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Dropping Balls and Dread

New Year’s Eve has just never been high on my list of holidays. It isn’t a proper holiday like July 4th or Christmas or Easter or Thanksgiving, on which even though we may be celebrating based on an artificially contrived date (or a Pagan ritual) we are actually commemorating something. All we are recognizing on New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s day, for that matter, is the fact that humans created a calendar with an arbitrary number of days, after making up the whole “day” thing to begin with, and that after 365 or 366 of those artificial units of measure have passed, we start counting again. No signing, no dying, no rising, and no Pilgrims and Indians. It seems to me that celebrating New Year’s Eve is very much like celebrating crossing the state line into Indiana, or the fact that the Ramen noodles cook perfectly after 3 minutes. Why not have big parties celebrating the Winter Solstice, when something interesting and dramatic is actually happening in the physical world?

I would not object to the whole idea of New Year’s Eve were it not for the heavy expectations piled on top of this kind of random and contrived event. As a child, I was safe and happy on December 31st because my parents either hosted or attended some kind of party, and my brother and I enjoyed a festive evening with our Grammy Graham, eating contraband snacks, drinking sparkling cider and trying to stay up until the ball dropped. As a grown up and married person I am, again, in the safe harbor that comes with having a predictable date for the evening, and (best of all) knowing that we don’t have to do anything at all if we don’t want to; we can watch a “Cops” marathon, rent movies, order hot wings, or otherwise disport ourselves in an old and married manner. Sometimes, like tonight, we adjourn to the home of equally old and married people to drink a little, watch a talent show improvised by our children, and hug dear old friends at midnight after a conjugal kiss. All good.

In the valley between the rolling green peaks of childhood and my current situation lay the New Year’s Eve Danger Years, when I began to have panic attacks at the mere mention of the occasion some time around Thanksgiving. Would I have a date? Would I have somewhere to go? If I had a date, would it be good? What would I wear? What if I didn’t get asked to do anything? There was no sticking of heads in sand, either; every other radio ad was for a “bangin’ New Year’s Eve” party at some bar or another, and the paper had a full page of advertisements to lure people with cash and a passion for cheap champagne and rowdy crowds. Like Valentine’s Day (which I should hate just as much, but do not because I like hearts and pink stuff), New Year’s Eve became a giant, perpetual reminder that one should be doing something much better than she would be doing on any other December night, and that everyone else would be lounging lasciviously at the Hottest Party Ever with a drink in one hand and a bulging bicep in the other.

Here is a random sampling of what happened instead:

1978: A sophomore in high school, invited to spend the evening at the home of Guy I Really Liked. We made Chicken Marsala and watched TV. I had spent ages getting ready, imagining what might happen, hoping that he’d kiss me at midnight. He did not. Crushing disappointment entirely eclipsed pretty amusing evening.

1982: Invited to go out to a party at a bar by current but ambivalent boyfriend. Bought dress, tiny handbag and monstrous stilettos. I looked good, he looked good. Smoky, noisy, icky party with people throwing up in the bathrooms. Too much drinking. Back to my (parents’) house where I did get kissed, after which he threw up and passed out.

1985: House sitting at house that seemed perfect for sizzling rendezvous with current boyfriend. Cooked up a storm, bought champagne, dressed seductively. I made stuffed mushroom caps, for God’s sakes. Boyfriend (who had told me he loved stuffed mushroom caps) arrived un-hungry because he had “eaten at work.” Hated champagne. Started watching college football games, which he did until they were all over, during which time I worked myself up to the giant fight that occupied our time from 11:00 into the wee hours of the morning.

1987, 1988, 1999: Studying for law school exams which started bright and early the first week day after New Year’s Day. Studying with guy from New Year’s Eve 1982, still ambivalent, still no kiss at midnight.

1990, 1991: Alone in my apartment in Boston? Talking to the stranger who called me by mistake, really liked my voice and kept calling back to see if I’d have phone sex? So sad I buried it.

1992, 1993, 1994: Probably with my parents, or possibly taping the labels back into library books.

So you see. You see. It never worked out quite right, it was never all it was cracked up to be. I’m not all that bitter any more, just sort of sad that I wasted all that time and energy trying to make my life mesh with a reality that was…unreal.

