New Year’s Eve finds me wistful. Contemplative. To be honest, I’ve never liked New Year’s Eve much. There’s such expectation that it will Be. Big. Fun. I never seem to be able to be present, even when I’m all dressed in sequins and have a glass of champagne in my hand. That plodding moment when we count down to an exact moment on the clock…then we find that the exact second passes and the one after it is just another second in the billions we live and no more “new” than the one before it.
Years are created by humans. The changing of one to the next? Sometimes leaves me feeling anticlimactic.
Or maybe it’s the cold medicine. I dunno.
I remember one New Year’s Eve in particular, the last one I celebrated with Richard, six months before he was diagnosed with leukemia. We had just bought a house and moved in together. He had finished up a grueling semester of teaching. Instead of going somewhere new on our traditional trip between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided to go somewhere familiar instead. We returned to The Reefs in Bermuda for a week of pink sand and drinks in the hot tub. Ahhhhh.
It should have been relaxing, but I had a Plan.
We had the love. We had the respect. We had the house. We had the commitments. According to my plan, it was time to get Married, by jinkies. And what better place to expect a proposal than on a pink sand beach at midnight on New Year’s Eve? I had it all planned out. In MY mind. I bought the black velvet dress with the sequins scattered across the shoulders. I bought the beautifully ridiculous shoes. We dined and we drank champagne. We danced on the veranda to “At Last.” We wore silly hats.
And instead of being present for all that fun, I was wrapped up in a big ball of resentment because the hours kept ticking by and he hadn’t asked me to marry him even though this was the PERFECT setting and….GAH. He was blowing it!
My mood improved after midnight when I finally let my plan go. And got out of those stupid shoes. We put on sweats and walked down to the beach. He smoked a Cuban cigar and I drank a last glass of champagne. Not such a bad night after all, there under the stars and by the sea–once I got out of what was supposed to be and looked around at what was.
A gray-haired man in a tuxedo came down to the beach all alone. He carried one gold balloon close to his chest. We wished him a happy new year. He returned the wish. He held up the balloon, shrugged, then he started to cry. “I lost my brother, David, eleven years ago. Damn AIDS. I promised him that I’d always remember him and send him a balloon whenever there was a good party that he had to miss. Seems silly, right?” I put my hand on his arm as the ocean wind thumped the gold balloon against his chest. Not silly at all.
The three of us stood there close together while he told us about David. He held the balloon aloft and said, “Happy New Year, David! I love you.” As he let it go and we watched the balloon sail heavenward, I raised my glass and Richard lifted his cigar. I gave the man a long hug and he returned to the hotel.
I’ve been thinking about that night today. About David and the gold balloon. About Richard, who did ask me to marry him, but not that night. How we live so much of our lives outside of the present, in memory or in plans. It all reminded me of this poem by Barbara Ras, which I give to you now as a New Year’s wish:
You Can’t Have It All
by Barbara Ras
But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands
gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger
on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.
You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look
of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite
every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,
you can have it August and abundantly so. You can have love,
though often it will be mysterious, like the white foam
that bubbles up at the top of the bean pot over the red kidneys
until you realize foam’s twin is blood.
You can have the skin at the center between a man’s legs,
so solid, so doll-like. You can have the life of the mind,
glowing occasionally in priestly vestments, never admitting pettiness,
never stooping to bribe the sullen guard who’ll tell you
all roads narrow at the border.
You can speak a foreign language, sometimes,
and it can mean something. You can visit the marker on the grave
where your father wept openly. You can’t bring back the dead,
but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands
as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful
for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful
for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels
sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,
for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,
the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.
You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,
at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping
of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.
You can’t count on grace to pick you out of a crowd
but here is your friend to teach you how to high jump,
how to throw yourself over the bar, backwards,
until you learn about love, about sweet surrender,
and here are periwinkles, buses that kneel, farms in the mind
as real as Africa. And when adulthood fails you,
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.
May you live in the New Year, and what’s left of the one we already have. May you breathe deep and know that you are loved, the second before midnight and the second after it.