My No is underfed, undernourished, underloved, undernoticed. Undersized and perpetually underfoot, she begs for attention with one sad two-letter word—her name, the only sound she knows how to make. I wish I could look at her. I wish I could acknowledge her as completely mine, a part of me, a vital part that I can no more separate from myself than I could my head, or my heart. I know, and I hope you know, this one inescapable truth: I wish I could love her.
But you haven’t seen the looks I get when I accept her, when I give her attention, when I parade her outside. The looks and the words. Until you show them your No, you don’t know what nasty things people will say about you. You try and try to be proud of her, but other girls will say you’re a bitch and that they never liked you anyway. Boys will back away, shaking their heads and holding up their hands in mock surrender. Nobody likes my No. I tried to reconcile her small form, her bravery put on for show, with the bright, brazen world, but the more I tried to build her up, the more the world tried to tear us both down.
I don’t know why people react so strongly to my No. She’s pretty enough, in her own way, but they don’t see it. They see a tiny child with stringy, sooty hair and big, sunless eyes. They prefer her older sister Yes—as different from my No as a sunny glade is from a cave. I would compare No to the moon and Yes to the sun, but even the moon has admirers of her type of chilly beauty.
Yes is a shining, kind girl, plump from attention and love. Her eyes are bright and her words bubble forth from her mouth like a fountain. No is not a fountain. She is a dried-up stream, reduced to a slow trickle in the dirt.
I love Yes just as much as other people do. Yes and I are wonderful friends, together always, pleasing everyone we meet. No sits at home, face lit up by the blue screen of the television, huddled under a blanket because she is always cold. I can’t feed her. I can’t help her. I can’t love her. What will people think if I do? What will people say when I hold her up to drink in the sun’s rays that have made Yes so happy and light?
I know what will happen, because it has happened before. We will step forth from the doorway, heads high and proud and trembling. We will be met with a request, a conversation, an interaction—with someone, anyone. I will show off my darling No, display her like an heirloom. And we will be hated with such force that No is reduced to a shivering, cowering thing, and I can’t bear to have her with me anymore, shoving her back into the house to cringe on the couch and turn the TV on for company. Then I go out again, loathing myself for giving in.
I keep trying. She worships me for it, and oh, how I hate the guilt that gives me, because I can’t follow through. I am not the strong mother No thinks she has. I keep trying because I keep thinking this time, this time, this time will be the time that I can stand by my No. This time will be the time that I can be as proud of her as I am of Yes. I will love her, my strange moon-child, all paleness and pathetic pleading. I will love her, because she is mine, a part of me, a vital part that needs light and air and water and food. I will love her, my darling No, because she deserves—just as her sister does—to be seen, and to be heard, and to be admired.
Laura Cook is a twenty-something engineering student who is still learning the power of her No, though she thinks she’s gotten better since she wrote this piece. The things she says Yes to include volunteering at the local animal shelter, reading, and working on what will hopefully end up as a short story collection. She has previously been published in Glass Kite Anthology and was recognized in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards at the national level.