JUNE 2009


By Roxane Gay, Mar 31, 2009

Gérard spends his days thinking about the many reasons he hates America that include but are not limited to the people, the weather, having to drive everywhere and having to go to school every day. He is fourteen. He hates lots of things.

On the first day of school, as he and his classmates introduce themselves, Gérard stands, says his name, quickly sits back down and stares at his desk, which he hates. “You have such an interesting accent,” the teacher coos. “Where are you from?” He looks up. He is irritated. “I’m from Haiti,” he says. The teacher smiles widely. “Say something in French.” Gérard complies. “Je te deteste,” he says. The teacher claps excitedly. She doesn’t speak French.

Word spreads through school quickly and soon, Gérard has a nickname. His classmates call him HBO. It is several weeks until he understands what that means.

Gérard lives with his parents in a two-bedroom apartment. He shares his room with his sister and their cousin Edy. They do not have cable television, but Edy, who has been in the States for several months longer than Gérard lies and tells him that HBO is Home Box Office, a TV channel that shows Bruce Willis movies. Gérard hates that they don’t have cable but loves Bruce Willis. He is proud of his nickname. When the kids at school call him HBO, he replies, Yippee Kai Yay.

Gérard’s father does not shower every day because he has yet to become accustomed to indoor plumbing. Instead, he performs his ablutions each morning at the bathroom sink and reserves the luxury of a shower for weekends. Sometimes, Gérard sits on the edge of the bathtub and watches his father because it reminds him of home. He has the routine memorized—his father splashes his armpits with water, then lathers with soap, then rinses, then draws a damp washcloth across his chest, the back of his neck, behind his ears. His father excuses Gérard, and then washes between his thighs. He finishes his routine by washing his face and brushing his teeth. Then he goes to work. Back home, he was a journalist. In the States, he slices meat at a deli counter for eight hours a day and pretends not to speak English fluently.

In the second month of school, Gérard finds a bag of cheap colognes in his locker. For HBO is written on the front of the bag in large block letters. It is a strange gift, he thinks, and he hates the way the bag smells but he takes it home. Edy rolls his eyes when Gérard shows his cousin his gift, but takes one of the bottles of cologne. His girlfriend will enjoy it. “Those motherfuckers,” Edy says. He is far more skilled at cursing in English. Then Edy explains what HBO means. Gérard clenches his fists. He decides that he hates each and every motherfucker he goes to school with. The next morning, he applies cologne so liberally that it makes his classmates’ eyes water.

When they call him HBO, he adds a little something extra to his Yippee Kai Yay.

Roxane Gay’s work appears or is forthcoming in Best American Erotica 2004, Word Riot, The Northville Review, DOGZPLOT, and many others. She is the Associate Editor of PANK.