Fiction

The Year I Learned Everything

I felt like I was about to have the best night of my life, so I took a deep breath and I jumped.

Illustration by Allegra

Illustrations by Allegra

1.

It is summer in a dead-end town. There’s not much good to say about that. I have been spending a lot of time at the community center pool. The lifeguards at the pool are all ugly so it’s kind of a waste of time. I always hope I’ll see a cute boy there and I like how the hot pavement feels when I walk barefoot. One of the lifeguards, his name is Jason Miller. He’s in college and still has terrible acne. I feel sorry for him. Acne is supposed to go away when you’re in college. You’re supposed to grow into your looks. He seems pretty lonely. Even though he wears sunglasses all the time, he stares at me. I always set my towel right next to his lifeguard stand and make sure to wear my skimpiest bikini. I feel like I’m doing a good deed. Sometimes, after he jumps in the water to help a kid who can’t swim or whatever, he climbs back into his seat and water from his body drips on me. He tastes like chlorine and sunscreen. I keep waiting for him to ask me out. He knows I’m going to be a senior this year; I told him. I think he’s afraid of girls. My brother says men who are afraid of girls are gay, but Jason Miller isn’t gay. When I roll onto my back and see him staring at me, I also see a rise in his swim trunks. Last week, I saw him at the Skate & Bowl with some of his friends. He’s the best-looking of the bunch so you can imagine how ugly his friends are. They were all bowling and really getting into it like total fucking losers. I mean honestly, it’s bowling. My dad bowls. Bowling is the only thing that makes him happy but he’s old so he has an excuse. These guys are like 19 or 20 and bowling makes them happy. There’s no hope. Anyway, Jason Miller was sitting off to the side drinking a beer. He must have a fake ID. He looked lonelier than he does at the pool. I sat next to him and started drinking his beer. He didn’t say anything so I stared at him and slowly drank every drop of that beer and he stared right back and when I finished I set the glass down. He said, “You’re welcome,” so I said, “Thank you.” Then my friends came looking for me. I squeezed his thigh, surprised by the muscle, and he turned bright red. I slid my hand higher to see how red he could get. I would have stayed longer. I wanted to stay longer. I would have squeezed other parts of him but I had to go. I want Jason Miller real bad.

2.

My perfect summer of lying out at the pool was too good to be true. My dad made me get a job, said I had to earn my damn keep. I decided to get the worst job I could think of to punish him, something that would make him embarrassed when word got out. You know how it is in this town. I forgot what my mom said about my dad, how he has no shame. Now I am stuck waiting tables and washing dishes at a crappy chain restaurant. They don’t even really cook the food there. It comes frozen and they reheat it like a frozen dinner. Sometimes when people try to get real fancy with their orders, I want to tell them look, you’re being served microwaved food, you should have just stayed home. I’m the only girl who works in the kitchen. The line cooks spend most of their time staring at me even though I wear a T-shirt and jeans every day. I like to be comfortable and let’s face it: I run so much I look good in most anything. By the middle of my shift, I may as well be competing in a wet T-shirt contest, only there’s nothing sexy about it because I’m all sweaty and I stink like fried onions and potato skins and fish sticks. I hate working. I hate standing on my feet all day. I hate seeing what’s left on people’s plates when they’re done eating. People are gross. You wouldn’t believe what comes my way. Sometimes I wear gloves so I don’t have to touch anyone’s DNA but then it’s harder to hold on to the dishes and when I break dishes, my boss, Fat Willie, he gets really fucking mad and threatens to fire me but he won’t because he likes staring at my ass and every other part of me. Most of the guys I work with don’t speak English and they have greasy hair and porn-star mustaches. They make me wish I had paid more attention in Mrs. Morales’s Spanish class because I know they’re talking about me. I hear things like la gringa and culo and concha and I can just tell they’re saying some nasty shit. I’d tell them I’m nasty too but I don’t want them to get any ideas. There are enough boys around here who have ideas about me.

3.

