new year's eve with gift, clock, candle

The Eves

It is 1963, and the very first New Year’s Eve that I can remember. I’ve recently turned four, and I am one of a handful of kids sleeping over at the Aronstein’s’ house, where my grandparents are attending a fancy grown-up party. The Aronstein’s have a new dog, a mop of a puppy, who both charms and terrifies me. I am afraid he will bite me. I am afraid of a lot of things: dogs, dragonflies, other children, the dark, and most especially people in wheelchairs or on crutches, because I think the appliances are parts of their bodies and that they are mutants. We kids were sent to sleep hours ago, but we all rallied together and insisted we be woken up just before midnight. So here we all are, swaying sleepily in our pajamas, in what seems like an enormous room full of hundreds of people, though surely it was a normal-sized house and there were, at best, a couple dozen guests. I am tall for my age, but all I can see is a sea of asses—some in dress slacks, some in dresses. Someone thrusts a glass with a tiny amount of champagne in it. I taste it and wrinkle my nose in disgust. The exhaustion. The bitter champagne. The butts. I think to myself that New Year’s Eve is highly overrated and vow never to celebrate it again.

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It’s 1978, and I am at a party where someone has spiked the punch with Everclear, and we are all of us drunk out of our minds. Someone slurringly hypothesizes that nobody ever remembers exactly where they were at the stroke of midnight on any particular New Year’s Eve. While this later proves to be spectacularly untrue for me and many others, at the time and in our collective inebriated state, we are convinced of its profundity and so are all trying to fit into the hostess’s tiny downstairs powder room on the theory that in future years, we can say with conviction that when 1978 turned into 1979, we were in Judy Taylor’s bathroom. It’s hard to say which is more remarkable: how many people we were able to fit into the bathroom, or the fact that none of us seemed to care about the fact that at least one person was puking into the toilet.

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1981. I am at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Chicago with a group of girlfriends, women I worked with when I’d lived in the city and was a proofreader for the stupidly enormous law firm of Mayer, Brown and Platte. I no longer live in Chicago. I’ve left the city to finish my last two years of college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and I’ve just—days before—slept with and in the process fallen for the man who will eventually become my husband. I am giddy and glowing and as drunk on margaritas and love as any walking cliché, and I don’t care for a moment. “Wow, he’s really the one!” one of my friends exclaims, thrilled for me. He was, for decades. Until he wasn’t. I don’t know yet that this will, in retrospect, become one of the most bittersweet of my Eves.

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1986. My father has died, unexpectedly at age 52, four days before. My husband and I are still staying with my grandparents in Chicago while I wander the streets, stunned and numb, hoping to feel even remotely like myself again so I can go home and begin the business of truly grieving. We are sitting with my grandparents, all of us stone silent, watching Dick Clark. The ball drops. I think we toast, or hug, or something. I never like watching Dick Clark again.

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It’s 1988, and my husband and I are out with good friends with whom we’ve celebrated other New Year’s Eves. This time, we’ve gone to a local steakhouse for dinner, had far too much to drink, and are now in the restaurant’s bar, dancing. My husband and I show off our recently learned jitterbug moves and get light applause from the crowd. Because our friends have a long drive home, they stay at our house overnight. The wife feels sick once we get there, but refuses to move from the floor, where she is curled in a fetal position in front of our fireplace. We finally give up, put a pillow under her head, and go to bed. By the next New Year’s Eve, I will be mostly bedridden, certainly housebound, and curled up in a similar position on our kitchen floor, scared I will never recover and sobbing to the point of shuddering hiccups. I’d like to say this is ironic, but I have a theory that a lot of people spend New Year’s Eves in fetal positions, including, of course, actual fetuses. Speaking of which….

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It’s 1999, and I’m first-trimester pregnant. Y2K fear is high, and we are at our cabin on Lake Michigan, in part because it is our tradition over the holidays and in part because we figure a place supplied by well water and fueled by propane isn’t a bad place to be if the fear mongers are correct and every computer all over the world is going to seize up and die at midnight. I’ve recreated the elaborate bacon-covered nachos and dip recipe from the Mexican restaurant where we’d held our honeymoon, and, with me on the guitar and my husband on fiddle, we’ve played and sung “Auld Lang Syne” slowly and sweetly several times to each other. We bundle up and head outside to the snow-covered bluff, where we can see the lights twinkling across the mouth of the bay, and the lighthouse. We know when it’s the stroke of midnight because, in these rural parts, people fire their guns into the air to celebrate, and we can hear the far-off shots. Y2K has happened and the world does not appear to have ended. I, however, am struck with a wave of pregnancy- and nachos-induced nausea, and vomit into a snowbank. Puke seems to figure prominently among the Eves.

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It’s 2000, and our son is five months old and the love of my life, but there is no fucking way I am ringing in the New Year at midnight. We’re in the very same cabin that is our haven, but my son wants to nurse almost non-stop and will only sleep on top of a person, which means my husband and I take turns being human mattresses. My son only sleeps about three or four hours straight, which means that when he goes to sleep, whether it’s eight or nine or ten, I simply must also or I will continue to do things like put my keys in the freezer and pour orange juice into giant cereal bowls. The rest of the night goes by in a blur. At some point, my husband tiptoes into the bedroom and videotapes me sleeping with the baby, which I find both sweet and also a little creepy.

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2007. We are at a New Year’s Eve gathering at the home of dear friends who are also possibly the best dinner party hosts I’ve ever met. We’ve had liberally poured cocktails and an elaborate and impeccable dinner, and are now crowded into the kitchen, where there’s a small TV on the marble island. Dick Clark, post-stroke, is no longer on the air except in very limited guest capacity, and we’re not really paying attention anyway, we’re just waiting for the ball to drop. My son and our hosts’ daughter, Bess, are almost nose to nose with the television—this will become THEIR first New Year’s Eve memory. At one point, exasperated by the fact that we’re all continuing to chat, Bess turns to us and cries out, “How can you all just stand there like NOTHING IS HAPPENING????”

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2015. I am sleepy and have agreed to get up at 4 am to meet the man in my life at a Starbucks some 30 minutes away, where we will watch the sun rise over the lake across the street and share hopes and intentions for the coming year. My son, now 15 and far more interested in texting his friends or playing music in his room than hanging with his mom, has been mostly upstairs or down while I’ve read on the sofa. In a few minutes, near midnight, I will insist that he join me, watch the ball drop, and give me a Happy New Year hug. We may or may not toast; we are both drinking carbonated water out of plastic bottles and the dull thud feels like it will be less than festive, if heartfelt. It is both an ordinary evening like many, many others—me doing my thing in the living room, him doing his thing elsewhere—and also very much not. There will be two more New Year’s Eves before he graduates from high school, and I’m not convinced I’ll spend either one of them with him. One year, maybe even this year, it will turn out to be the last.

P.S. Neither of us puked. This is going to be a good year!

 

Photo: “Christmas e-mail greeting” (Free photobank www.tOrange.us) / CC BY 4.0

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