Dec 31, 2007.
New Years Eve. I sit alone in my apartment, watching the clock.
11:38 now. There is silence but for the hum of the refrigerator. No sounds of the expected parties or revelry. Not even the sound of the couple next door having sex, which they do regularly, and at deafening volumes. “I love it! I love it!” she sometimes exclaims, and by the sound of her voice, I can tell she isn’t lying.
I have the TV on, but muted. The false-exuberance of morning-show “personalities”, hosting the celebrations at City Hall, seems entirely unnatural in nocturnal circumstances. Despite their best chirpy attempts, they’d only make things worse. Because I feel a little sorry for myself – despite the fact that I am here, alone, by choice.
I had all the New Years Eve I wanted. I enjoyed dinner with my best friend and his girlfriend. Ate too much jambalaya. Enjoyed the dinner and the company. I am, some would say prematurely, attempting to quit smoking starting tomorrow, but smoked two of my friends’ cigarettes tonight. His girlfriend was kind enough to invite me along with them to a party afterwards, but I decided to head home after dinner, at about 11 o’clock, instead. The party would have required significant amounts of transit and schlepping. My intention was to go out until midnight, see in the New Year, and then head home.
I was only really participating out of some feeling of obligation, to whom or what I don’t know. But it didn’t seem worth the effort. I would be there for about half an hour, the clock would strike twelve, and I would be standing in a room full of strangers but for the two with whom I arrived, feeling that feeling. The feeling single people feel at midnight on New Years Eve. With no one to kiss. No one to whom I can profess undying love while squeezing their ass. Making the best of it. Feeling like Morrissey. Shaking hands and embracing people I don’t know, longing for it all to be over. All this without a drop of alcohol to numb the experience, to allow me to take a vacation from the reality of the situation – because I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict and can’t – don’t – do that any more.
At least I haven’t done that since October of this same year. And while is not my first attempt to get clean and sober, it is the longest I have lasted in over 20 years. I am emotionally raw without my liquid painkiller – my abusive best friend. I find myself crying at television commercials asking for donations to help starving children. I am learning to be vulnerable. The world is starting to become a different place. A better place. I know the other world well enough, and don’t want to go back. I have had enough shame, pain, sickness, being fired, and always being without any money.
11:48 now. I know this is the hard part. I was indifferent when I left my dinner companions to board the northbound subway to come home. Even felt good about the decision. I sit on the train and listen with ironic appreciation as John Lennon’s voice, over the raucous playing of his fellow Beatles, reassures me that “It Wont Be Long” via my omnipresent ipod on shuffle mode. Just get through the next half hour and it will be over. Two pretty Asian girls sit across from me on the train – not together but alone, separated by a few seats. One fiddles with her cell phone, I assume trying to look busy, while the other one looks out the window and tries to hide the fact that she is crying.
The girl who is crying is Japanese, and I decide to call her Keiko. She is dolled up, and has obviously been out, but things don’t seem to have gone as she’d hoped. She is perhaps 23 or 24. Young on the Yonge line, I think. She is very attractive, and has evidently put some effort into looking good tonight. She is made up, wearing a pretty dress, and has a ribbon in her hair; an old fashioned touch that immediately endears her to me. I keep looking at her because she looks so sad, but she sees me looking which makes it uncomfortable for both of us. The only other thing to look at is the subway map, which I know all too well. So I close my eyes and listen to my iPod, but cannot resist peaking at Keiko now and again, because I empathize with her. I wish I could give her a hug. Or maybe, more truthfully, I wish someone would give me a hug.
Finally my stop arrives and I leave the subway train and Keiko behind. I pass a kid, maybe 16, passed out in the stairway of the station, whose pants, for reasons unknown, are undone and partway off. I try to shake him awake but he pushes me away with a curse. I know him well. I’ve been him.
Halfway home I buy chocolate ice cream, my new “drug of choice”, from a disgruntled looking senior citizen employed at 7-11. Even more disgruntled than usual. Some bastard with no sympathy has programmed Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself” to be playing in the linoleum glare of the 7-11 on New Years Eve, and I can’t help but chuckle to myself and look skyward, thinking “Is that really necessary?”
I look skyward, oddly, despite being confident there is nothing up there but 7-11 ceiling tiles.
Ice cream obtained, I head home, passing people running the other direction, no doubt desperate to be with their sweetheart at midnight – Cinderellas in reverse.
11:59 now. I stand alone on my balcony. People counting backwards from 10 in the distance. Some shouting of “Happy New Year!” and cheering from the streets of Cold, Cold Toronto some 24 floors below. What sounds like a firecracker, a few car horns honking, and then quiet again. And just like that, it is 2008.
I will remember the first moments of this year – something I have failed to do since 1986, the year I started drinking.
My ice cream melting in a bowl before me, I call to wish my daughter a Happy New Year, as promised, but get voice mail on her Mom’s phone. I leave a message. I try to text my AA Sponsor, but there is too much digital traffic and it doesn’t go through. My friend thoughtfully calls from the party, which turns out not to be much of a party at all – only eight people have turned up. I jokingly ask him if any of them are seeking a relationship with an unemployed, overweight, broke, bisexual, divorced father of one who happens to be a recovering alcoholic, and he assures me that that no one of that description, or “my type”, is there. He laughs politely at my self-deprecation, but I sense it has made him a little sad or uncomfortable as well, and I feel I have revealed too much.
After hanging up, I consider that despite that rather maudlin self-description, I am a better man this day than I have ever been. I have hope. I can look myself in the face in the mirror. I can do things. I am not yet an hour into 2008, and it is already the best year I have had since I was 14 years old. I am alive. I have clarity. I am honest.