The only time I get to see Jason Miller now is after work. I miss seeing his pale skinny body sitting in the lifeguard’s chair. I miss him staring at me while little kids sort of drown, their lips slick with spit and pool water. The way he looks at me turns me all the way on. No one has ever looked at me like that. He came in a couple weeks ago. I was sitting at the bar, on break, drinking a soda, trying to flirt with the bartender so he’d serve me a real drink. That bartender must have been gay because my tits looked perfect in my tank top and I was doing dirty things with a straw. He barely acknowledged me. He’s an asshole. Jason Miller walked up to me and put a hand on my shoulder, totally freaked me out until I turned around and saw his ugly face, which isn’t ugly at all, just messed up with acne. He said, “You work here now,” but he wasn’t asking a question. He said it more like something finally made sense. He looked kind of happy about it and asked me if I wanted a ride home after my shift. I said yes even though my brother was coming to get me. By the time I got off work, I was in the worst mood, hot and sticky, my T-shirt stained with I don’t know what, and there was Jason Miller standing in the parking lot next to his car looking at me like I wasn’t hideous and that kind of made me angry. For the first few minutes I didn’t even say anything. We sat in the parking lot and he kept tapping his fingers against the steering wheel so I grabbed his wrist and said, “Stop doing that.” He blushed real hard, said, “Sorry,” and then he said, “Should I take you home now?” I said, “I don’t know, should you?” He suggested we go to the pool and I shrugged. When we got there it was real dark and it felt like we were breaking the law or something so of course I was really into it. He had a 12-pack of Natty Light and a beach towel and thank god there was a moon that night or we would have killed ourselves in that pool. Jason Miller handed me a beer and started undressing. I thought that meant we were going to fuck so I slammed the beer real quick, which made me sick as hell. My head was spinning and the beer sloshed around my stomach with the chicken fingers I ate earlier. I didn’t want to puke in front of a boy I actually liked so I tried to hold it together. I’m a party girl. I know how to rally. Jason Miller, he stood at the edge of the deep end in baggy plaid boxers. He smiled, wiggled his toes, threw his arms in the air, jumped and did a perfect dive into the water. He barely made any sound. It was like on TV. He swam toward me, and his arms in the water made such a pretty sound. He said I should come in. That boy raised himself out of the water and kissed my knee and held his lips there for a long time. When he pulled away, he said, “The water’s fine, just like you.” He smiled and I felt so hot and heavy and for a second, I didn’t know what to do. It was confusing. Normally with guys, I know what to say and how to move things along but with Jason Miller I drown. I thought about how nice it would feel to swim in the pool naked, to feel clean, to let water touch me everywhere the way I wanted a tall, skinny boy with bad acne to touch me everywhere. I told him to close his eyes and he did and that made me feel even funnier. This boy makes me crazy like he knows me even though I never tell him much about myself. I got undressed, and for a minute I stood there, completely naked at the community pool. I thought about how mad my dad would be. That man has strange ideas about who can and can’t see me naked. The ground was still warm and there was hardly any breeze. I felt like I was about to have the best night of my life so I took a deep breath and did exactly what Jason Miller did. I threw my hands into the air. I jumped.

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76 Comments

  • whodatgal April 26th, 2013 3:41 PM

    omg this was so beautiful and gripping and I couldn’t stop reading. This is amazing omigod…

    <3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3<3

  • Libby April 26th, 2013 3:42 PM

    This was so beautiful; cried when I finished. Wonderful.

  • Lemons April 26th, 2013 3:44 PM

    Please write a book. This is some seriously beautiful writing and I haven’t been this engrossed in a story in forever. just wow.

    <3

    http://visualcoffee.blogspot.com

    • Anaheed April 26th, 2013 8:25 PM

      She has written a book! It’s here: http://www.amazon.com/Ayiti-Roxane-Gay/dp/145077671X

    • Roxane April 26th, 2013 11:31 PM

      I have a couple books coming out next year–a novel and some essays. And thank you Lemons, and everyone else, for such kind words, particularly about this story which means so much to me.

