The Year of Yesby Maria Dahvana Headley
Like many young people everywhere, playwright Maria Headley had had her fill of terrible dates. Discouraged and looking for love, she decided the time had come for her to eliminate her own (clearly not adequately discriminating) taste from the equation. Instead -- as she vowed to her roommates one frustrated
A funny, poignant memoir recounting a year of saying yes
Like many young people everywhere, playwright Maria Headley had had her fill of terrible dates. Discouraged and looking for love, she decided the time had come for her to eliminate her own (clearly not adequately discriminating) taste from the equation. Instead -- as she vowed to her roommates one frustrated morning -- she would date every person who asked her out for an entire year, regardless of circumstances. It would be her Year of Yes.
Leaving her judgment and predispositions at the door, our heroine ventured into a world suddenly brimming with opportunity and found herself saying yes to:
- The Microsoft Millionaire who still lived with his mom.
- An actor she had previously sworn off as gay.
- And finally the significantly older man, divorced with kids, who she never would have looked at twice before the Year of Yes -- and to whom she is now happily married.
Hilariously funny and ultimately inspirational, The Year of Yes will appeal to every person who has turned down a date for the wrong reason.
- Hachette Books
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.20(w) x 10.86(h) x 0.67(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
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THE YEAR OF YESa memoir
By Maria Dahvana Headley
HYPERIONCopyright © 2006 Maria Dahvana Headley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA DAY IN THE LIFE OF A NAYSAYER IN WHICH OUR HEROINE DECIDES TO START SAYING YES ...
That woman speaks eighteen languages, and can't say "no" in any of them.
IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT THAT YOU ARE YOUNG, FEMALE, AND APPALLINGLY, POSSIBLY UNATTRACTIVELY, WELL READ. You grew up in a small town in Idaho, but now you live in New York City, the most exciting and romantic place in the country, and feasibly in the world. According to the literature you're choosing to apply to your current situation (you've carefully forgotten that you ever read Last Exit to Brooklyn), you are supposed to be wearing sequins to breakfast and getting your hand kissed by a heterosexual version of Cole Porter. Incandescently intelligent men are supposed to be toasting you with Dom Perignon. Instead, you're sharing a cockroach-ridden outer-borough apartment with two roommates and one dysfunctional cat. You're spending your evenings sitting on your kitchen floor, drinking poisonous red jug wine, and quoting Sartre. Hell is not only other people, it is you, too. You're not getting laid, because even if you were meeting something other than substandard men, you don't have a bedroom to call your own. And instead ofthe smoldering, soul-baring, Abelard-to-Heloise-sans-castration solicitations you rightfully deserve, you're getting stupefying lines like: "I'm listening to NPR. Do you want to come over and make out?"
That would be a direct quote.
Let me back up. Seven A.M. on February 14th, and I was lying on my lumpy mattress, alone again. The noises of NYC had ceased to metamorphose into the hopeful bird trills and tender love songs I'd imagined when I'd first arrived, a year before, and instead sounded like what they were: garbage trucks, honking horns, and the occasional cockroach scuttle. Granted, my last doomed relationship had been significantly more crow than canary, and more Nirvana than Sinatra. Still, it was Valentine's Day, and I was considering a backslide. It didn't matter that ceasing communication with my most recent disaster, Martyrman, an actor twice my age and half my maturity, had unquestionably been the right decision. It didn't matter how many times I told myself that I was the brainwashed victim of propaganda created by sugar lobbyists in order to engender mass consumption of chocolate. Waking up on February 14th without someone to love was depressing.
I was becoming convinced that I was going to be lonely for the rest of my life. It wasn't that I wasn't meeting men. I was. It was just that they all drove me crazy. I was not a member of a modern-day Algonquin Round Table, populated with the pretty, witty, and wise, as I'd moved to New York envisioning I'd be. Instead, I was a denizen of something more along the lines of the Holiday Inn Card Table, populated with the zitty, twitty, and morally compromised. I wasn't yet to the point of Dorothy Parker's infamous quote-"Ducking for apples. Change one letter and it's the story of my life."-but that was only because I didn't have time to approach my own bed, let alone anyone else's. The main problem of living in the city that never slept was that neither did I.
