Christmas, 2017 — At my company holiday party, my favorite coworker hands me a beautifully wrapped gift with a twinkle in his eye that reveals he is my secret Santa. I can tell it’s a book, and I’m thrilled. I rip it open to reveal a copy of Shonda Rhimes’ best-selling memoir Year Of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person.
She is a personal hero, and wildly successful. I’ve been looking for ways to shake myself out of my rut, both personally and professionally, and I believe this is just what I need. I’m also coming down from the stress high of planning a wedding and a honeymoon while chronically ill, so it’ll be nice to focus on some things that are just for me.
I decide that I am going to act against my usual knee-jerk “no” response to things, and embrace whimsy, opportunity, and fun.
January/February 2018 — Shonda says “Being traditional is not traditional anymore”. I take this to mean that I should eschew the rules of properly researching first-time home buying, and I jump headfirst into the process. Three weeks after opening Zillow for the first time ever, I close on a house.
Two weeks after that, while I am standing in the basement marvelling at my good fortune, the walls spontaneously catch on fire due to faulty wiring. I calculate exactly how much of my savings is going to be used up as I stand glued to my spot, watching my hanging laundry go up in flames.
March/April — Every time my husband tries to teach me about wine, his favorite interest, my eyes glaze over. In an attempt to learn something new and surprise my husband, I say yes when a friend of a friend invites me to choose a vintage bottle of bordeaux from his collection.
At dinner, the wine I excitedly presented an hour earlier makes my husband sick, and he passes out cold. When 911 arrives, paramedics prop him up and he squeezes my hand with his fingernails unusually hard, giving me a tiny cut. The cut becomes infected, and I contract cellulitis. Then I contract it again. The third time, it starts to spread to my lymph nodes, and I am hospitalized.
May/June — I go to a local fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. The venue is also hosting an open mic stand-up comedy night. The comedy is exceptionally bad. I sign my name to a list to receive email updates about future fundraisers, and go downstairs to the bar to grab my 4th drink of the night. I chug half a glass of wine and head back upstairs.
To my surprise, the list I signed is for performers. My name is called, and I’m encouraged to do a short stand up set, even though I didn’t mean to sign up. Remembering that I agreed to say yes to life, I do a short set. I am also exceptionally bad.
July/August — A friend finds an aggressive dog hiding under a car near my home. She knows we are interested in fostering, so she asks if we will take him in temporarily. I know I need to swallow my fear in order to impact my corner of the world, so I say yes. The dog bites us, friends, our furniture, another dog, and multiple pairs of shoes before he is adopted out. My savings takes yet another hit. Cellulitis-watch is back on.
My husband gently suggests I “talk to someone,” but I march on, convinced that if Shonda can turn down a marriage proposal from a man she loves, I can certainly take in a few more strays.
September/October — A pre-planned birthday trip to Las Vegas & Cuba for my husband’s 30th birthday starts off beautifully. I have made all of the appropriate arrangements to dazzle him, and he is glowing inside and out. After a glorious week in Vegas, and an impromptu trip to the Grand Canyon (more of that spontaneity I have come to love, despite it backfiring all year), we wait to board our flight to Cuba after a 24 hour layover in Atlanta.
I have not told my bank about this layover.
After too many attempts to get cash out for Cuba, my fraud alert is activated. We arrive in the country with nowhere close to enough money to make it through a week. All attempts to have it wired end in us getting banned from Western Union. The embassy tells us they can’t help us after our fourth visit. A desperate plea on social media to help us get cash prompts an 11th hour rescue mission involving a Norwegian cousin, a midnight ATM run from a woman in Santa Fe, and a driver convinced we are drug dealers who begs us not to do anything illegal.
On the way back the U.S., my husband tells me he is planning our next vacation and sends me a link for couples therapists that take our insurance.
November/December — The holidays are where I typically thrive. But after a year full of ups and downs, I remember that sometimes saying no to toxic situations is also a type of saying yes.
One morning, I politely tell my husband that I think it would be best to not have his mom stay with us over Christmas, as she has not forgiven me for getting her baby boy trapped in a foreign country. Convinced I was still in my Year of Yes, he’s invited her and his aunt to stay without checking with me. Dejected, I head into work, where I am encouraged to add a slip of paper with my name to a hat if I want to participate in Secret Santa.
I hastily scrawl my name, with a caveat: “No books, please.”