      • maria14 April 28th, 2013 5:40 PM

        Your short story blew me away. Love the style in which you write. Your characters are beautifully drawn, authentic and raw. I would like to know more about your upcoming books and essays. What is the title of the book?

  • goma April 26th, 2013 3:49 PM

    <3

  • Lemons April 26th, 2013 4:01 PM

    ok, double posting because you actually made me cry!

    I hope this all really happened, that Jason Miller really exists. You managed to describe true love honestly and accurately, thanks :)

  • Emmie April 26th, 2013 4:03 PM

    Beautiful, beautiful.

  • Maggie April 26th, 2013 4:09 PM

    This is taking me forever to read because it’s so good I keep pausing so I can save the rest for later. Gotta have something to live for

    • Maggie April 26th, 2013 4:54 PM

      OK I’m finally finished, but I wish I weren’t… It was just so good.

  • jwells April 26th, 2013 4:17 PM

    Beautiful.

  • dessertdesert April 26th, 2013 4:22 PM

    This has got to be one of the most amzing short stories i’ve ever read. I came to tears at almost every page.

  • blueolivia April 26th, 2013 4:27 PM

    wow. wow, wow, wow, that was beautiful. so well written and honest and pure. i love it. wow.

  • Lola the ladybug April 26th, 2013 4:44 PM

    I loved this story ,thank you.

  • sana haque April 26th, 2013 5:00 PM

    Wow! A beautiful tale about a girl trying to find what love really feels like.

  • Gracie April 26th, 2013 5:05 PM

    painfully beautiful, I actually cried

  • Caitlin H. April 26th, 2013 5:10 PM

    This is so amazing, Allegra, I love the illustration as well <3

  • madicps April 26th, 2013 5:11 PM

    So, so good. Thank you so much. This was so incredibly beautiful and one of the best pieces on Rookie. I wish it went on forever.

  • rachelisms April 26th, 2013 5:16 PM

    Your style is gorgeous! I typically have a small hatred for things written in the first person, but this, I must admit, is one of few exceptions. You even convinced me on Jason Miller, and I’m a cynic so that was always going to be a toughy. I would love to see more of your writing :)

  • Tyler April 26th, 2013 6:21 PM

    This is so, so wonderful.

  • Alex S. April 26th, 2013 6:24 PM

    I had no idea what this was going to be about, but I’m glad I was curious.

    Such beautiful writing, I felt like it was a story being told by a friend on the way to class or something. Conversational and honest, one of my favorite pieces on Rookie.

  • DrewNotBarrymore April 26th, 2013 7:08 PM

    What a wonderful read! :) The imagery and feeling of this was fantastic. I adored it, and I hope hope hope you write more. <3

    On an unrelated side note, today's background image looks kind of odd on my screen.
    There appears to some kind of weird, dark, shadowy, patch near the girl's armpits. This doesn't appear on any other webpages I open, anyone else having this problem? ^_^

  • paige.xo April 26th, 2013 7:27 PM

    oh wow wow. amazing….

  • Ruth-Ann April 26th, 2013 7:33 PM

    This is honestly so beautiful, perfectly paced and magnificently well-written. When you described Jason, I automatically thought about my crush. The acne, his kindness.. everything. I want to thank you for this so much. xx

  • Melissa Zheng April 26th, 2013 9:56 PM

    I read this twice just now, it was so good. Seriously amazing.

  • erika k April 26th, 2013 10:16 PM

    This is probably the prettiest thing I’ve ever read :’)

  • Zanna April 26th, 2013 10:24 PM

    this is just so beautiful… i couldn’t stop reading. amazing story

  • Rebdomine April 26th, 2013 10:29 PM

    This made me cry.

  • rubypowers April 26th, 2013 10:33 PM

    I feel really sad and happy, this was so great. Thank you for writing this.

