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Choose the best word by reading the passages below to fill in the blanks and locate the young boy’s missing tongue.

  1. This word, often associated with Tauruses, is a synonym for hard-headed, persistent. For example, when I was sixteen, every few weeks I’d stop by the Mr. Jim’s Pizza up the road from my trailer (roughly the size of several small stables) and politely ask the manager if they were hiring. When I was finally hired, she said she appreciated my determination. An idiom associated with this word: ________ as a mule.

  3.  This word is a color associated with people lacking melanin, granting them societal benefits such as not being asked if you have a dad (I don’t, but that’s hardly the point), if he sells drugs, if you speak Hispanic, not getting shot or detained by police during routine traffic stops, and not facing longer prison sentences for the same crimes.

  5. This word is both noun and verb. It is how we tame a person’s or animal’s hair into a state of flat smoothness, using hand-held instruments of the same name to do so.

  7. The opposite of never, this word. Similar words include forever, eternally, consistently. It is, essentially, what this skin is.

  9. If there are negative connotations to this word, they are of sadness or shame, rather than anger. When I laugh, a hand will rise, as if to shield my ________ from the disgust the world promises to fill it with. Two years before I got the job at Mr. Jim’s, my friend Christian told me when I laughed, my upper lip stretched back over my teeth. He said I looked like a braying donkey. He wasn’t wrong.

  11. A simple present-tense synonym for vanishing, which I started senior year. Freshman year of college, I saw the clip from the Oprah show, a woman sobbing, I’ve been down to thirty-two pounds (amazing), and I’ve been in a coma (envious), and I barely made it, don’t do it (why not?), save yourself (I am). I didn’t necessarily want to be her, it’s just women like her were the only ones allowed to look like that. I saw the bones, clean and smooth, just under her pale, tight skin, and thought, I can do that. I thought, I can be like her.
    I liked eating too much. The consolation prize: I’d found a use for my left hand. Some days, I can still feel the ache driving into the blood vessels in my eyes, my frantic prayer like fingers over rosary beads: don’t burst don’t burst don’t burst. Like recovery, I sometimes can’t tell which is greater—the almost-affection I’ve cultivated for my skin, or my desire to emancipate from it.

  13. This word connotes being in between two seemingly opposing forces or things.
    Speaking of Tauruses, I am equidistant between beginning and end of Taurus season, right in the ________. But, for conjecture’s sake, say bull isn’t correct. Say, American or Latin isn’t either. Allow me, then, some measure of majesty. Horse. Brown. Mustengo. Tiny hooves, primed and dragging through dirt; fight and flee; the breathy snort as half-sob, half-snarl. Two questions: Who was I before the world placed me within this frame and who could I be on the other side of it? I do not wholly belong to either, so I must belong to neither.
    At some point, I meant to mention how pathetic this feels. Truthfully, I couldn’t weave in how I felt without appearing maudlin, as evidenced by number six. I hope this can suffice: a few weeks after a man the color of bone showed me the kind of theft found in dark rooms and among wandering hands, I decided neither question mattered. I refracted the two points into a third, walked into traffic and tried exiting frame altogether.

  15. On the one hand, this word is also a color, both trendy when female pop stars imitate it and convenient for securing seven-figure book deals, but muddy when I have it naturally. Conversely, a man the color from number two once said he couldn’t wait to get my legs up over my head, “like one of those little Latina boys.”

  17. Synonyms include unblemished, flawless, perfect. There wasn’t getting around it: if I didn’t get my report card signed, the school would call my mother and things would be worse. The first blow from the belt didn’t sting. Four C’s, two F’s. I expected anger. She cried. The second and third hurt, I’m sure. You have to work hard, she sobbed. You have to work twice as hard as them.
    To get half of what they have went unspoken. Them, too.

