photo by Joe Mazza and Brave Lux

Monday, May 4, 2015

The First Yes

The First Yes
by Jacob Juntunen

for Russ Tutterow

SARAH: A woman
DAVID: A man

Setting:
Empty stage.

(SARAH enters.)

                                                            SARAH
Sarah walked out into her backyard hours before anyone arrived. She wondered if she should have said no to David. But, looking around at the lawn and trees, she remembered everything that had happened there. Two Golden Retrievers buried.  The dog houses David had made for them, scrap lumber in the shed now. Ava jumping through sprinklers during toddler summers. Catching Ava climbing out her window during her teenage rebellion. And all the nights Sarah had come outside to look at the stars to find inspiration for her poems. She was a city girl, and the stars out here were always a revelation. But was it worth it? Was all this worth it just because she said yes to David all those years ago? Later that night, after people did arrive, she tried to put the question out of her head and to focus on David’s poetry. Even Ava came home from college, missing her finals week. Once they were all there, milling on the lawn with glasses of Sarah’s signature mint julep, ice clinking gently in the quiet conversations, Sarah stood up on the deck and addressed them.

“Thank you all so much for coming out on this beautiful night to celebrate the release of David’s new book,” she said. “When we got married, there was a sign over our heads that said, ‘And their legacy shall be books.’ We didn’t even notice it at the time, but our photographer captured it, and it encapsulated our marriage. We all know this book is a special one for David. And most of you know I didn’t want him at this party tonight. Maybe I should have never said yes to him.” She didn’t mean to voice that question.

(DAVID enters.)

                                                            DAVID
A couple months earlier, David came out in the yard to try to get some peace.

                                                            SARAH
“You can’t just walk out in mid-conversation!”

                                                            DAVID
“I thought we were done.”

                                                            SARAH
“Apparently that’s what you want. To just be done with us.”

                                                            DAVID
“It doesn’t seem like I have a choice.”

                                                            SARAH
“Of course you have a choice.”

                                                            DAVID
“That’s not what I heard the doctor say.”

                                                            SARAH
“But your CEA count was dropping and—”

                                                            DAVID
“It’s spread to my kidneys, Sarah.”

                                                            SARAH
“So there’s dialysis and—”

                                                            DAVID
“And Lorazepam to stay chill, and morphine for the pain, and chemo for the—”

                                                            SARAH
“That’s right. There’s all that. And me. And Ava. What are you going to tell Ava?” Ava was a senior in college, two states away, in a great liberal arts college, while David and I plugged away teaching comp at our big state school, stealing time to write poetry. For this tired, tiring, tiresome life with him I had said yes?

                                                            DAVID
But we were both tenured.

                                                            SARAH
And we owned the house.

                                                            DAVID
And we could come out and look at the stars together.

                                                            SARAH
We thought we’d get another dog. There should have been time for at least one more. Maybe two.

                                                            DAVID
But now… What was I going to tell Ava? “What am I going to tell Ava?”

                                                            SARAH
“Tell her you’re not giving up.” It was just a few years ago we were standing in this yard after we got her safely off to college.

                                                            DAVID
We packed up her stuff in our decades-old Volvo—

                                                            SARAH
It’s why we never got rid of the station wagon. They’re bottomless.

                                                            DAVID
And we drove her to that great, beautiful, little school in the middle of nowhere.

                                                            SARAH
Only three thousand students, all dedicated, literate, lovely—

                                                            DAVID
“I can’t believe she picked another cornfield state to live in.”

                                                            SARAH
“You’re just going to have to get over it.”

                                                            DAVID
“But the diversity you get in an urban setting—”

                                                            SARAH
“She’s in the dorm. It’s done.”

                                                            DAVID
“At least Erin is the head of creative writing there.”

                                                            SARAH
“Ava isn’t going to be a creative writer.”

                                                            DAVID
“I know, but we can have Erin check in on her.”

                                                            SARAH
“We’re not going to be those parents.”

                                                            DAVID
“I’m going to be whatever kind of parent I want.”

                                                            SARAH
“One of those parents that calls the Dean to get a grade change?”

                                                            DAVID
“Sure.”

                                                            SARAH
“You will not.”

                                                            DAVID
“Did you see her roommate?”