When I got home from my usual exhausting day of racing uptown and downtown between classes at NYU and my various temp jobs, all I did was crumple up on my mattress, muttering to myself and reading books that made my problems worse. The night before, for example, when the front neighbor's lullaby of sternum-thumping bass had made it clear to me that I wouldn't be sleeping, I'd picked up Prometheus Bound. Reading Aeschylus had thrown me into a waking nightmare of being stretched on a rock, my liver plucked at by rapacious turtledoves.
Somewhere nearby, someone was practicing an aria from The Ring Cycle. Whoever was singing Brunhilde was flat. Worse than that, someone small, soprano, and canine was singing harmony, sharp. My downstairs neighbor, Pierre LaValle, had started his daily apartment sanitization process. For someone with linoleum floors, the man had an unhealthy relationship with his vacuum. Add to this the revival tent set up at the end of the adjacent block, the house party two buildings down, and the fact that the back neighbor's illegal psycho rooster couldn't tell headlights from sunlight, and the night was pretty much a wash.
The opera singer switched to "what's Love Got to Do With It?" The canine backup started in on a rousing counterpoint of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun." I let fury course through my veins. My sleep deprivation was partially my own fault, admittedly, but since I hadn't had a good time the night before, I was blaming it on everyone else.
I'd arrived home at 3:00 A.M., having spent the evening with a fellow New York University student. We'd eaten Korean barbeque, discussed Kierkegaard, and split the check in half, despite the fact that he'd eaten four times more than I. He'd then tried, and failed, to wheedle the traditionally clad waitress's phone number from her "perfectly symmetrical lips." At the subway, he'd given me a rubbery smooch on the cheek and told me he thought we'd really had a meeting of the minds.
I levered the window open and stuck my hungover head outside. Everything looked bleak. I felt disturbingly Steinbeckian, as though, at any moment, I might find myself begging my roommates to "tell me about the rabbits." My life was a great big fat NO. It wasn't like I didn't want to be happy. It just seemed that happiness was eluding me.
My landlady, Gamma, was standing outside in our Astroturfed courtyard, feeding a pack of feral cats a platter of shriveled hot dogs. Gamma's six-year-old granddaughters, the twins, were sharing a ketchup-covered hot dog with a notch-eared tabby. One bite to each child, one to the tomcat. Gamma was not known for her vigilance.
"Probably rain," Gamma announced.
"Probably flood," I said. Never mind the clear skies. I was embracing pessimism.
"World's ending sometime next week," Gamma informed me. Gamma liked to talk about only two things: the Apocalypse and the Weather Channel. One of the twins gave a war whoop, and pitched the rest of the hot dog at my window. It landed inches from my face and slid down the building. The twins shrieked with mirth.
"What do you think you're laughing about?" demanded Gamma, and herded them indoors. It was clear from the rear view that one of the twins had wet her pants in the excitement. This was my home. These were my neighbors, the urban equivalents of the hicks I'd been desperate to leave behind in my home state of Idaho. Give Gamma and company a little more space, and they'd have had a few rusted-out cars, some scrabbly hounds, and a stockpile of The Book of Mormon. I'd thought things would be different here. No.
"NO," I SAID, TO THE WORLD AT LARGE. "No. No. No." I thought that maybe if I chanted it enough times, all the aggravating things in my life would stumble away into oblivion. Then I'd be free to have the existence I wanted, something much more glamorous and gratifying.