  19. This word is an insult directed at one’s intelligence. It is not uncommon to praise a person with melanin for how well they’ve assimilated into dominant culture: You speak English really good! The understanding is, if one does not speak English “good,” they are obviously unintelligent (i.e., this word), and aren’t, therefore, “good” at assimilating.
    It’s also not uncommon to call someone with melanin as ________ for only speaking English. That is, if they’ve assimilated too good, they’re also ________. They should know their “native” language without using it. Even when their native tongue is the one they’re expected to speak. Even when both languages belong to colonizers.

  21. This -ing word is simple: the fairer your skin is, the better the world treats you. Between my brother and me, I’m darker, though not by much. He has a higher likelihood of ________ than I do. A strange privilege, to be confused for the ones who would see you die without a batted eye. Two years after the traffic incident, a man with melanin on a dating app told me he loved lighter boys like me. By the time I was done, he was falling over himself to make amends.

  23. A typical expression of regret/remorse. I meant to put one here. Had I, it would’ve been on every page. It seemed insufficient. A more dramatic relation, forgive me, would’ve been a lie.

  25. An -ing word that denotes forced entry into a region with expressed intent to conquer. Settled inaccurately describes what the colonizers did when they rode into the Americas with their horses and diseases and weapons. This word implies breaching, violation, occupation.
    The word mustengo has two meanings: “stray horse,” and “ownerless beast.” The animal has nowhere to bind itself to in the first, no one to claim it in the second. “Stray” means unwanted; “beast” means wild. Indeed, mustangs, direct descendants of Spanish horses that bred with the natives, are considered feral. As a byproduct of colonialism’s thieving hands, I can relate.

  27. This word carries a positive connotation among religious communities: A ________ from God, you might’ve heard. Sometimes, I ask God how my skin could possibly be this. Then I ask my skin, and perhaps here’s where the two meet; how, when I ask what there is to love about it, all I ever hear is silence.

  29. Another benefit of being a person without melanin is avoiding deportation or overly invasive questions about your citizenship. Even if you’re born within these borders, if you’re someone with melanin, you will be seen as ________: Go back to where you came from! they cry. I never say how gentrified New York City has become.

  31. A place on the body denoting injury or hurt, though not always physical; often, it’s psychic. I walk into the world as one of these every day. No anecdote; I tire of trying to prove I bleed as well as anyone else.

  33. This word is how cattle eat grass: by ________ in the fields. Stop smacking, my mother said. You look like a cow when you do that. Catching her sharp glower in the car’s windshield mirror, jaw latching and unlatching around the Hubba Bubba between my teeth, I huffed. I don’t care.
* * *

The summer I turned seventeen I visited my cousins in New York. I was enrolled in four AP classes for senior year, and I did my summer assignments on my aunt’s couch when my cousins were asleep. I mostly remember the specifics: a puppet show near Central Park, Tierra’s Colombianas in Astoria, a Civil War reenactment on a large farm where pretend soldiers fired a cannon. Even a blacksmith who forged an iron hook. When the earthquake found my legs, they locked, readying for collision.

* * *

Despite popular belief, Spanish is not a particularly difficult language to learn. Still, I was a ____1____ child: English, please, I always said. Even then, though, I think I knew. I knew it was easier, to spit up another language and pretend it your own.

* * *

In seventh grade, Belinda Trejo told me she was surprised when I said Latino properly after I asked Mrs. Bluitt in reading class if Latin people were segregated the way African Americans were: I thought you were ____2____, she said. I blinked—her skin was the same shade of brown as mine—and said that, no, I was definitely Latino, I just didn’t speak Spanish. How come? I just never learned. Even then, I knew it was easier to ____3____ it off, that silent shame, scorching my rippling tongue. Is a house really on fire if no one is there to say it is?

* * *

I’ve ____4____ liked my name. It’s strong, firm, but easy on the ears, the el a hint of a soft lilt. I also like its history; in Hebrew, it means God is my judge. Mostly though, I like how it sits in my ____5____, taking up enough space but never too much. How it spills across tongue and past teeth, kisses the air and then ____6____ like smoke.