                                                            SARAH
“Everyone’s first year roommate is crazy. It’s part of the experience.”

                                                            DAVID
“I’m going to call Ava tonight and make sure everything is okay.”

                                                            SARAH
“She needs to get away from us right now.”

                                                            DAVID
“If she needs a new roommate, we need to get on that right away.”

                                                            SARAH
“She’ll call us if she needs anything.”

                                                            DAVID
“Are you saying I can’t call my daughter?”

                                                            SARAH
“Oh, she’s your daughter now? Because I seem to recall carrying her around for nine months without any help from you.”

                                                            DAVID
“I drove you to the OB-GYN.”

                                                            SARAH
He did. It was sweet. He came to every appointment with me.

                                                            DAVID
It was our baby—

                                                            SARAH
—he said. Every ultrasound, every sonogram, every scare, every first, he was there, sitting in some chair off to the side that the nurse provided. Everything was different after we saw that first sonogram. As soon as we got home, David ran into the backyard. “Come back inside!”

                                                            DAVID
“I had no idea they could do sonograms so early!”

                                                            SARAH
“Come inside. Let’s sit.”

                                                            DAVID
“We should get a dog, now, so it will be trained by the time the kid’s born. We can’t just call it ‘the kid.’ What should we call it?”

                                                            SARAH
“The brat?”

                                                            DAVID
“It looked like the gem on top of a ring.”

                                                            SARAH
“Our little gem.”

                                                            DAVID
“We need to start saving for its college— We can’t say ‘its college.’”

                                                            SARAH
“His or her college?”

                                                            DAVID
“Verbose.”

                                                            SARAH
“But accurate.”

                                                            DAVID
“We can call it our little gem.”

                                                            SARAH
“Soon enough we’ll know the sex.”

                                                            DAVID
“I need to get life insurance, maybe an IRA—”

                                                            SARAH
“Hold on, hold on— A dog, life insurance, savings—?”

                                                            DAVID
“We’ve got to get ready.”

                                                            SARAH
“Yeah. Prenatal vitamins, Lamaze classes—”

                                                            DAVID
“I’ve got to take care of our little gem’s future.”

                                                            SARAH
“A gem like a little star inside me.”

                                                            DAVID
“Stars are just dead light shining down on us. God willing, our little gem will outlast us. Our gem is our legacy.”

                                                            SARAH
So it was natural that he’d worry with her at college. I did, too. We got the life insurance. We saved. We drove her to the little ivory tower in the middle of cornfields.

                                                            DAVID
And I would call her whenever I wanted.

                                                            SARAH
He didn’t though.

                                                            DAVID
I didn’t. That first night, I wanted to, all night.

                                                            SARAH
But he knew she’d call us if she needed anything.

                                                            DAVID
I knew that she wasn’t scared to ask us for help.

                                                            SARAH
That first August night she was at college, we stood in the backyard, arms around each other, feeling one with the fireflies and stars—

                                                            DAVID
And mosquitos.

                                                            SARAH
This is why my poetry sells better than yours.

                                                            DAVID
Whatever.

                                                            SARAH
Yours is too dark.

                                                            DAVID
It’s accurate.

                                                            SARAH
And the house was so quiet without Ava. Quiet for the first time in eighteen years. Like the house had released a sigh and was now breathing so softly we couldn’t even hear it. We sat in silence for a long while. Then he said:

                                                            DAVID
“Maybe we should get a dog.”

                                                            SARAH
“Let’s wait a few years. I’m still not over Russ.”

                                                            DAVID
And then—

                                                            SARAH
—years later—

                                                            DAVID
—I was glad we didn’t get that dog. Because even though the last time we saw the doctor my CEA count was dropping, this time we learned that it had spread to my kidneys, and, I hadn’t told Sarah, but the morphine wasn’t working anymore. And I didn’t know what to tell Ava.

                                                            SARAH
“You can’t stop treatment. It’s Ava’s senior year. You want to see her graduate don’t you?”

                                                            DAVID
“Don’t be an idiot.”

                                                            SARAH
“Don’t call me an idiot.”

                                                            DAVID
“Then don’t be a bitch.”

                                                            SARAH
“Fuck you!”