The "no" was nothing new. It had, after all, been the first word I'd ever spoken. There were photos of me, posing prissily as an infant, my arms crossed over my chest, and a look of pointed fury on my face. By the time I was two, the initial no had become a string of nyets, neins, and the occasional sarcastic ha! I'd swiftly learned to read, and books had been the end of any social aptitude I might have possessed. I'd retreated from whatever unsatisfactory experience was coming my way, be it hamburgers (I was, from birth, vegetarian) or PE class (steadfast refusal to play for anyone but myself caused issues with team sports), a volume of something clenched firmly in my hand. My mother maintains that I wasn't rude, but I think about the kind of child I must have been, interspersing meows (my cats were my only real friends, and I'd developed an unfortunate nervous tic that caused me to meow in stressful situations) with the vocabulary of a seventeenth-century noblewoman, and I do not know how I survived my childhood. Time was spent in both Special Education and Gifted and Talented programs.
From a second grade report card: "Maria has a good sense of humor, but doesn't tend toward social interaction and instead just laughs to herself. She could also use some supervision when it comes to her school clothes."
I'd learned to use a sewing machine at the age of seven. Sometimes I came to school dressed in quilt fragments and safety-pinned togas.
In high school, I got in massive trouble during an assembly, because I'd laughed at soon-to-be-elected Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, who'd pleaded ignorance of her own policies. I was not the only person in opposition (Chenoweth turned out to be embarrassing even to the Republicans-in 1996, when her GOP primary opponent stripped nearly naked during a televised interview, and spent the month prior to the election in a psych ward, he still got 32 percent of the vote), but I was the only one dumb enough to think that everyone else would laugh, too. Moreover, I was, alas, sitting in the front row, wearing a ruffled orange frock and purple combat boots. When Chenoweth started crying, her cohort, Senator Larry Craig, shook his finger in my face and told me that I was a "very, very bad girl." It was a familiar theme. The only thing that kept me from being expelled was my friend Ira petitioning the principal with the suggestion that I was "a little bit retarded." My mode of existence obviously didn't work for everyone, and half the time it didn't work for me, either, but I was resigned. It was how I was made. I was a protestor. I was such a protestor that I regularly protested things that might have been good for me.
When I'd moved to New York, after high school, I'd begun to suddenly, miraculously, sort of fit in. Unfortunately, I'd said no to so many things that I wasn't sure how to say yes anymore. This was problematic, considering that what I'd thought I'd wanted had turned out to be a shifting target, and that every day, the city gave me new things to say yes to, things I'd resoundingly denied in the past. My nos had begun to tremble, particularly in the dating category. I'd tentatively started saying yes, but it had turned out that my judgment of who to bestow my yeses upon was deeply flawed. After a year in New York City, I'd dated plenty of people, but none that had even come close to whatever I thought my ideal was. That was the other problem. I was looking for something different, but I didn't know what it was.
Certainly nothing that was outside my window. Across the way, I could see my neighbors wandering around half-naked. It seemed that everyone in my neighborhood was always in a state of unappealing undress. Not only that, they were always screaming at each other, even at 7:00 in the morning.
"Please be quiet," ! whispered, not just to the neighbors, but to the whole damned city. "Please, just let me sleep." And for a moment, peace. I closed my eyes. I tucked myself back into bed.
I'd never been a person who could just let a telephone ring. I always thought that the person on the other end might be someone I'd been dying to talk to for my entire life. Say, William Shakespeare calling from beyond the grave. Never mind that this had never happened. Lately, it had been the Sears collection department, searching for another Maria Headley, who owed them $15,000. She'd apparently binged on appliances, and was even now hidden in some dank cave full of stand mixers. Even though I wasn't the right Maria, I always ended up talking to Sears for at least half an hour. I'd grown up on one of the last party lines in the known universe, and phone privileges still seemed precious to me.
"Good morning!" I trilled. It wouldn't do to have Will Shakespeare thinking I was cranky. Particularly on Valentine's Day. What if he thought I preferred Kit Marlowe? I suspected that the last good man on the planet had died 413 years before I was born, but some part of me was still waiting for Mr. Shakespeare to whisper some sweet iambic pentameter into my ear.