  • emilycarolina April 26th, 2013 11:13 PM

    This is so unebelievably amazing. It made me cry because I want to be with someone like Jason Miller and I always feel like I’ll never find anyone who loves me. This story is just so beautiful, thank you for sharing!!

  • serena05 April 26th, 2013 11:38 PM

    Please turn this into a book and publish it. I swear it would be an extremely worn book on my shelf.

    • Roxane April 27th, 2013 1:16 AM

      I am definitely thinking about turning this story into a book. And thank you!

      • kolumbia April 27th, 2013 8:45 AM

        I really hope you will! This was beautiful and gripping and extremely well-written. Your writing puts little nuggets of beauty into a really bad situation. And of course, that makes the happy ending that much sweeter.

      • AnoHana April 27th, 2013 12:09 PM

        If this story is ever turned into a book, I want to be the first to order it from Amazon!

  • quieroserdemadera April 27th, 2013 1:28 AM

    Even though my whole self shed tears, my eyes are not wet.
    This story feels so close to my heart, it surprises me how much it made me remember. It made me feel like I’m watching “it” from the rear window.
    I’ve been trying to put some feelings together, and with this I nailed it. I’m dating my Jason Miller.
    Thank you for sharing <3 :)

  • Randilyn April 27th, 2013 1:48 AM

    This was so incredibly beautiful! Couldn’t stop reading it.

  • lishbish April 27th, 2013 2:08 AM

    Ack I loved this and I generally hate anything pertaining to love! It was so well written and just real and I was completely engrossed.

  • AriaZia April 27th, 2013 4:10 AM

    I am pretty sure that was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read…. speechless

  • shelley April 27th, 2013 4:47 AM

    This was amazing! Wow

  • RhiaSnape April 27th, 2013 7:36 AM

    This was so so beautiful and touching…if this were a book i’d have to buy it.

  • AliceS April 27th, 2013 7:46 AM

    This story makes me feel so good in so many ways. I can’t even know how to express what I’m feeling, and usually I have no problems in finding words.
    “He said he wants my heart not my body and that he’ll know I’m ready when I don’t shake or look scared after he touches me. He said other things I can’t tell you” is just one of the phrases I’d like to write down in a journal to read over and over every time I will need something to “stop the bleeding”. Thank you.
    I join those asking for a book.

  • AnoHana April 27th, 2013 12:07 PM

    I did NOT expect this story to be so amazingly beautiful. I just started reading because I was bored and then couldn’t stop because it felt like I was reading a thick book for hours…

    I am seriously speechless.

  • Lea April 27th, 2013 12:17 PM

    This is so beautiful, I cried. Thank you so much for writing like this. I hope you get to write lots and become famous.

  • Ally_O April 27th, 2013 1:52 PM

    This is probably the best thing I’ve read in a long time. I didn’t want it to end! Please turn it into a full-length book, I would read it again and again. Also, great job to Rookie because I’ve never read a piece of fiction on this website that I didn’t love.

  • figgy April 27th, 2013 2:02 PM

    This story is beautiful. I won’t even try and say anything else about it.

  • Anya N. April 27th, 2013 3:35 PM

    This is so beautiful. I hope we can all find our Jason Miller. <3

  • Gabrielle Micale April 27th, 2013 3:41 PM

    I want to hold this story close to my heart and never let it go. Absolutely beautiful and devastating. Such an engrossing read.

  • mokgadi April 27th, 2013 7:09 PM

    This was beautiful/ awesome/ amazing, made my study breaks just that much sweeter :)

  • unicornconnect April 28th, 2013 4:50 AM

    This was so beautiful, it kept me enthralled the whole seven pages.

    Is it weird I kept imagining Jason Miller as Bill from freaks and geeks though??

    • baex3 April 28th, 2013 11:11 PM

      I kept picturing him as Bill too! LOL.

  • wackygerman April 28th, 2013 5:48 AM

    Nice story, I really liked the style. The girl character is elaborate and deep. Jason Miller, though, was a bit too good to be true to me. Maybe it’s because I’m 25 and disaffected, but the end was a bit too happy for me. (Perfect man + acne = freak?)

