I walk out of the hospital in a daze.

I can walk.

Past the waiting area, a blur of tired colors.

Step-by-step.

Past exasperated parents and cranky kids and overworked nurses.

Have I ever stopped to think about it?

I step out into the night and squint to find Aunt Debbie’s car.

A honk from the end of the parking lot.

Really, Aunt Debbie, you’re a hopeless city girl.

She pulls up and I fall into the passenger seat.

“That was quick, Naomi.”

She rolls out of the parking lot and onto the street.

I am still breathless.

She turns to me — “What? You don’t look good!” — and stops the car.

I stare into the night.

“What, Naomi, what, what, what? Tell me quick.”

I face her. “It’s my friend.”

“Is she okay?” she asks quickly.

I hold up my hands in a who knows? gesture.

She starts the car again, eases down the street.

“She was sleeping when I came. And then her mother showed up and don’t ask, she actually hugged me.… And she said that they’d just learned it’s going to be hard for Leeba to walk again. She’ll have to use a wheelchair for a long while. And will need loads of therapy. And even after that, they don’t know if she’ll walk normally ever.”

Aunt Debbie sighs and shakes her head. “Poor girl.”

“That’s the thing,” I almost shout. “She’s not, or she wasn’t.… I’m the poor girl, if anything.”

“What do you mean?” Aunt Debbie asks in a low, almost stern voice.

“I’m not part of her crowd, not part of any crowd really.…”

If you didn’t count Mrs. Marcus and the lab crowd.

“I’ve been hanging around waiting for Leeba since the beginning of the year. Waiting for her to sit near me, be my project partner, have lunch together — and nada. She’s much more interested in her new clique.” I spit this out. “And now, now she suddenly needs me? And she’s going to become ‘the case’?”

Aunt Debbie steers us away, out of the area, toward bigger houses where people live grander — stately driveways, manicured hedges.

“No one can make you a ‘case,’ ” she says quietly, “and nothing can. Not illness, not disability, not searching to find your place — not being 30 and single, for heaven’s sake.” Her voice is thick and raw.

“It’s how you see yourself, inside. That’s what matters, that’s what comes through. Look at your mom, divorced, raising two kids alone, do you think of her as a case?”

She looks at me and presses the point, “Do you?” (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 692)