Alas, no. Instead, I heard the husky voice of the Director, an acquaintance from a writing workshop I'd attended the year before. The Director was in his mid-forties and divorced. He was an intelligent person, with extensive knowledge of two thousand years of theater history. There was just one problem. Sweater vests. I couldn't date a man who wore sweater vests, any more than I could date a man who was a mime. Everybody had phobias. Sweater vests threw me back, not to my charming grandpa, as they would some people, but to my skeezy high school geometry teacher, who had recently gone on trial for attempting to calculate the surface area of his female students' breasts. (My phobia of mimes was simpler: I was a playwright, and words were my business. I took miming as a personal insult, but more on that later ...)
The Director, with his sweater vests, with his husky voice, was not my first choice for someone I wanted to speak to at 7:30 in the morning. I liked him, but I didn't like him like that. We were supposed to see a play that night, and he was suggesting we meet up earlier. I said sure, but that I was still in my pajamas. He said he was really looking forward to seeing me, I said great and tried to say good-bye, and then, something went very wrong.
"I'm listening to NPR," he suddenly stammered. "Do you want to come over and make out?"
Well. I was finally going nuts. It was about time. Other people in my family were nuts. Why had I thought I'd been skipped?
"I didn't quite hear you," I said, just to make sure I was really losing it.
"I'm listening to NPR," the Director repeated. "Do you want to come over and make out?"
It wasn't a delusion. He'd offered me a radio rendezvous. Making out to Morning Edition. I had one question.
WHOSE LIFE WAS THIS?
"Is it for me?" yelled my roommate Victoria, but I didn't respond. I was itemizing the things I'd said to the Director that might have caused him to think that National Public Radio turned me on. I could think of nothing. I liked public radio, of course. Who didn't? But my attraction was strictly platonic.
A TINY LITTLE EXISTENTIAL CRISIS BEGAN TO NIBBLE AT THE BACK OF MY LEFT EYEBALL. Maybe it had been there for a while, and I just hadn't noticed it. My life left little time for reflection, given that my typical day involved rising at 5:30 A.M. to write a paper I'd inevitably forgotten, flying to the subway in order to get to NYU in time to attend an 8:00 A.M. lecture, where I'd usually fall asleep, flinging myself onto the train again for five or six hours of midtown temping, then a mad dash downtown for a few more hours of classes. I'd get home, write half a play, then go out again for a rehearsal until midnight, at which point I'd return home, write some more, and fall into bed for my usual three hours of sleep. I was fried. Most of my energy was spent on surviving, and I filled in the gaps in my nights with a series of unsuccessful love affairs.
At some point, my dissatisfaction had hit critical mass, and things had started to overflow. The Director didn't really deserve my contempt. He was probably just trying to woo me in some new and intellectually stimulating way, but the result of his comment was an extreme allergic reaction. NPR? What had I done to make the Director think he could get into my pants with NPR? I knew some kinky people, but I didn't know anyone who'd spread her legs for Car Talk.
I needed coffee, I needed sleep, and I needed better judgment when it came to men. In the scant year I'd lived in New York City, I'd accumulated a sheaf of romantic failures roughly comparable in length to Remembrance of Things Past. There were entire genres of food I now had to avoid as a result of Proust's madeleine effect; memories of bad dates that I didn't want to conjure up with an errant bite of ramen noodle. Because many of my worst debacles had occurred in dives misleadingly named Emerald Garden and the Cottage, I was having to avoid cheap Chinese food, normally a collegiate staple, altogether. Not to mention art house movie theaters, the NYU library, and basically all of Bleecker Street.
Excerpted from THE YEAR OF YES by Maria Dahvana Headley Copyright © 2006 by Maria Dahvana Headley. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Maria Dahvana Headley's work has been published in several anthologies and literary journals. Her plays have been developed at venues including the Kennedy Center and the Sundance Playlab. She lives in Seattle with her husband, playwright and screenwriter Robert Schenkkan, and her two stepkids.
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