Can’t Say No

The lights go out. I look down at the ground; at my feet that are standing on the ground, and I tell myself this is it. No one will know who I am. No one will know why I’m here. No one will question what I am about to say. So, I take the two steps up the side of the stage and walk to the “x” marked in black tape.

The room is quiet, waiting. The people in the audience are curious. I drag a stool from behind me to the front of the stage and sit down, comforted that I’m still in the dark, if only for a moment more.

They’ve all heard this song. Or at least some of them have. It’s upbeat and tender and romantic—or so they’ve been told. I wonder if anyone could hear what I really meant. If anyone could see through the foot tapping melody that had been set behind it.

I didn’t blame the artists I’d given it to. They’d made it into something that sold; something people could feel good listening to. They’d made it into something I could have made it into, if it was made out of something else.

I look out at the crowd and picture him sitting there. Did he come to things like this? Did she? Did they come together? Had they heard the song I was about to sing? Did they know I wrote it?

I take a deep breath and the lights switch on. A man in the back corner announces my name on a microphone and there is a light smattering of applause. I smile nervously.

Before coming here I’d thought about what I might say. Should I explain why I came? Did they deserve that context? I’d written a few things down, just the basics, on a napkin, and stuck it in my back pocket, but as I look out at them now, I feel I need no further explanation.

I wonder if they can see my hair sticking up, or if they can make out the bags under my eyes. Does hurt show through a t-shirt and jeans? Do I look weak? Fragile? Alone? Can they hear my heart beating faster as I look at them, and slower when I think about him? I shake my head. The questions are coming too fast now, and if I let them continue, I’ll fall deaf to the answers that really matter.

I pull the microphone towards me, put one foot up on the middle peg of the stool, and bring my guitar to my waist. With my thumb, I bring the song to life, the one they know. I ease into the melody until I hear a few voices sigh in approval. “I know this song,” they say, and I want so badly to tell them they’re wrong. Instead, I smile out the crowd and start singing.

It’s seven AM, baby
Trying to catch up on a little sleep
It’s way too early, baby
For you to be crawling all over me

Next thing you know we’re driving ’round
She’s dragging me all over town
Ain’t another girl in the world that could do me like that

Heads bob and shoulders sway. Those familiar with the words build up to sing the chorus, but go still when they notice it’s not coming like they’d grown to expect. Because now I’ve slowed the melody down. I’ve lowered the key, and saddened the tempo, bringing the song back to the place it was born. I hear mumbles of confusion and whispers of complaint, and then one long “shhh” from someone who’s been where I’ve been.

She knows how to work them cut-off things
She knows how to get me to do about anything
How to bat those eyes,
Swing them hips,
How to rock that cherry red lipstick
She knows I can’t say “No”

It’s his voice I sing in, even though it leaves my own mouth. The truth is ringing out, even though he never knew he’d been caught in a lie. A tear forms in the corner of my eye. I can see them now.  I can feel the weight of his absence in my bed and hear the laughter they shared in hers. I can hear him whisper on the back porch and pretend to snore on the couch after he heard me coming. I can see his phone over his shoulder, scrolling through pictures of her, and I can taste the bile in my mouth when I found one of them together.

Yeah, baby,
That’s about all I can say
Whatever you want, baby,
As long as you kiss me that way

My heart of stone melts in her hands
I’m getting used to changing plans
Ain’t another girl in the world that could do me like that

I sing the chorus again and the words come and come and come in waves of honesty and relief. When there are only a few words left, I look back out at the crowd. The napkin in my back pocket had been a plea for mercy and acceptance. I wanted them to hear my truth, because I needed to remind myself it still existed. So as I reach the final line, I decide to fully tell it as it should have been, not as it was written. Instead of a final “I can’t say no,” I sing, “he couldn’t say no,” then make a final strum.

He couldn’t, I think to myself as the room goes silent, but I’ve finally realized I can. A girl stands from her seat with tears in her eyes. Weights fall off shoulders. She just realized she can too.

Listen to the song here.


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