The first New Year's Eve that I can really remember was 1981. I was with my parents at a friend's house. He was a teacher who really wanted to be a politician. He ran for State Assemblyman when I was a junior or senior in high school. He lost. On that New Year's, when I was 8, I was wearing pink pajamas with a walrus on them. We had dinner, I don't remember what, and we watched movies. My dad's friend did not treat me or my brother as children so there were no kids movies. We watched Shogun. I remember my mother trying to shield my eyes from a scene where a warrior was killed by a vat of hot tar. We didn't watch any of those NYE shows or countdowns, there were no toasts or resolutions, and by midnight I was asleep and the new year rolled by unmarked and unnoticed.
I sometimes think I slept through my childhood. As a girl with big ideas and dreams living out-of-place in a small town with a mission to crush forward thinking, I found few bright spots. NYE 1989 seemed like it would be one of those bright spots. I was a part of the "Just Say No" club on campus and as part of our mission to help students avoid drugs and alcohol we sponsored a New Year's Eve party. The theme was black and white. I had taken a special trip to Redding from Hayfork an hour-and-a-half away to buy the black sweater and a white skirt and shiny white heels to copy an outfit I had seen in a magazine. I had crimped my hair and put on makeup and was far too overdressed for the modest little gathering. I remember as I dressed thinking that this was the night my life was going to start. I arrived at the house of another of my dad's friends, another teacher, only to find that most people were wearing jeans and t-shirts and few of them had bothered to wear the theme colors. My visions of this great shining party and how this was going to be a beginning of the life I imagined faded. By the end of the night I had covered myself with a borrowed flannel shirt. I don't know if I was cold or if I was covering the raiment of hope that those clothes marked. At midnight we toasted with plastic glasses and apple cider. No one made any resolutions.
It was not until I was in my 20's that I began to make New Year's Resolutions; and then, I embraced it. I can even count myself amongst those few who can claim to have kept a few. In 1995, I had a very satisfying NYE. For some reason, most NYE's just fizzle. I think it is a night with too much expectation attached for success to be inevitable. I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1995. I had some pretty great friends and I lived in an art deco 1920's loft apartment in the *cool* part of Tulsa. My roommate, Krista, a woman who would later tell me we could not be friends because she was pregnant and that I was so "mean" that she "didn't want [her]baby to know me" (ouch), was throwing a dinner party. In spite of how our friendship turned out that night was a stellar NYE. We had a formal dinner party. Black-tie. We toasted with expensive champagne that none of us could afford and lived like Gatsby for the night. I am sure that event cost us all our paychecks it was such a show of extravagance. We wrote out resolutions on parchment with india ink and sealed them in envelopes to be opened in 1996. Of course we thought we would meet and dine every year. But, like a lot of promises made to each other by twenty somethings we never did. But, the act of making resolutions did stick. I remember writing out these promises to myself as if the ink was fulfilling each promise just by the act of writing it down. I don't remember what I resolved, but I remember thinking that this, this was what NYE was supposed to be like. I may not have ever met up with those friends again (good riddance, actually) but I have written out my NYE resolutions every year since.
All those nights seem long ago now. And, in some ways, I suppose both literally and figuratively they are. Last year I made my resolutions, wrote them on parchment, stuck them in a envelope, and then threw it away. I decided I was tired of fighting to keep them. I thought they seemed like the same promises I had been making my whole life. I decided it before I had even finished making them. Later, on flight to Las Vegas, the mecca of NYE, I told friends that I had made a decision. That I wasn't going to pursue my resolutions any more. That I wasn't going to try anymore. That I was tired and needed to rest. So, I said I wasn't going to make resolutions any more. They nodded and said nothing.
Until this week, I was sure I was still done with resolutions. With the exception of working on my finances in 2013, I really stopped trying to make my life better and just lived without any real focus. But then, something, I am not sure what (I think it actually may be the television series Doctor Who, but that is for another day) has forced me to realize that I can't sleep through life. That I have done enough of that for a lifetime. That in some ways while 2013 was an easy year because I didn't really challenge myself too much, it has been the hardest year of my life because I haven't really had any thing to hope for. So this year I am going to make resolutions. And I am going to keep them. Well, at least as well as anyone does, or I ever have.
Sometimes there is human drama that unfolds without the help of people, and sometimes it is the fault of our own making. Yesterday, in a story of karma that will only be slightly satisfying because it involves children falling ill, and no one can ever feel anything but sad and worried when little ones are sick, a story that should have been about caring for sick kids became a lesson in humility.
My niece is three and the sweetest of charmers. Her parents (my brother and his ex-wife) divorced about two years ago and are not really on speaking terms. I won't take sides, but only to say that I am on the side of the children. One, because that is the side we should always take, and two, because between the pair of them, there are no heroes in this relationship. Anyway, this story, as I said is about her being ill. My sister brought a nasty bout of bronchitis as her "plus one" to Christmas dinner and all week most of our little band of family and friends has been suffering in varying degrees. The hardest struck, as most often is the case, are the oldest and youngest. My niece, it seems, might have been the sickest of us all.