                                                            DAVID
“The chemo’s not working! Dialysis isn’t going to fix the problem! Morphine isn’t keeping me from feeling pain in my kidneys! Jesus, God, I didn’t even know you could feel pain in your kidneys! So I will call Ava and tell her it’s taken a turn for the worse, and she better tell her professors that she’s going to have to come home at some point before finals to visit her father in the hospice!”

                                                            SARAH
“The doctor didn’t say anything about a hospice.”

                                                            DAVID
“Sarah. That’s where this is going.”

                                                            SARAH
For this? For this I said yes? “Well, then, we should get Ava out of school right away, go somewhere maybe, that European trip we never took—”

                                                            DAVID
“I want to finish my book.”

                                                            SARAH
“So finish it in Europe.”

                                                            DAVID
“I’m in pain from morn to midnight. I don’t want to be on an airplane for eight hours. I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to sit in this yard with you nights, and get my poems done. It’ll be the first time I turn in a manuscript early. My publisher will drop dead.”

                                                            SARAH
“We need to talk to the doctor about all the options.”

                                                            DAVID
“I need you to read my proofs. It’s going to be shit if I don’t have my regular in-house editor.”

                                                            SARAH
“We’ll see.” But of course I said yes.

                                                            DAVID
It’s how our lives had been for decades.

                                                            SARAH
Teaching five paragraph essay structure during the day.

                                                            DAVID
Writing our snatches of verse—

                                                            SARAH
—not really verse. No one writes verse anymore.

                                                            DAVID
Writing our snatches of writing that self-consciously comments on its own literary qualities—

                                                            SARAH
Ugly.

                                                            DAVID
But accurate.

                                                            SARAH
I’m leaving a question mark by it.

                                                            DAVID
And, at night, sitting outside. Under the stars.

                                                            SARAH
Until our uninvited guests showed up.

                                                            DAVID
Blood in the urine.

                                                            SARAH
Lower back pain.

                                                            DAVID
A lump.

                                                            SARAH
Anemia and fatigue.

                                                            DAVID
Weight loss, loss of appetite, fevers, and Ava knew.

                                                            SARAH
I never knew what David told her, exactly. But he called her. And she came, even though it was finals week of her senior year. She said she didn’t care. She needed to be in that backyard with her Dad. Alongside so many of his admirers. Past students, other poets, even fans, if you can believe poets still have fans in the twenty-first century. And I stood on the deck and told them:

“We all know this book is a special one for David. And most of you know I didn’t want him at this party tonight. Maybe I should have never said yes to him: never said yes to helping him finish this book, never said yes to taking jobs at this university, never said yes to anything, ever, in the first place, let alone saying yes to this party. I wanted him in the hospice, where they could take care of him, not outside, in the cold—”

                                                            DAVID
Though it was a warm, early summer night—

                                                            SARAH
And as I was speaking, trying to give him the best introduction I could before he read from his new, rather his last, book—

                                                            DAVID
It was the ending we’d all seen coming from the beginning. That we should have seen coming from the first yes.

                                                            SARAH
—he quietly slipped away. In the dark. Under the stars. Surrounded by friends, by Ava, and, yes, even by the mosquitos. It was accurate. It was an accurate end. And I couldn’t read his lines, they blurred before my eyes—Ava would read her father’s words out loud later, both his legacies rolled into one breath—but before she did, I told the crowd about how, after dating for two months, in grad school, getting our MFAs, how he told me:

                                                            DAVID
“Our children would have brown hair.”

                                                            SARAH
“Okay—too soon.”

                                                            DAVID
“It’s just accurate. Genetics.”

                                                            SARAH
“This is a summer thing. I have my Fulbright. I’m going to be gone for a year, working at the Biblioth√®que nationale—”

                                                            DAVID
“But I’m the man of your dreams.”

                                                            SARAH
“God, that would be awful.”

                                                            DAVID
“Why?”

                                                            SARAH
“Because it would mean I would dream of you the whole time we’re apart.”

                                                            DAVID
“And I’ll dream of you the whole year you’re gone. You know it’s true. Take my hand. Let’s shake on it. We’ll dream only of each other.”

(DAVID holds out his hand. SARAH hesitates.)

                                                            SARAH
This is where I could have said no. But it was already too late.

(SARAH shakes hands with DAVID.)

                                                            SARAH (cont.)
“Yes. Let’s do that.”


(Blackout.)