As far back as seventh grade, when I got grounded for talking back to my dad and couldn’t go to my best friend Kirsten’s party–where her mom was going to give us a little champagne up front and her older brother was going to hide a bottle of vodka for us in the basement bathroom–New Year’s Eve has sucked.
There was the New Year’s Eve party at my best friend Erin’s house during my junior year of high school. I’d gone out on a few dates with this blond-haired, blue-eyed quarterback named Matt Jezior.
As I waited and waited for him to show up, I drank and drank. When he finally arrived, around 11, I was wasted on the two beverages that, since my missed date with destiny four years before, had become synonymous with New Year’s celebration in my mind: vodka and champagne. And I was marching around the house solider-style, sporting Erin’s dad’s old army jacket.
After spotting Matt, I ran over and hugged him, clocking him on the forehead with the green wicker Christmas basket I was wearing as a helmet. Then I tried to remove it, but the handle that I’d somehow pulled under my chin like a strap made it too tight; why are things always easier to get on than to get off? When I finally freed myself, Matt and I sat on the couch and talked for about five minutes until I passed out.
Matt was shaking me when I woke up. "Listen," he said, "I’m going to go home to ring in the year with my mom."
Matt and I said a polite good-bye. I watched him cross the porch and head to his black Volvo. Before he reached it, I started screaming, "You mama’s boy! Fuckin’ mama’s boy! Yeah, that’s right, go home to your mama. Wuss!"
Despite all this, every time the holiday approached I thought with hope: This year will be better. Different. Special. Finally.
But for the first time, as New Year’s 2000 approached, I had no such belief. I was in the midst of a pretty intense depression. Mourning, I guess, is the more accurate word. As the psychological torture ran its course, I’d been forcing myself not to drink, something I usually like to do when I feel down. So I was feeling pain as clearly and sharply as a patient without anesthetic would feel a wisdom tooth being pulled.
An old college friend of mine was throwing a NYE 2000 party at her father’s penthouse apartment in Soho. I had no excuse not to go. I hadn’t seen any of my college friends in about three months, and one of the lines I’d been using to put people off was: "Well, I’ll definitely see you at A.’s New Year’s party." The idea of making polite party conversation made me feel sick to my stomach, but I was equally horrified by the idea of staying home alone.
At 10:30 I was in my red party shoes and fuchsia party dress and at the door of A.’s dad’s apartment: full of old friends, demi-starlets, rich-crowd kids, real art, four make-shift bars, a full staff of waitpeople passing hors d’oeuvres and pouring drinks, silver holiday decorations and a giant tree in the corner with silver lights.
I had a hard time talking to anyone–I was too busy conducting an interior dialogue. I ordered a Wild Turkey and Diet Coke to try and shut myself up.
By the time my friend J. and I decided to leave the party shortly after midnight to do some serious drinking, I’d had four more Diet Turkeys. We met up with another friend and headed to the Emerald Bar on Spring to start drowning our souls in earnest.
I was still drinking my Turkeys at 5 a.m., across the street from the Emerald at a club called Sway–dark lights, cigarette smoke and women with backless shirts being groped by men wearing designer clothes. By that time I had: lost both my friends and my wallet, accidentally scraped half the leather off my red heels, spilled a drink down the front of my dress, and picked up a sexy Portuguese guy with a black leather jacket and a dark goatee who was happy to buy me drinks. We tried to talk at first, but his English was bad and my Portuguese was non-existent. So we gave up and made-out instead.
At 6 a.m. I peeked behind one of the club’s black curtains and saw the morning light had started to rise. It sobered me up a bit, made me realize I didn’t want a one-morning stand. I told Portugal I was heading home alone.
A cab pulled up to the corner at the same time I walked out the door.
"Where you want go?" said the cab driver.
I told him my address. "But you gotta take me home for free because it’s not that far and I have no cash," I said. "I lost my wallet tonight."
He turned to look at me. Maybe he saw the drunkenness in my eyes, the brown stain on my dress, the ripped white fishnets, the washed-out mascara shadows under my eyes.
"Please," I said.
"Okay," he said in a foreign accent.
I kneeled up on the seat and gave him a hug. He laughed and started accelerating slowly.
"Is your accent Iranian?" I said.
"Saudi," he said.
"You miss your home?"
"Sometimes, some things. But there is more here. It is better."
"Did you have a nice New Year’s Eve?"
"I am in my cab. But I make lot of money. It is okay."
"Will this New Year be good for you?"
"Yes. Will good things happen?"
"Oh yes, very good things. It will be good."
"It will?" I said.
He glanced over at me. "Oh yes," he said, eyes back on the road.
I started crying.
"Why you are crying?" he said.
Then I just said it: "One of my favorite people in the world shot himself in the head last month." I wasn’t sure he understood. "My friend is dead and I loved him," I said.
My cabbie put an arm around me and pulled me to him. I let his sweater absorb my tears.
"It will be good,"Êhe said. "You are beautiful."
"But why didn’t I hold him like you are holding me? Why didn’t I know?" I stared at him, waiting, even though I knew by then that nobody had an answer to that question. Then I realized he had pulled to the side of the road. We had reached my corner.
He turned to me, pulled me tight, kissing me firmly on the lips and then working his tongue through them. Partly because my mouth was so used to being open after Portugal, partly because I thought he might not have had a New Year’s kiss, because I thought he might be sad like me, and partly just because, I opened my mouth and we frenched for a few seconds.
I pulled back hard against the strong arms enfolding me, like I’d stuck my tongue in an electric socket: I suddenly got scared. But he was too strong and held me tight. I almost couldn’t separate my mouth from his but somehow managed to do it.
"No, no," I mumbled against his lips. "Please, no!"
I pushed away from him again and this time he let me go.
"I’m sorry," I said. "I can’t any more."
I patted his hand.
He smiled at me. "It is okay. It will be good."
I nodded. "Okay," I said. Maybe he’s right, I thought. "Thanks for the ride."
"Happy New Year," he said. We both smiled.
I opened the door and got out.