The best New Year’s Eve ever? In 1996 I was pregnant, and on bed rest in the hospital where I had been since November 22. My husband (well, he wasn’t, yet, but only because my plans for a cute, empire-gowned wedding had been ruined by the fact that I was living in a bed with rails for the foreseeable future) brought takeout Chinese and we borrowed a video player from the Gray Ladies so we could watch movies. I was not allowed to get up and take a shower at that particular juncture, and I was wearing a nightgown. There was no perfume, no makeup, no heels, no glamour, no drinking, no party hats, no bands, just a couple waiting for a baby under rather stressful circumstances, having a great evening together ( interrupted occasionally by nurses with pills or blood pressure cuffs). Six days later, we were parents, and that, dear reader, is something to celebrate.

I will not wish for you magnums of champagne, high expectations or reams of resolutions. Instead, I hope that you observe the passing of a pretty ordinary winter’s night with peace and equanimity, enjoying the companionship of family or friends if there’s a celebration to be had, or a good meal and a good book if there isn’t. It’s just another night, really, a man-made benchmark that means nothing cosmic unless we choose to buy into the hype. Nothing is any different tomorrow unless we make it so, and that choice is, to me, vastly more interesting than what anyone does tonight.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

12 responses »

  1. I think some of the early 90’s eve’s were spent with Pete and I. In fact, I know 94 was because I remember us sitting around waiting for Sarah to kick.

  2. Or it could be so real, partying until1am in a huge bar in the middle of Houston, stinking drunk and leaning on your SO to stay upright. Having your designated driver tell you she met someone, so she wasnt taking us home, heres your keys. Driving really fast the wrong way on loop 610, eating ice cream sandwiches, leaving a trail of carnage behind. Waking up and needing to go to the window to see if your car was home. Wondering for weeks when the cops would arrive to arrest us for all that we couldnt remember.

    I’ll be sitting on the back 40 with a bonfire tonight. Life does get better, we just have to wait for it.

    • I’d pick the wife and the bonfire over driving drunk in Houston any day of the week. There is something horrible and wonderful about the idea of “eating ice cream sandwiches, leaving a trail of carnage behind,” though.

      Happiest of New Years to you and Shari and your family.

  3. Ann,

    This is really funny (well, not the consigned to bedrest waiting for Sam’s arrival part) but I have always felt the same about NYE.

    Dale and I are having neighbors over, making home-made pizza, playing Mexican Train dominos and babysitting six, yes SIX dogs (two are ours and four belong our friend who is in Puerto Vallarta now) to keep them distracted during the hated fireworks show.

    Happy New Year Ann, Rob and Sam and the furries.

    • Oh, that was funny too, in it’s own way…I always knew he’d be okay, no matter how stern the White Coats were. Mother knows best. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I think your evening sounds wonderful. We were supposed to go to a party, and…we didn’t. Watching a “Burn Notice” marathon and eating the El Azteco cheese dup I made to take to the party. Also wonderful.

      Happy New Year to all of you, guest dogs included!!

  4. We made nachos, then I knit while Stan channel-surfed. Then, I played “Fb volleyball” with my friend, Annie. (We probably won’t remember it at all by next year.) ๐Ÿ™‚ Happy New Year!

    • And now I’m replying to myself here because I forgot to hit that box below “submit comment”!…(The box should be *above* the comment button, tell the powers that be!…or there should be an option to click it after already having submitted a comment…for people with impairments, such as mine!)

    • That sounds right up there with our Exciting New Year’s Eve, which is to say…perfect. The FB Volleyball was an unanticipated and excellent bonus.

      As for the comment thing; I have trouble conceptualizing how it works because, it looks different when I comment – is it a “get all replies” button that’s in the wrong place?

      • It has a big (Submit Comment) right below the large box where we get to write the comments, then below it is a very small box — about yay big [ ] — where it says “Notify me of follow-up comments via email”…

        I always hit the submit button first, then go…Doh!…when I realize I forgot to click the little box below it (and will, thus, *never* know if you’ve commented back…unless I stalk my way back to look, or add yet another comment, whilst reminding myself all the while, ‘don’t hit submit yet’…don’t screw up again!..)

        If only I had some REAL problems, eh? ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. As always, you sum it up very nicely. Thank you.


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