  • eliza dolittle April 28th, 2013 10:41 AM

    this was immeasurably beautiful and hit me low and heavy in my gut and i wish i could understand all the ways it affected me because it feels really important and don’t mind me i’m just crying :’)

  • Grace Mecha April 28th, 2013 1:10 PM

    man, i love this. i seriously don’t even have words to describe it. calling it amazing would be an undesrstatement.

  • TinyWarrior April 28th, 2013 2:55 PM

    This is such a beautiful piece, Roxane. I couldn’t stop reading, even through the tears. You portrayed sexual abuse so accurately, the pain they go through, etc. I was a little nervous when I saw that it was one of the tags, but I’m so glad I decided to read the entire story. I really urge you to turn this into a book – I think this is a story that needs to be told, especially now.

  • Tallulah April 28th, 2013 11:02 PM

    this is so beautiful. I don’t know what to say, it just is so perfect.
    http://thuggestprincess.blogspot.co.nz/

  • Valerie Violet April 29th, 2013 3:54 AM

    So beautiful

  • dragonfly April 29th, 2013 7:06 AM

    Wow. That was amazing and so gripping. I loved it!!! :D

  • allie.x April 29th, 2013 3:08 PM

    one of the best things I have read, including non-fiction etc etc. one of THE BEST. so moving and I feel like everyone can find something they relate to in this story. I really felt compassionate towards the main character as well. very powerful writing!

  • christinachristina April 29th, 2013 6:58 PM

    WHY DID IT HAVE TO END

  • maxrey April 29th, 2013 9:54 PM

    This is beautiful, and I love the illustration at the beginning. I might have to print it out and hang it up. Perfect story!

  • ___ellarose April 29th, 2013 11:08 PM

    oh man.. this made my heart pound

  • EmmaF May 4th, 2013 11:57 AM

    WOW. Your story is amazing. I’m crying.
    <3

  • Sea goddess May 4th, 2013 12:45 PM

    this is so beautiful
    is it true?
    i literally couldn’t stop reading<3

  • Dominika Király May 15th, 2013 3:38 PM

    THIS STORY IS JUST AMAZING! LOVED IT!:)

  • Gwendolen June 3rd, 2013 4:44 PM

    That was really one of the most romantic and beautiful stories I have ever heard :D

    http://theirfancies.blogspot.co.uk/

  • Jes June 9th, 2013 3:03 PM

    this made me very happy.

  • orthopedicsaddleshoes June 28th, 2013 1:00 PM

    I’m still on the fourth page ‘cuz I keep pausing because IT’S SO GREAT but I’m so in love with Jason Miller. Oh god.

  • double-fantasy July 7th, 2013 10:00 PM

    THIS IS SO GOOD I CAN’T TAKE IT OMG I LOVE THIS SO MUCH

  • mollusk July 19th, 2013 2:26 PM

    beautifully written! can’t wait to buy the book.

  • mollusk July 19th, 2013 2:27 PM

    ayiti, I mean. i’m glad this story is the way it is.

  • Fee July 30th, 2013 7:41 PM

    I know this article is a few months old now but I hope that Roxane sees this – I read this piece while I was studying for exams, in the totally packed university library, and I was really shaken and teary afterwards. It is absolutely beautiful and really hit home. I read constantly but this made me feel things that no other piece has in quite a while now.

    contraluna.blogspot.com

  • Isabellla August 16th, 2013 11:52 PM

    this is one of the best stories i have ever read, it was so beautiful.

  • November 3rd, 2013 7:55 AM

    I’ve never read something that affected me the way this story did. This story made me feel so happy in a weird way and I’m glad I decided to read it. Actually, I’m glad Roxane decided to write it because I can easily say I’ve never read something so simply beautiful. I could read it forever and ever. I’m even tearing up a little bit. This is amazing.