I learned early on in German class,
that “Steiger” means “mountain climber.”
I’ve never scaled any mountains,
although I might have,
had my grandfather never left Switzerland,
but if he had never left Switzerland,
he would never have met my grandmother,
and even if my father had been born,
he probably would never have met
my Slovak-Russian mother from Gary, Indiana.
I was born in a land without mountains,
without hills to speak of, either,
but I feel like I’ve climbed my share:
Smaller than everyone else,
never the prettiest girl in the room,
can’t see two inches in front of my face
without my glasses,
smart and proud of it,
but terrible at sports,
passionate about uncool things,
apathetic about beauty and fashion.
“Tell us about your father,”
“Oh, well…he died when I was little.”
Raised in the kind of family
where you don’t talk about your feelings
until you’re screaming them,
and no money, never enough money.
You don’t even realize it
til you go grocery shopping with your boyfriend
and gape in wonder that they can just
fill their fridge right up.
And studying and reading and reading and writing
and raising my hand in class,
wondering if I was annoying everyone else
when no one else had anything to say,
and thinking that if I worked really, really hard,
I’d find success,
I’d find success,
and I did, I guess,
but it doesn’t really look at all like I thought it would.
Realizing that some of us are climbing these mountains,
with bleeding hands and boots with threadbare soles
and some really dodgy ropes,
and other people get to ride all the way up in a heated sky tram.
And other people are still standing
at the base of the mountain,
wondering when their time will come
or if someone will reach down
to lend them a hand.
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