Thursday, February 23, 2006


Two boys in the living room, men really (they were both 28), five floors to walk up, no air conditioning, adjacent to a graveyard in the East Village, 8x10 and $750.

I said yes immediately.

When I first moved to New York, I said yes to everything, just like I promised. Yes to the first lousy job I was offered, yes to the first apartment I stepped into, yes to the table of rowdy boys now handing me a chocolate brown Guinness. After I said yes, one of them, with a deft slight of hand, dropped a shot of Jameson into the glass.

“Drink!” They shouted, staggering their encouragements as the foam began to thicken.

One new roommate bought me another before I finished the first. His name was Jeb, and I’d already seen him wearing white underwear as he stood in the kitchen, brow furrowed in concentration as he cracked his knuckles, snapped his wrist, and limply lassoed the couch. He’d promised he’d teach me in due time. I took the drink from him in hopes it would get me closer to my first couch-corralling lesson.

Mark, the other, was blonde and loved a girlfriend who never took to me, quite wary of my status as a roommate and my propensity for saying yes. He sat next to me as I downed Jeb’s gifted "Irish Car Bomb". The girlfriend left soon after, but not before pulling Mark aside, furiously nodding her head as she spoke, her curls and hoop earrings tangling together.

The other boys parted too, and when we walked home that night, I felt protected by two new older brothers, ones I never had in Connecticut. Though my sandals were digging into my not-yet-summer-hardened feet, I walked lightly, deeply inhaling the thick summer air and swinging my handbag at each stoplight. After the rigorous walk upstairs, I collapsed on the bed in my tiny, hotbox of a room. Mark stood, loopy, at the door, and eyed me as I tossed off my wedges and gingerly touched my sore toes. I waved goodbye to him, then motioned for him to shut the door. Instead, he stepped in and sat on my pillow and on my hair.

“You really shouldn’t be in here,” I warned, smiling to lighten the conviction in my voice. I sat up.

“Why not?” He asked, returning my smile with devilish intentions. I scooted three inches to the right, the only free space on my single bed.

“Because I have Tyler and you have Monica and they’d be pretty angry to know that you were in here.” I didn’t smile this time. “So come on.”

He leaned towards me, breathing on me, forward and forward, until he was almost upon me.

“No,” I said. He grinned and attempted a second try. Again, I said no. He drew back, his face growing ugly for a moment. He jumped to his feet.

He stomped out of the room, slamming the rickety door on its hinges. A day and a half later, I was asked to leave. They said I was too young for them, I was on the phone too much, I was never there on the weekends so I wasn’t enough a part of their lives. Then they said I was immature, and wasn’t what they had expected, and I was a silly, stupid, vapid girl and sent me on my way, back down the five flights of stairs in August’s cruel heat. They wouldn’t hold the door for me. I scraped my fingers on the frame as I carried a laundry basket filled with books. The girlfriend watched me with a sneer when my hand drew blood, and as I turned my back in shame at losing at the first thing in New York I’d tried, I heard her whisper something about me I’d like to forget I heard.

With tears stinging my eyes, I learned a lesson then, the importance of saying no, and since that first declaration there have been many others. No, if it makes me feel bad, no if it makes someone else feel bad, no when something feels off. Whatever the consequence.

Right or wrong, New York has taught me to say no. Far more than it ever beckons me to say yes.


Sober In the City said...

This is a beautiful piece!

I am still learning to say "No" at the right time. I start off knowing I should have said it. Then I move on to knowing when I should say it. All of this will hopefully culminate in actually saying it!

It's progress, not perfection...

K said...


Thanks for the comment!

They all tell us (our conscience, Women's Service books, etc.) that learning how to say "no" is so much more important than saying "yes"...but what they never seem to quite get across is how we can go about doing it. I still struggle, even if I tell myself I know how to do it...

I think "progess, not perfection" is a great way to go about it.

Sarah said...

Arg. Some people. What a frustrating tale... but I understand where you're coming from.

I loved reading this!

jase said...

I like your writing style, i could almost see what's happening! And YES, there are a hundred ways of saying NOOOOOO!