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As I stepped out of Woodley Park Station and into the rain, I regretted forgetting to pack my umbrella that morning. My annoyance only lasted a second, however, as I remembered that I only had a few hours left to live. The steady rain of that morning had now become a heavy downpour mixed with sleet, and I could barely make out the street signs as I dashed across the street. I ran from the station’s exit towards the McDonald’s restaurant next door, bag held above my head for protection, water seeping into my socks with every step that I took.
“Esperanza, your escort has arrived!” the manager Sal, a gruff-looking man with a matted mustache, yelled towards the kitchen as I entered the fast food restaurant. A moment later, my mother made her way out.
“¿Pero cómo estás así de empapado? You’re soaked.”
My mother wiped her hands on her uniform and reached for my bangs, pulling them out of my face and combing my wet hair with her fingers.
“Are you ready to go home?” I asked as I wrinkled my nose in feigned disgust at how she played with my hair.
“I can’t believe how long your hair has gotten,” she replied, ignoring my question. “It’s almost to your shoulders.”
I rolled my eyes playfully and motioned towards the door. As I did so, my mother pulled out a small black umbrella from the backpack slung over her right shoulder, and we made our exit.
As a child, I always dreamed of visiting the Swiss Alps. For my twelfth birthday, my mom gave me a copy of “Countries of the World,” a book with a page for every country on Earth. She handed me the book and asked me to pick out the ones we would visit first once we obtained legal status. Tracing the smiles on the faces of the white families skiing down the Alps on the Switzerland page, I couldn’t help but envy their seemingly carefree existences.
Each night as I closed my eyes for bed, I would imagine myself making snow angels on the highest peak of the tallest Alp. Soon, this fantasy would solidify into a vivid dream, and I would find myself sliding down the Alps on invisible skis.
I still dream about the Alps today, but the dreams have changed. Suddenly, I’ve come to fear the snow. What once felt refreshing now seems to beckon death. The tourists in the dream have changed too. Their once enviable smiles have turned into sinister, inhuman snarls. Their terrifying gazes have intensified too, as they ski alongside me.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” I call out.
No answer. My skis begin to pick up speed until I am no longer in control. The cool air lashes against my cheeks as I plummet even faster towards the bottom of the Alp. I close my eyes in fear, just as a familiar voice penetrates the alpine air.
“Oh, I didn’t know you meant you were different like that.”
“I’m happy you’re breaking up with me. To be honest, I’m not sure why I even dated you.”
I open my eyes and find him skiing down the Alp on my right, snarling at me in disgust.
“Que decepción tan grande.”
I immediately turn to my left to find my mom skiing down with me on the other side, with the same cruel snarl as Peter, the harsh expression distorting her features until they were almost unrecognizable.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Why are you holding that? That’s not for you,” a man’s voice from behind calls.
I look down at my hands and notice that I have been holding one of the Lego dolls that I used to make as a child. I quickly throw it into the snow as my heart begins to beat faster.
“It’s not mine. I can expl—”
Crash. Suddenly, I’ve fallen off my invisible skis and am on my knees at the bottom of the Alp. My hands and knees sting as I struggle for footing in the freezing snowbank. After only a moment, the snowbank begins to quickly recede to reveal a frozen lake underneath. Placing both my palms on the sheet of ice below me, I try to stand up, but stop abruptly as I notice my reflection in the ice. Someone else’s eyes stare back into mine from the lake’s surface. I flinch, but then cannot stop myself from leaning closer. I trace the outline of my reflection in the lake, panicking as it becomes less and less like mine, my hair growing longer, and my lips growing fuller. I feel a knot form in my throat. I attempt to yell but no sound escapes my lungs. Finally, I let out a scream. The voice that emerges is not my own.
As my mom and I made our way into our small one-bedroom apartment, I was ready to die. My feet dragged as I marched myself to the bathroom to compose myself. Looking into the mirror, I imagined my lips growing fuller and my hair growing longer. When I boarded that train that morning, I was not sure if I would have the bravery to die today. Yet there was no denying that the pressure of the air around me was different, just different enough, in fact, to help me muster up the courage to do so. Perhaps, my brief encounter with the bickering couple at Gallery Place-Chinatown had broken something deep within me that had been preventing me from taking this crucial next step. Maybe it was the way I had envied the girl holding her mother’s hand at Metro Center. Or it could have been the single comforting face among the DCTA students on the train. Maybe, it was all of these things combined. I looked back into the mirror once more and whispered something barely audibly.
“I am not a boy, and I am not going to live as one any longer.”
Relief washed over me like the downpour outside as I finally admitted this truth to myself. My reflection slowly faded until the reflection from the alpine lake of my dream was looking back at me instead. It was the reflection of a woman. I let out a sigh. It was time for the old me to die and the new me to come to life. I stepped out the bathroom and walked into the kitchen where my mom was preparing dinner and where she would finally learn my truth.
—Contributing writer Á. Javier Cifuentes Monzón’s column, “Woodley Park Station,” is a serialized work of fiction exploring the concept of vulnerability as it intersects with queer, immigrant, and low-income identities.
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