“I’m going to punch that little Mountain Dew-mouthed piece of shit in the mouth, I swear!”
“Mai-co, stah!” Her English was getting better, and my fight-speak was getting worse. Not that it could get any worse than being non-existent. I imagine my shoulder dislocated and dizzy legs and bright lights and a sore throat. Mom starts to say something.
“Punch him in the mouth.” Eh. “Piece of shit.” Both unoriginal. I’m supposed to be a writer, not a fighter. A three-second movie of my future plays before me in feelings. I am neither a writer nor a fighter and the writer-fighters all gang bang my wife. “Mountain Dew mouthed.” Now that is clever. That one got a smirk from Mom. I’m sure Tania would’ve laughed too, but maybe she just doesn’t know the associations that come along with Mountain Dew? I’ll sit her down and teach her one day, and she’ll write in her journal that I’m the quirkiest big brother ever. Key associated images with Mountain Dew: shaking oily hands that make you wipe your palms on your pants and breath out your nose, skipping inhales, posters with just an XBOX logo and an Army-font date at the bottom, not minding a “hoo-ra” as an emotional climax of a movie, dusty cheese fingers, Oakley sunglasses, high white socks worn with big giant basketball sneakers to a school dance, doing the finger snap thing that people do to pack the contents of chewing tobacco over to one side of the case.
Can they tell I’m smiling? What am I doing? Act more angry. RAGE! Think about what this snot-brain 7th grader did to your new little sister.
“Tell it to me again. I’m being serious,” I said.
Mom and I look at little Tania. Her eyelids are two shades darker than the skin around her face. I’d wonder if it were makeup if she wasn’t so enthralled by the American sparkle–a little pre-pubescent idea of the American girl that she probably got from videos of Hannah Montana and lonely How to Become a Princess tutorials online, back in El Salvador. We didn’t have the heart to tell her what was up, or maybe we were just protecting ourselves from being the bad guy. “It’s just pretty 2007,” we wished we would say to her. “She’ll grow out of it,” we came closer to saying only to each other.
She got here a week after I came back from school. I’d planned to come home after she arrived, but something happened and I had to get out of there. So here I am, pretty much. I felt guilty wanting to skip the awkward parts of her arrival. The guilt accompanying that first tour of the house! “This is where I had everything you didn’t and still whined my ass off.” “This is my room that I missed so much I’ve ditched ten grand of my dad’s money to come back to.” Oh, and the first dinner silences to be filled! The necessary smiles. I threw on my most raggedy shirt as I heard the car pull up and tried to act unspoiled, which was pretty confusing and made trying to enjoy a cheesesteak a psychological exercise in humility and gratitude for one’s blessings. It wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it’d be. She was giggly. It was nice.
How inevitable this moment feels now. This was a specific moment promised by whispers of “growing pains” and the “it’ll definitely be an adjustment” clarifications attached to episodes of wishful thinking. Adding a little worry to balance back the scale.
“She still can’t speak a lick of English.”
“Well, we knew it would be an adjustment.” We had competitions of building empathy to soften the disappointment of future moments exactly like this. This was it. She needs my help.
We’re in the car. I almost ran my mom over. I can’t go through with it with her there. I imagine the mother-to-mother front door conversation. Reasoning. Nodding each other dry, with me, tucked in cozy in the back seat, not allowed to have the window open, letting the adults handle it.
Tania is being quiet. In the rearview mirror, I can see the pink rims of her bulbous headphones. Her hands are in her lap and her lips hum-positioned. Maybe this is normal for her? Maybe her gang brother and cousins in El Salvador would stomp all over her bullies and dirty old man suitors. She looks like a polite princess, excited for an “I told you so,” as if she knew that this—fucking fat blonde brat!!—asshole who pushed her to the ground and made the whole class laugh at her when he said “something something, Trump, Mexico, wall, get out of here” was going to get it all along. I couldn’t understand exactly what she’d said, but it was plenty information. I felt the consensus of the nation behind me. I’ll jump over the racist’s fence, bang down the door, challenge him to a fight—or should I just punch him right away?—punch him a medium amount, and end up in a NowThis video as the hero of the American Hispanic and the newfound respect-recipient of my new little sister’s real brother’s gang.
We are pulled over to the side of the road. The front gate is behind a wall of dark greens and blacks and oranges. The words and hand gestures are really flowing through me now. Get serious with him. Make him post social media thing—Facebook, then they’ll know it’s serious—about what I’ve taught him? Something.
I’m at the front door now. It’s him. I look back and she gives me the nod. I stay looking back, trying to find information to pretend is meaningful and worth my twisted delay.
He gives a perfectly friendly wave past me. The faker. A heavy breeze of coolness enwraps my body. I realize how sweaty I am. I feel my stomach sink. He’s wearing my clothes.
“She told me what you did today. OK? Dude… I… You think that’s cool, man? She told me.”
“What do you mean?”
“Wait, no, what are you talking about? Why is Tania staying in the car?”
I land a big swing on his shoulder and hear sirens. I run to the car and drive off. “Everything works out. Everything works out. It always does. It will be fine.” She’s not in the backseat. I reverse five feet, drive forward another two, open the door and stumble towards the house. I’m halfway there and decide to run back to close the moonroof.
Both of them are sitting by a shelf of trophies when I find them. He’s talking about his brother’s stats from sophomore year, and Tania whispers to him something. Hardcore chuckles. If I got that big a chuckle, I’d remember it forever.
“Want to play house, Mai-co?”
The kid holds up blue glitter and a bristly brush. As she holds my hands and paints my nails, I hope she doesn’t find my palms oily.
“Who am I?”
“You can be mommy.”
“Are you sure?”