And then you see your own face in the jumbotron
And your boyfriend’s down on one knee
And he’s holding an engagement ring so big it blinds the screen
And the way he looks at you
Like you caught the homerun ball
And you look up and see thousands of people in the stadium rooting for you
To do it
To say yes
This is for the woman who says no.
— “Say No” National Poetry Slam Finals 2014
She looks back at her own reflection in the big screen, feeling the people judging her, glares into the screen, stands up.
And then she remembers the victim at her feet, and looks down, and puts all the love she can muster into her expression. She hates that he had to do it like this, shouting love from the rooftops, or in this case, stadium tops. Hates that he would subject her to this, feels manipulated to the core.
But she tells herself he didn’t do this out of spite, but love. Has to tell herself that, to believe that. And there is a part of her that does love him back. Just not enough.
The answer is no. Perhaps if she can just sell her no, she can escape here alive.
So she sits back down, pats the hand holding the ring, caresses the side of his cheek with her other hand, and stares affectionately into his eyes. “You know I love you…” she says, not willing to give it away yet, not until she’s understood.
“So you’ll say yes?” he asks, and there’s a cheer from the audience, so she panics and cries, “Wait!” over them. The cheers die down in anticipation, and she repeats herself. “Wait,” she tells him, a subtle instruction intended not just for this moment. He and the audience look on obliviously.
“Before I give you an answer, I need to tell you something. My parents are… well, let’s just say I’m a child of divorce. And because of that, I promised myself that I would always wait. For me to say yes, I can’t settle for anything less than absolute head-over-heels love, I can’t settle for anything less than grow-old-together commitment. And I do love you…” she says, “but romance isn’t enough. I can’t simply rely on empty romantic gestures. I can see you love me, but it’s not enough. But stay with me,” she says, holding his hand, “and prove to you’ll always be there, that you’ll never leave me, that we’ll always stay together… and ask me again. Then maybe, I’ll say yes.”
“So your answer is no?” he says, sounding wounded, and the audience collectively dissents.
“We don’t know each other well enough yet. My feelings for you aren’t there yet. Give me some more time,” she says and, looking around at the waiting faces, she sighs. “The answer is no,” she concedes.
The amount of hate she got after the game, leaving with her boyfriend, was shocking. Slurs and popcorn got thrown at her several times, from the climb back up the stairs, to the walk through the inside of building, to the car. And through it all, her boyfriend said nothing but the occasional face-to-face or behind-the-back insult at the expense of those haters.
It made her feel quite alone. Perhaps she had made the right decision… They hopped in the car, and she looked at him silently, wanting to speak. But he busied himself in the driver’s seat, not looking at her. So she simply looked forward, buckled up, and let him drive them away.