Yesterday, she returned from her split custody with her mother back into my brother's house. She returned sick and only got sicker through the night. Finally, around 3pm or so she was sick enough for my brother to take her to the doctor. This was a pretty big decision because he has no insurance and would have to ask his ex-wife to use the insurance she has for the kids. It turned out to the right decision because they immediately sent that poor sick little girl to the emergency room because her little lungs were shutting down. As I said, my brother, her dad, does not have money, insurance, or even a job, so he had to contact the girl's mother for her insurance information. Most people would think that the important thing is to take the poor dear to the hospital no matter whose insurance foots the bill... well, not her mother.
All this to say, to sum up, if you will. That the poor sick and terrified girl who was being treated at the hospital was met by a mother who decided that it was more important to take her father to task as deadbeat (kind of true), who could not take care of the daughter and if it wasn't for her insurance the little girl might have been even sicker (kind of true); rather than to nurture the child and make sure she was okay and unafraid she began a screaming tirade in the halls of the hospital. A story that is sickening (pun intended) not only because I imagine my poor little niece was already scared, and that her screaming mother calling her father (the one trying to comfort her) names did not make it better. But, worse still, I imagine such a ruckus was discomforting for the rest of the patients as well.
To make this long story more clear. The ex-wife (and I deliberately do not call her mother because here she was clearly more busy being an ex-wife than a mother) tried to take the child. It was like a Jerry Springer episode, but sadder. Finally, my brother saw a policeman in the hallway and called him over. The doctors, nurses, patients, and the child all said that my brother was trying to take care of her but that the girl's mother was out of control and told her she had no right to take the little girl away from her dad just because she was sick. But wait. Because there is more.
Just when it seemed that the ex-wife could not have been any more sanctimonious and judgmental about my brother's parenting skills, her phone rang. It seems that the ex-wife's daughter, a new baby from a new marriage, was also sick. She was at home with a different father and he had called to say that the baby was very sick and was running really high temperature and could she meet him at the emergency room because he needed to use her insurance. In effect, he was doing the same thing with her child as my brother had done with his. The doctor actually laughed at the irony of the mother accusing her ex-husband of making the little girl sick while she also had a sick child at home, before realizing, like I said in the beginning, that however a delightful story of karma this may be, sick children are never a good thing. Even if they do teach you a very public and humiliating lesson.
Today, thank goodness, it seems that the little girls seem to be doing well. Well, as much as they can hope to be with such parenting.
When I was 19 a friend gave me a card on which she had written, "Comfort murders the passion of the soul." She told me that she could tell that I was someone who is torn between life and fear. I did not know what she meant. I was young enough to think I would always be brave. But, now, 20 years later. After a life full of disappointments, I know what the quote meant too. In Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly calls it the "mean reds." Others Angst. Anxiety. Panic. But, for me I usually just call it "antsy." Today, none of those terms fit. I feel like I am clawing at myself from the inside just bursting to get out. To go. Anywhere. These feelings grip me at times. This voice that tells me I am wasting my life. I am living too safe, or not at all. Usually at night. I can still this panic by watching tv, playing a game, sometimes online shopping. I just numb out until I am calm. But, I am murdering my soul.
It is my own fault, really. I have removed my distractions one-by-one; stripping away all the things that keep me from really thinking about my life. I am on a break from work, my biggest distraction. I have taken a deliberate vacation from facebook and its numbing capabilities. I have given up the vices I embraced for so long: shopping, gambling, drinking, eating, anything to escape this feeling... all these things that were meant to mask the fact that my life is not what I want. Or need. So. Without these things, the question becomes, how to soothe? How to still the clawing thing that is so desperately screaming at me to *Do Something* to pretend that I have not waited too long.
Change is slow to come. And in reality it is these numbing things that have allowed me to endure. But in embracing these comforts I have dug a hole. I have layered my life and my body with so many layers of safety to avoid being hurt. The real danger is not that I am seeking comfort, but that these distractions have become my life. I am surfeiting on my own comforts. It takes these moments of panic to remind me that there is more. That I want more.
I used to know that the possibilities of change that is fomented in these moments of crises are good. When I was younger I listened to these voices and I would leap up and make changes. I used to know that I am supposed to feel this way because without it, I will accept. I will stay. So, no. I am not going to give in and numb this pain. I am going to feel it. Because, if I don't it will only get worse. And it is this angst. this panic, this clawing desperate thing is probably the only thing that will force me to live. The comfort offered by these distractions is actually worse than the pain I am trying to avoid.
So, if it takes moments like these, words like these, panic like this to throw off the layers of comfort I have so carefully smothered myself with, then so be it.