At midnight, as one year moves into another, past, present and future exist as one. At once, we are confronted with our triumphs, our hopes, our secret wishes, our failures and our fears. It is no wonder that those of us who so frequently teeter on the edge struggle with the weight of these few seconds.
I have celebrated a few new years with parties and friends. I stood in the cold and listened to a choir sing “Go Tell It On The Mountain” in Sweden, giggling with a friend over the muffled sound made when hundreds of gloved hands clapped in appreciation. In Poland, I danced with strangers in the old town square, filled with surprise that the dour Poles suddenly shone with happiness, and then arrived home to find a party going on in my flat that continued till daybreak and resulted in a black eye from a particularly spirited game of balloon volleyball. When I worked in residential schools, the 31st was often the first day we all got together ready for a January start and so new years were spent in reunion and getting to know new people.
But in recent years, new year has been silent or, worse, full of loneliness and tears. Two years ago, I travelled to see a friend. We had not known each other long – maybe 6 months – but we had clicked and communicated frequently. She knew of my struggles and accepted them and I took advantage. I stopped holding back. On the 31st, we went out for the day and I kept it together until about 7 that evening when the tears came and I couldn’t stop them. As her house filled with her happy friends, I sat in her bedroom and wept. She made her excuses to her laughing living room and sat with me. She asked what was wrong and I couldn’t tell her.
Her friends left but sent frequent text messages demanding to know when she (we) were joining them. I begged her to go without me but she wouldn’t and so eventually, with less than half an hour to go before 2015 started, we walked the length of her village and into the packed pub. I lasted 15 minutes and then, at a few minutes to midnight, thinking no one would notice, headed for the bathroom and instead slipped outside. I walked down a dark street and let the tears come. And my friend found me. Again, I tried to get her to go inside but as midnight struck and distant fireworks exploded, she was outside me with. It was one of the most selfless things anyone has ever done for me and I repaid her by having a huge breakdown on the way home, so severe that at one point she asked if she should phone an ambulance. I go hot with shame just thinking about it. It was the first step in losing a friend. I’ve lost more since then until I learnt to keep things closed up.
So the last couple of years, I’ve struggled with new year and struggled with this memory that stuck and now the loneliness burns hard when once it was a dull ache or barely even noticed, a vague regret. I’ve been worried about this day for a couple of months, the prospect of it looming ahead on the horizon, so it comes as a welcome surprise to report that I have been fairly calm, even though now as darkness falls, I can feel the heavy wave of sadness rising slowly. I’ve gone through so many plans on how to deal with it this year. At different times, I have planned to be on an organised group trip to New York or Iceland, spending money I don’t have to be with people I don’t know. I have been in various European cities, having a quick walk around at midnight and then to bed, getting up early on the 1st and, the one that for a while seemed most likely, on a night bus to Paris hoping that no one would care about the time (or secretly hoping that everyone would care and that I could join an impromptu celebration). Instead, I’m at home. I’ve informed my parents that I will not be staying up. I’ll put a film on and hope the calmness remains and the tears stay down at least until I can go to bed. And like everyone else, I’ll be a muddle of thanks and regrets and hopes and apprehensions and plans and dreams.
Bring it on, 2017.