"W hat on earth?”

Under the rubble of bats and vests and balls, is a haphazard pile of posters.

Color War, 1991, the top one proclaims in bold letters.

“Gee, this school’s been around for a while…” Shiri says.

We lift the poster away and reveal the theme of that long-ago Color War, a banner with Team Aish and Team Mayim written in fading curlicues.

“Some things haven’t changed,” I mutter.

Beneath it is Team Mayim’s magnum opus. A huge poster of a whale leaping out of the water, white sea-spray flying, the words “Make a Splash” arced over the whale’s head.

Shiri holds it up. “Nice.”

“Yeah, there were good artists back in the day…” I say.

“Hey, Naomi, you probably know what kind of whale it is,” Shiri says.

“Oh, it’s just a whale I think…”

“Is it an Omura?” she says with a little wink.

I stay very quiet.

“Aw, c’mon Naomi, just a joke. You know why the girls got a little obsessed with the word….”

“Because they’re immature, because where I get excited by new words, they can’t think beyond poking fun…”

Shiri puts down the poster, and the whale stares up ominously with its one eye.

“Do you want me to be honest, Naomi?”

I shrug even though she’s not waiting for my response.

“It’s because your report was too long. It’s like I said the other time, you think you’re smarter, better than everyone… I mean you are really smart but you don’t have to ram it in our faces like that with such a long and detailed report. The girls got bored and this was their entertainment, I think it was just their way of telling you to get real.”

Wham!

“I mean, you obviously care deeply about the whales, but most of us, we aren’t like that.”

I sigh, long and loud in the musty shed.

Why am I different?

Shiri looks uncertain for a moment, “Uh, Naomi, I hope that didn’t hurt you. You know me, I just say it like it is.”

I don’t know her all that well, but just saying it like it is is an understatement; this girl lays it on thick.

I don’t trust myself to say anything. We roll up the posters and stack them away in silence.

Why can’t I just be normal? Forget brains, I need to know their language, I need friends…

“Are you okay?” Shiri says at last.

I think about the meandering paths of myself and my classmates, and I feel like there’s a forest between us.

“I hope I will be…” I say, quietly, evasively, wondering if I have what it takes to find my way through the thicket and trees.

I drop into the Family Center on the way home. I want to see Avi and Shana. I want to lose myself in the dim sensory room, where time moves in increments of color. Now green, now pink, now violet.

“Here for your mom?” Nancy, at the front desk, asks.

My mother. Upstairs, with her therapist hat on. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 681)