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The Summit

There’s this thing they would repeat all the time at the camp, about freezing the evil out of us. The self-righteous and apologetically fabulous telling the currently damned, isolation was the only way.

Before that, you found yourself in a kitchen with the same little white and blue country-etched print curtains that have been hanging in the window since you were a kid. It’s some eating holiday where half the day is dedicated to cooking, but everyone is neglecting the turkey in favor of roasting you. About how long your hair is, about why you decided to show up in a skirt. There’s a dirty stomped circle in the linoleum around you like black magic, but they can’t wish you away. They’ll never get back a son they never had. It won’t stop them from trying.

What they can do is have you on your bare knees before the potatoes are ready to be mashed. Crying behind your new hairstyle, convincing you via shaming intervention to go to the camp high up Mt. YouMakeItHardToLoveYou to wear baggy khakis with a belt and lie to yourself. Emotional backtracking at six-thousand feet above sea level.

Everything on the mountain comes in blurred snapshots between powdered eggs and cardboard bed sheets. There’s a broad woman who drives a dark blue truck to patrol the cabins, the same woman who wiped the lipstick off your face and started calling you by the name on your old birth certificate when you arrived.

There’s a thin man that can name every musical produced in the 1940s, who tells you if being happy means disappointing your parents, then you need to commit to being miserable. He cleans his glasses on a thin scarf and explains that not wearing the right clothes or hearing the right pronouns is really the least you can sacrifice for the people who brought you into this world.

They’ll both reassure you, this isn’t a prison, but there are still guards around. The ones you overhear talking about why they decided to build the camp on the summit. Here, the locked gates are black ice and layers of snow. The bars are subzero temperatures. These guards, they won’t stop you if you try to walk down the mountain. They already know you won’t make it.

At night, you dream about warm beaches and a brand new bathing suit. You’re covered in their standard issue, highly unfashionable, parka but imagining the only ice for miles blended with fruit and covered in spiced rum. Salt, sand, and signing the hotel bill with your real signature.

It makes you wonder what the kids they’ve stuck here dream about. How different their lives would be if their families didn't think they were sick or selfish or diseased.

There’s a cub here that can’t quite grow a beard yet. He argues a lot with the old queen in the glasses. Once, while they traded insults, you could make out the same words coming from both sides: “You’re throwing your life away!” This is why the guards are actually there. After that you don’t see the baby-faced kid anymore.

The days blur together. Your skin is getting drier. The seawater seems further away. You’re supposed to stay here until you’re cured, even though you aren’t sick. Lips chapped and roots grown out, right now, you’d descend Everest for even a drop of organic moisturizer. 

One morning, the broad woman leaves her keys near your breakfast tray. You bat your lashes and find yourself behind the wheel of the blue truck. The boots they’ve been making you wear are lackluster as even daywear but they sure can floor a gas pedal.

Semi-unintentional grand-theft-auto and now you’re skidding through ice banks with the heat on full blast. Any month up here would be bad enough, but mid January was a hell of a time to pick for an escape.

At a sharp curve you slow just enough and something on the side of the road catches your eye. A person, a kid, sitting all balled up and shivering in his standard-issue parka. Babyface.

Sirens are going off from the top of the mountain, but still, you jump out and ask what he knows about the Caribbean. His fingers and nose look frostbitten but you tell him if he moves a little faster you’ll help him build a sandcastle in Key West with a tiny rainbow flag out front. He’s having trouble moving at all so you try to hoist him up. In the broken Spanish you’ve been practicing, you tell him the guys in Mexico are probably really cute.

Babyface, the little sugar bear, is an adorable but hefty boy. Out of breath, now you’re slumped next to him. He tells you to go. Little straight lines of water turn to hard ice running from his eyes to chin.

You wrap your warmth around him and think about family. Not the one who sent you here but the one you both deserve. You sit with the boy until the sirens turn to silence and through the swirl of fresh mountain snow, everything sounds like the ocean.


Brandon Mead is a Best of the Net nominated bathtub writer, intermittent poet, and cat dad who calls the Pacific Northwest home after living his whole Nomi Malone fantasy in Las Vegas, Nevada. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in journals such as Taco Bell Quarterly, Vagabonds, 86 Logic, and Oh Yeah Bear Poetry.

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