Saying No

“‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

Anne Lamott, O Magazine

Tell me the history of all the times you’ve said “no,” and describe all the ways you’ve said “no.” Start with the words, “There was the ‘no’ I said when…” Each paragraph, each stanza, come back to this starting line.


  1. JW James says

    I was still a wife when I went to that party, February 23, 1985. this was a surprise party for my husband’s best friend, M. This was the night I would say the most important No of my life and by saying No I was really choosing Yes. I hadn’t wanted to go. My husband had begged. I was fed up with what my life had become after five years of marriage. It seemed that all my time was either spent working at the hospital or meeting social obligations that were required of us since we’d married. P’s family was Greek. If you saw the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you might think it was a comedy. That’s because the non-Greek was a man. In the movie he is christened before the wedding can take place. In reality, there is no acceptance when the non-Greek spouse is a woman. I was not christened, I was ostracized. Our wedding ceremony was an hour long. There wasn’t a word of English spoken and I didn’t have a clue what was taking place. I agreed to it because tradition was so important to P and to his family. Maybe I thought being agreeable would win me favor, instead it only served to fuel my rage. I was angry with myself because I never said No.

    We got to the party that night and found everyone crowded into the kitchen in the back of the flat. M was expected home any minute and then we would rush out into the living room and yell surprise. M was late. Very late. This required over two dozen people to stand shoulder to shoulder in a small dark kitchen for over an hour. I found myself standing next to M’s sister AKA the notorious lesbian, S. We fell into easy conversation when we met. I felt strangely giddy and it wasn’t the wine. It seemed the more I drank the more sober I felt. I forgot that I’d resisted coming to the party and was enjoying myself more than I could have imagined. Everything S told me about herself seemed intensely hilarious or intensely fascinating. It turned out our birthdays were one day apart. I was older by two years. We discovered we had met ten years earlier at a high school soccer match. I was on the team bus hanging out the window after the game was through and I remembered a woman looking up at me and yelling, “You have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.” That compliment from a complete stranger had made me smile for a long time. In fact, I never forgot it.

    Now I was thinking she had the most beautiful brown eyes I’d ever seen. When M arrived home and everyone yelled, there was more than one surprise that night; I had fallen in love at first sight and would never be the same again.

    I didn’t want to leave her side. She returned the attention. We sat on the stairway in the hall and I remember I moved so close to her our thighs were touching. Her mother came up to us and looked alarmed. I was oblivious or rebellious or both. I suddenly didn’t care about anything but staying close to S. It was a very noisy crowded party yet it seemed as if we were the only two people in the world.

    She whispered to me, “You should come dancing sometime with me and my friends. You’d love it.” And in a flash I knew I had to change my life.

    I said, “Let’s go now.”

    Just then my husband came over. I told him, “We’re going dancing.” He said, “Good. I’m tired of this party.” And then I said it. I had to. I said, “NO. It’s women only.”

    I could write a novel about that night. I really could. Everything was loaded and ready to blow. As if I’d prepared all my life to say no in that moment. I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t look back. We got our coats and left.

    It was ten below that night and the city had a new foot of snow. She wore an olive-green wool army jacket that came just above her hips. She drove a truck and I waited while she unlocked the door. Outside it was winter and my new life was waiting. I felt suddenly shy and awkward. We drove to The Laurel Tree. A bar I’d never heard of, and I’d lived in Syracuse my entire life. She knocked at the door and a window slid open. A few words were exchanged and then we were let inside. It was an amazing sight! Hundreds of women, a huge dance bar , crowded bars. There was a whole other world inside the world I’d thought I knew. S led me downstairs to a dimly lit and quieter room. There was a long bench there and she straddled it to face me. She put her arms around me and I felt something hard on her chest which shocked me as I was expecting softness. I tapped on her pocket and said, “What’s this?” I was stalling. My mind was spinning. She laughed and took her wallet out of the front pocket of her jacket. She asked, “Is that better?”

    I knew if I turned my face towards hers that I would kiss her. I felt bold and demanding suddenly. In a split second I thought, why had I missed out on kissing half the population of the world? What I meant was, why hadn’t I considered kissing women before? Then I stopped thinking. This was the greatest desire I had ever known. I wasn’t going to wait another moment. And I turned my face towards her and kissed her.

    Later we slow-danced until they yelled last call. Then she drove me back to the party, walked me to the porch and said, “You’re on your own from here.” I faced her angry brother who yelled, “Did she take you to that lesbian bar?” I faced a bleary-eyed husband. But I was no longer his wife. Within three weeks I would move out of the house. As fate would have it, the only place I could find was a tiny apartment over a Greek deli. There was just enough room for two women and a futon.

    • Ilana says

      I have read this piece a couple of times. I think it is beautiful and wonderfully empowering. It made me sad that no one responded to it two years ago. Thank you, Laura, for keeping posts this old up. I only wish that JW James could know that her work was read and appreciated. IM

      • Laura Davis says

        Yes, it is too bad! But we just didn’t have the traction to get the discussion going back then! Let me see if I can pull her email address out for you.

    • Terry Gibson says

      J.W., I remember reading this post, however as I was new, I wasn’t sure what to say. I love this story. It reminded me of nights of abandon under similar circumstances stoked by rebellion and a fierce passion. Special times. Isn’t it strange that such huge life changes can happen in what seems like a moment. Thanks for sharing this story and I hope all is well.

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