The first New Year’s Eve I can remember, I was six years old and spending the night at the home of my grandparents’ friends, where a big party was taking place. The other children and I agreed to go to bed at a reasonable hour, but only by exacting a promise that we would be awakened just before midnight and allowed to try champagne. We were so excited we could hardly fall asleep, but when the grown-ups came to wake us and usher us downstairs, we were groggy and grumpy and our feet were cold. I stood yawning and swaying in a sea of backsides and bellies while the crowd roared and someone pressed a plastic glass with an inch of champagne into my little fist. I dutifully took a sip, choked, and had a coughing fit while the grown-ups laughed. I thought, I left my warm bed for THIS???
Since then, I’ve spent New Year’s Eves at bars, in restaurants, at friends’ homes, and on my own sofa. One year in a Chicago bar, a drunk next to me wept onto my shoulder because he really really wanted to write a short story, he said, but every time he wrote anything, it came out as a poem. Another year, at a party, someone spiked the punch with Everclear and by midnight all of us were drunk to the point of hallucinating and cramming ourselves in layers into the hostess’s bathroom because, we insisted, that way we would always remember just where we’d been at midnight.
There was the New Year’s Eve that I, two months pregnant, threw up into a snowbank as my husband and I stood on the snowclad shores of a lake and listened to people firing guns into the air on the opposite shore. There was the New Year’s Eve four days after my father died when I sat, still stunned with grief, in my grandparents’ Chicago living room and dully watched the ball descend in Times Square on TV. There was the New Year’s Eve when my son was just five months old and not yet sleeping through the night, and there was no way I was staying up until midnight when I would have to nurse him two hours before and again two hours after.
Last year, we were at a small dinner party. Near midnight, we all crowded into the kitchen around a small television and chatted while my son and the hosts’ daughter sat with their faces inches from the small screen. At one point the girl, then eight, turned impatiently to watch the grown-ups laughing and talking and paying little attention to the action in Times Square, and said feverishly, “I can’t believe you’re all standing around like it’s NOTHING!!!!”
I didn’t ask her, once the ball had dropped and we had all cheered and clinked glasses, if the final denouement was as disappointing to her as it had been to my young self, all those years ago. I don’t know what I thought would happen back then. I think I expected that at the stroke of midnight the world—and I—would suddenly feel different. Like Cinderella, only hopefully in reverse: pumpkins turning into carriages and rags into gowns.
Is New Year’s Eve what we make of it? Or is it what we don’t? I find that the New Year’s Eves when I have tried to set out to have a Great Time have often been tiring and disappointing. The ones that come as they will, that are what they are, are often quietly moving.
This year, we have no big plans. It’s possible we won’t all still be awake at midnight, though I expect to be. I’m looking for some closure on some of the challenges of the past year—or at least some closure on my feelings about them. Time to write it all down, the stuff I’m ready to say farewell to, and send the scraps of paper up in smoke in a roaring fire. Time to write it all out, the stuff I’m moving toward, to make a vision for my future that I can hold as I move into 2009.
Wherever you are, however this New Year’s Eve finds you, may it find you at peace with what is behind you. And may it find you ready and rested and exhilarated over what is yet to come.