“Y ou’ve been very quiet in class recently, Yaeli.” Mrs. Schwartz places her hands flat down on the desk in front of her and looks at me searchingly. “I just wanted to check with you that everything’s okay.”

I study my fingernails for a moment. Mrs. Schwartz is right. Her lessons are no longer peppered by my searching questions. In the last few weeks, I haven’t asked her a thing, and I haven’t contributed much in any other way either; I’ve been way more subdued than ever before.

There’s a reason for that.

I swallow hard, then look up at the teacher. The concern in her eyes makes my insides quiver. But I do what I can to keep my face neutral. “I’m fine,” I say.

She keeps her eyes on me for another long moment, but I stay quiet. “You’re sure, Yaeli?” she asks.

I nod, this time keeping my eyes trained on the corner of her desk.

“I’m really missing your questions.”

I jump, startled. Then I frown. The words burst out of my mouth before I can stop them. “That’s not true!”

She raises her eyebrows in surprise. “Of course it is, Yaeli,” she says, and her voice is so soft, I squirm. “Your questions are always well thought out and, when you ask them, the whole class gains from your mature way of thinking. We end up covering essential topics we might not have gotten to otherwise.”

“Oh,” I say, and I sound skeptical even to my own ears.

The teacher leans back and drums her fingers on her chair’s armrests. “Why would you think otherwise?” she asks. “You’ve been asking wonderful questions for so long. You’ve always been one of the most active participants in our class discussions. What’s changed?”

I close my eyes for a long moment. What’s changed?

“I can’t ask anymore,” I say. “I just can’t do it.”

And, despite her gentle persistence, I don’t say anything more.

*

“Ma, I’m home!” I call as I slam the front door shut, and throw my schoolbag onto the floor. It lands with a satisfying thump.

Eight-year-old Shevi hurries out of the dining room clutching her math homework. “Yaeli, can you help—”

“Not now,” I tell her gruffly. Her shoulders slump and she retreats.

Ma appears in the kitchen doorway, holding a pale-yellow dishcloth. “Hello, Yaeli,” she says. And the tone of her voice tells me that she’s troubled. That she doesn’t know what’s eating at her usually sunny, charming Yaeli.

She doesn’t know that I’ve squashed the real me deep down into myself, and that, somehow, a monster has been emerging instead. She doesn’t know, just like Mrs. Schwartz doesn’t know, that I had to do that. I had to stop being so inquisitive. I had to stop asking. Somehow, I’m not really absorbing anymore either. And my calm, even temperament has disappeared together with my questions. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Teen, Issue 38)