me-up, for everything. Her identity.


Mimi sucks on her lip. Ugh, being brutally honest — even to herself — is no fun.

But then again, she’s changed, hasn’t she? She still loves gymnastics, but she knows its place in her life. It’s something she loves and hopes to take further one day, it’s definitely not something she plans to give up anytime soon, but… right now, there are so many other things in her life. Friends and family and finals and 12th grade coming up, seminary applications and school stuff… it’s not the time for her to start coaching. It’s not the time for a job, now.

After seminary, if there’s still an opening for her, she’ll be back, for sure. But right now, she realizes, her answer for Tova is going to be no.

And what if you don’t get into seminary at all? a nasty voice whispers inside her.

Mimi’s heart flutters. The test tomorrow… so much depends on it.

I don’t know what will be if I don’t get into seminary. But I do know that I’m going to give it the very best shot that I can.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 943)

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