Normal: Chapter 57| January 24, 2023
Mimi feels a twinge of — what is it? Pity? Protectiveness? Caring? — for her sister
verything around her is magnified: the chatter of the audience, the cool air against her flushed cheeks, the sound of her heartbeat thrumming in her ears.
“Five minutes!” calls Tova.
The entire gym club is grouped backstage with their coaches, reviewing the program. Mimi knows it in her sleep: which group goes on first, second, third… and where the solo performances are placed.
She’s performed in so many gym recitals, but never solo, never the sole focus of attention of the entire audience.
She takes a deep breath.
Calm. Keep calm. The audience… they’re your friends, they want you to do well.
Ma’s out there, of course, Kayla beside her. Her friends have come, too, bearing a bouquet of helium balloons in the shape of stars.
Lea, standing nearby, searches the audience and lets out a sigh of relief. “Oh, good, my mom made it.” She looks happy and sad all at once.
“How’s your brother?” Mimi asks, quietly.
A shadow passes over Lea’s face. “He’s… doing okay, right now. It’s just… you know, hard, when something is going on with siblings. They’re a part of you.”
Kayla had arrived punctually with Ma, when the doors opened. When Mimi had gone over to greet them, she’d handed her an envelope with a short message inside, wishing her good luck on the performance. Kayla’s never done something like this before. Did she get the idea from one of her books? Or did someone — Ma, maybe — suggest that she do it?
Mimi feels a twinge of — what is it? Pity? Protectiveness? Caring? — for her sister. Kayla tries so hard, and for her, social scenes are a foreign land, a strange language. She was thrown into a whole new environment this year — their school is so different to Shemesh Academy, with its broad-ranging student body. For someone like Kayla, adjusting to a tight social scene with so many unwritten rules must have been like scaling a cliff with her bare fingernails.
And yet, her sister has done it, so bravely, stoically, determined. She’s become a part of the class, helped so many girls with their studying, even made some friends.
Kayla is a hero.
For fighting onwards, working so hard against her nature, in a world where the rules are so unfamiliar and strange to her. For making tiny changes, one step at a time, to integrate into the social environment, without losing sight of herself, who she really is.
And she, Mimi… she’s changed, too. In her circle of friends. Becoming more confident, expressing her own thoughts and feelings. Being independent as well as part of the group. Making the decision not to go into gymnastics coaching next year, but to leave it for after school, after seminary. Having Kayla tutor her, working to overcome her struggles in school, taking the seminary test not to achieve perfection, but to do the best she can do — and feel at peace with it.
Kayla is a hero.
And so is she.
One minute, she’s in the wings, and the next minute, she’s out there under the hot spotlights, soaring and twisting and performing the solo routine she’s practiced for so long.
The music shifts and speeds up. Mimi launches herself into the air; this is the moment. She’s doing the layout, arcing up and over, and flipping a full turn in the air at the same time. The front layout full twist — she’s doing it, she’s almost done it, she’s flying through the air and she wishes she’d never have to land…
The music pulses, forward, forward. Gravity pulls her, inexorably, downward. Adrenaline courses through her as she spins, flips, and lands in perfect split, stretching skyward and then coming up for a bow. Her performance is over.
The area around her fills, the entire gymnastics club joins for a short finale, and then it’s over. The performance. The year. A decade of Wednesdays and practices and daily exercises, warm-ups and new moves and coaching and performances….
Sure, she’ll be back for the graduates’ group, and maybe, one day, to train as a coach, but it’s never going to be the same. Mimi feels strangely emotional, kind of detached, as if she’s watching herself from the outside.
Now she’s hugging Lea, Michal, Reenie, her other gymnastics friends… now Tova is clapping her on the shoulder and congratulating her on her performance… now the audience is surrounding them, mingling with the gymnasts, telling her how amazing it was….
Her friends surround her, and Mimi breathes with gratitude. Ella, Tzippy, Shoshana. She used to think they were all she needed, but her heart has expanded. She’s realized the best friendships are the ones that give you the space for more.
She breaks away, signaling them to wait a moment, and goes to draw Kayla into the group. Ma’s eyes are shining.
Raizy and Mali pass by. What are they doing here? Mimi blinks, and then she realizes they’re walking with a mother and daughter — a familiar looking mother and daughter; it’s Yaeli from gymnastics class, the little girl who’d been struggling socially.
“My niece,” Raizy says, pointing, when she sees Mimi’s look.
Wait, Yaeli is Raizy’s niece? So Mrs. Reuben — the nice woman who’d gushed at her in the store, Kayla’s former teacher — is Raizy’s sister?
For a second, Mimi struggles to process this new information, but Mrs. Reuben is already upon them, a huge smile on her face. Raizy and Mali tag along behind her, and all of a sudden, they’re not so powerful anymore, they’re just… girls, like she is, like Kayla.
Ever since she stood up for Kayla, she realizes, Raizy hasn’t really bothered her anymore. It’s like something’s deflated. Was that really all it took?
“Mimi! And Kayla! How nice to see you both!” Mrs. Reuben says warmly, and suddenly it doesn’t matter to Mimi that they’re the center of a bustling group, that everyone is seeing her and Kayla together. She doesn’t mind it anymore — in fact, she’s proud of it. Of Kayla, and of herself.
Lea dances over with a bunch of her Shemesh classmates behind her. She’s holding two Slurpees. “One for the star,” she says dramatically, handing one to Mimi. “Hey — Kayla, Kayla Weiss. You used to be in our school. What are you doing here?”
For a moment, time stops and stills, and Mimi has a flash of the girl she was, standing frozen on the threshold of the classroom that day in September hearing Kayla’s too-loud voice introducing her as her sister.
Then her mind clears, her heart soars, light and free and flying, like she’s doing the highest, most perfect layout she’s ever done.
“Kayla’s my sister,” she says.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 946)
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