“You can say No” you tell me.

My eyes burn with tears from your sweet intensity —

You slip your hand into mine and gently take a squeeze.

Prompting me to think, holy shit.

It’s only in this tenderness I can really see —

Somewhere along the way

I didn’t learn how to say

“NO” forthrightly.


My mind wanders back, slipping through old memory:

As a little girl I didn’t know that my body was my own.

I grew up hearing that I would give myself to a man upon marrying

Feeling that my heart was not a reliable measure to go by

that my gut could be shut down by the assurance of possession over me

(You ask for permission to touch me and in the beginning I thought it was just a novelty.)

My father tickled me until I cried, as I breathlessly begged for it to stop. My teacher pulled me into her bosom for a deep hug that I couldn’t wriggle out from.

A senior in high school danced closely behind me, grinding me, and I could not move on the packed dance floor so I had to feel his crotch against me.

A man on the subway placed his hands on my waist as he walked past me with plenty of spaces and places for his hands to steady himself other than my body.


And on it goes, the series of NO’s that I didn’t think could be mine at the time.

But now — The deep unlearning doing its work in my body.

I learn that saying NO isn’t disrespect.

Saying NO is saying, “I respect myself.”

Me—the recovering me:

The recovering good girl

And Catholic

The recovering people pleaser

can all be released with one word:



I take a breath. I take my time.

And slowly, these learnings begin to unwind

With the power of Capital N-O.


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