I'm the Girl excerpt
It comes to me on my knees in the back of one of the mall’s storerooms, its gray concrete walls dappled with early morning light. I close my eyes and there’s a memory there: I was thirteen years old and I’d gone missing just a little while. Ended up on a dirt road outside of town. It was summer then too, the kind of heat that sours you, and I was angry with my mother, the kind of anger that changes the way you look at the world and makes you understand, for better and worse, the way the world’s looking at you. I remember my body as it was then, caught between fading adolescence and aspiring womanhood. I didn’t yet fully grasp my burgeoning chest or bee-stung lips turned suddenly suggestive. I was dizzy, dried out from the weather, and I wasn’t sure how far I’d walked when the car pulled up beside me, its window rolled down.
A man inside.
Are you the girl? he’d asked.
And I’d felt like I’d been saved from something, but I didn’t know what.
Now: I open my eyes, letting my gaze drift from the man standing over me, to the transom window in the corner, to the view outside. I know the mountains are that way.
Aspera is too.
“We doing this or what?” he breathes.
“I want to see the pictures again,” I say.
He makes a noise, his face red and strained with his unattended hard-on, but he gives them to me. I hold the glossies in my trembling hands, a young white girl stretched across the top photo’s length. I take in her long, perfect legs reaching toward the smooth plane of her perfect stomach, extending toward the soft swell of her perfect breasts. Her perfect blond curls spill over her shoulders, haloing the peaches-and-cream complexion of her perfect face. Her pretty little lips form a perfect pink o.
Oh: the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life.
It’s me. I’m the girl.
He calls me a stupid little cunt as I leave, says I have more beauty than brains.
What he was offering, he tells me, was more than I was worth.
I leave the mall behind, the photos carefully stowed in my messenger bag. Aspera is beyond the city, and I’ll have to ride back through my neighborhood to get to it. My bike’s tires hum against the road as the sun continues its slow rise up the horizon, stirring this sliver of world awake, the air cool and damp with last night’s rain. I pass houses that could all be my house: the same missing shingles on the same weathered roofs, the same flaking blue siding, the same week’s worth of trash reaching for the curb. Tyler will be up by now, glancing at my closed bedroom door, believing I’m inside before leaving for work. He hasn’t spoken to me since last night when he found out what I fucked up—what I did to him—in the name of myself. Our mother always told me, and only me, it’s more important to know who you are than who you think you’re meant to be, as though she could see this betrayal taking root. But if she did, it’s only because she planted the seed. So whose is it in the end—hers or mine?
If my mother thought Aspera was the one place in the world I didn’t belong, it was only because she didn’t imagine me in that storeroom, threadbare carpet digging into my knees while the man above me fumbled with his fly.
I pump my legs harder and before long, Ketchum is behind me, giving way for the lush sun-shimmered green lining its either side. When I finally turn onto the road leading to the resort, a car comes tearing down it out of nowhere and seems to have me in its sights. I swerve in the last-second moment I realize it won’t, that it’ll run me over if I don’t, and it clips the back end of my bike. The violence of it untethers me, and the brutal impact of my return to earth rattles my skull, forcing the breath from my lungs and a different kind of untethering . . .
I turn my face to the road.
The car is coming back.
This excerpt of I’m the Girl will continue in Courtney Summers’s March 1st newsletter.