The Mountain

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My mother said that out of all five of her children


I was the easiest baby

I think what she meant was that I hardly cried,

Rarely fussed

And was generally asleep

Which I guess was a good thing, for her

As the fourth of five she had a lot to deal with before she could get to me

So I made it easier for her

I kept doing it as I grew up

If one of my siblings dropped their ice cream,

I’d give them mine so they’d stop making a scene

When someone had to sit in a middle seat

You can bet that’s where my car seat would be strapped

In fifth grade, when Clara Gomez stole my cookie from my lunch box

I just shrugged, and ate my carrot sticks

My nickname was “montañita”, little mountain

Because I was never moved, never bothered, always calm

In seventh grade, I broke my leg

But I didn’t tell anyone for three days

I just gritted my teeth and hopped along

Until my father found me crying on the bathroom floor

He took me to the hospital, and bought me a cast we couldn’t afford

And when the kids at school called me a cripple

Well, you can guess what I did

In high school, my little sister Sofia was getting picked on by some boys

I pretended I didn’t see it happen

But that night, I switched out her too-small uniform skirt for mine

She stopped getting teased,

And I wore pants for the rest of the year

When my college Algebra professor lost my test and made me retake it, I just nodded and did it

When I got catcalled walking across campus,

I just looked down at the ground

And you

The first day you came up to me and offered to buy me coffee

I was sure you were making fun of me too

So I stayed quiet

Eventually, you flashed me that blinding smile and told me, “Guess I’ll take that as a yes, then.”

I think I said about three words to you that first day

But I gave you my number

And answered when you called

At first, I think, you just thought I was shy

But as the months went on and things got more serious, you stared to get upset when I didn’t tell you things

When I got fired from my part-time job and started skipping lunch to afford my textbooks

I didn’t want to tell you, because I knew it’d upset you

I was right, wasn’t I?

You were so mad when you figured it out

“Here!” You yelled, shoving money at me

“Take it! I don’t need it! You know I have a scholarship, you know my parents send me money, take the goddamn money!”

I just stood there

I’d never had someone yell at me while doing something nice before

When you noticed how stunned I was, you softened your voice

“Please, it hurts me to see you starving yourself. Please, take the money.”

For the first time ever, I talked back


You laughed at me “Because I love you, you idiot.”

I took the money

But snuck most of it back into your wallet that night when you were asleep

For most of the time we dated, we never fought

Even when one of your friends tried to tell me you cheated on me

(I know you hadn’t, the friend was just a jerk)

When he tried to tell me, I just stared at him

Didn’t cry, or yell, or demand proof

That freaked the friend out a bit

He kept trying to convince me, but I stayed so calm he eventually gave up and admitted the truth

Later, you told me you couldn’t believe how amazing I was, to trust you so much

The truth was, I had no idea if it was the truth or not

I just didn’t react because I knew if I did it wouldn’t change the outcome

And I’d learned that staying calm in situations like that gave me the power

Our marriage, too, had very few fights

If you didn’t take out the trash like you said you would, I did it

And when you noticed I’d done your chores, you felt so bad that you’d do some of mine to make it up

When our children misbehaved I never raised my voice, or screamed, or made a scene

I just asked them what they did

And eventually, they’d cave

Our oldest told me once it’d be much less scary if I’d just shout at them like dad did

I figured I’d stay like I was

Calm, quiet, a peacemaker, nonreactive,

For the rest of my life

But you changed that

You jerk

When you died

When you died, it was like that frozen mountain of emotional outbursts inside me melted all at once

Nobody expected it when I stared screaming and sobbing at the funeral

My older brother tried to take me outside

And I punched him in the jaw

(I apologized later, of course)

You’d hardly recognize me now, I think

It’s a lot harder for me to stare blankly now, and take things

Because I keep remembering you saying “Stand up for yourself! You deserve better, mi amor.”

And you’re not here, anymore, to stand up for me

Or our kids

I don’t know how to describe it, exactly

What changed the moment you left this Earth

But it’s like I was blue one moment, and red the next

Hard as ice before I melted into a hurricane

I was a mess for a year or two, I think

Before I managed to get everything under control again

But even now, I’m not like I was

I’m still calm, and rational, and think before I speak

But if anything or anyone threatens our children or their happiness

I know I have to be the one to protect them

And as anyone who’s gone mountain climbing knows

The serene snow-covered peaks that look so tranquil from a distance

Are the deadliest

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