* * *

The same year of ____7____ school, I took a Spanish class. Sra. Nash, the girls’ volleyball coach, hated me and the other ____8____ kids for some reason. Perhaps it was our “improper” Spanish, that none of our tongues were as ____9____ as hers. She studied in Spain, you know. Once, Sra. Nash made everyone introduce themselves and say what city they’re from with a Spanish accent. Me nohm-bray es J.T., y soy day Tay-haws, one boy said. Yo soy Haley, soy day Tay-haws, a girl drawled. When it was my turn, I tried to say New York City. Sra. Nash looked at me like I was ____10____. She didn’t look at the fair-skinned children this way. That day, I learned shame in two languages.

* * *

Once, in college, I, my brother, and an acquaintance of ours went to a restaurant. Glancing at the menu, I asked my brother what sopapillas are. I’d heard of them in ____11____, but only knew them as dessert. The acquaintance scoffed: How can you call yourself Latino when you don’t even know what a sopapilla is? He wasn’t Latino. My brother said it was more of a Mexican dessert, and therefore we never grew up eating them. We’re not Mexican.

I wanted to tell the acquaintance about sancocho, about pandebonos and arequipe, empanadas, tostones and arroz con pollo y frijoles, and mornings when I was small and mamí would stand at the stove making recalentado while Juanes crooned about black shirts and sour love from the radio as the Floridian sun spilled past the curtains and onto my legs as both an ____12____ and as affection, as if to say, you are enough in your skin don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not you are always welcome at the table of your own body tu me entiendes cariño you hear what I’m saying you are allowed you have permission

I ordered a Coke float and watched the dark liquid hiss and sizzle around the ____13____ bone-colored mass and refused to sob.

* * *

The ____14____: my mother, Catholic when she had me, called me Daniel. It wasn’t that I was named after a man who had the ear of a God who closed the jaws of lions, but that it works in both languages: Daniel and Daniel. The difference, besides pronunciation, is the length; in both English and Spanish, there’s technically three syllables, though common parlance shortens it to two in English, two-and-a-half in Spanish. The latter is nothing to be ashamed of, just a little extra.

* * *

Despite my less than stellar ability to communicate in Spanish, many words are similar to their English counterparts. In other words, it’s not difficult to suss out the meanings of words from their context. I’m proficient in extracting a ____15____ thing’s value for my own use.

* * *

How does one know they’ve lost an identity? Is it hearing the fragments of a language you turned away from years ago? Is it the frantic wish that you could undo self-rejection and love the brown parts of yourself? Once, Mr. Turek asked someone to read from the Texas History workbook. When I did, laughter spread across the room: the extra of me, open for the class to see, wobbling over the occasional word in Spanish.

The house of me alight; a river of gasoline shame pooling just below my eyes. I wanted to rip my skin and my tongue away in sheets, distract the lions long enough to flee the ____16____ of their latching, unlatching jaws. That day, I learned it is possible to be eaten without knowing the ____17____ of teeth on skin.

* * *

Just diagonal to the blacksmith’s forge there was a large field and a barn in the distance. It wasn’t an earthquake, just the nature of wild things: a herd of brown horses, free to run from their stables behind a wooden fence, powerful and gorgeous and contained at once. I wanted to reach out, ride, feel the strength of their bodies beneath my own and know wind and sun kissing my face.

Daniel Garcia

Daniel Garcia's essays appear or are forthcoming in SLICE, Denver Quarterly, The Offing, Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere. Poems appear or are forthcoming in The Puritan, The Arkansas International, Ploughshares, Zone 3, Gulf Coast, and others. A recipient of a Short Prose Prize from Bat City Review and a Poetry Prize from So to Speak, Daniel has received awards and scholarships from Tin House and the New York State Summer Writers Institute, and currently serves as a reader and editorial assistant for Split Lip Magazine. Daniel’s essays also appear as Notables in The Best American Essays.

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