The biggest mistake I’ve ever made could be simple, could be practically meaningless. Two letters could have meant nothing as they were carefully, neutrally intoned. One tiny word that only toddlers take pleasure in, that’s supposed to encourage abstinence and discourage propagation of recreational drugs and violence. A monosyllable, once part of a four-form system degraded from Shakespearian English to two, a word that is neither an interjection nor an adverb. A word that is no longer meaningless and no longer simple.
No. Is there something going on between you two? No. Is there something you aren’t telling me? No. There is not, we are not, I am not. No. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am not. I don’t know her. No.
People think languages like Finnish and Welsh don’t have a word for no, but that’s not the case. Even languages like Latin use echo answers, rephrasing the verb used in the question to affirm their answer or using it negatively. Was she here? She was not here. Did she come on to you? She did not.
Actually, the last part wasn’t a lie but it didn’t matter. Sitting in the car after being picked up from work, sequestered in the backseat subjected to interrogation before being allowed into the house, nearly everything that came out of my mouth was a lie. Did you know she was interested in you? No. What will people think? I don’t know.
But at that moment, I did know. At that moment, I was scared. I cowered and I crumbled. No. I let someone else decide what is right. No. I let someone else decide who I am. Is there something going on between you two? No. I rolled over and played dead, hoping to be considered a causality and be left behind for the sake of expediency. No. I just wanted to die inside, curl up in a ball and die under a rock somewhere. Is there something going on between you two? No. I closed my eyes and her blue eyes looked back at me. No. I was so ashamed. Is there something going on between you two? I denied her.
Silence or the lack of a response can also be interpreted as negation or a display of apathy. Certain body language indicates disapproval: a shake of the head, a grimace, a quick hand gesture. No. In English, no means many things: not any; not any possibility or allowance; not really, not fully. In American Sign Language, to sign the word no, you hold your index finger and middle finger together and out straight, bringing them down to touch the pad of your thumb. In motion, the action of the sign looks similar to popular hand gestures indicating someone should shut up. The word nō is the active present form of the Latin verb nāre. Poetically, this verb means to sail, to flow, or to fly away. In Norwegian, no is a moment, a point in time.
I devalued myself; I said what I want, who I am, holds no meaning and that’s not true. I took ten steps backward and lost what little trust was left between us when I lied. When my mother asked me if I was a lesbian, I told her no. If I could go back to that awful day, I would relive my father threatening my girlfriend in my workplace, I would relive feeling ashamed, I would relive feeling trapped. I would live that day over and over again if just once I could change my choice. I would tell the truth and accept the penalties of honesty.
Telling the truth that night probably wouldn’t have benefitted me at the time. I still find it difficult to imagine a positive or even neutral response to my mother’s deepest fears being avowed. Although more likely than not, my relationship with my family would still be shattered today by ignorance, had that night been different at least I could wash my hands of their rejection, knowing that I had done everything right and they had done everything wrong. Yes is the hardest word of all.
Yes I am.