Friday, January 1, 2010
That time of year
Taking a nap
I hide within myself--
On New Year's Day
the morning in town
Both from Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems
Last night I spent New Year's Eve alone, at home. I'm sure I wasn't the only one--many of us have reasons why at one time or another we find ourselves alone, even on holidays. My reason was that I had a cold and I didn't want to keep Mike from enjoying a planned get-together with our cousins because of my uncooperative immune system.
We've started a tradition where every New Year's Eve we go to our cousins' house and have cheese fondue and lots of other gourmet treats my cousin Mikki prepares, and we drink champagne, get silly, and then stay overnight and eat breakfast together. Last year I overindulged in food and bubbly (once I took that first bite of bacon-wrapped date swallowed down with a fried calamari ring, I knew I was in trouble.) I ended up missing the countdown to midnight trying to remedy my nausea as discreetly as possible in a one-floor apartment. Yes, I was among family, but I was also 35 years-old--too old to be miscalculating my food and beverage intake. I could already see the barely-disguised smirks around the breakfast table the next morning (yuck, who could even think of breakfast?)
This year I'm happy to say it was a more respectable sickness that kept me from celebrating the ball drop. On Sunday while enjoying a game night with our grown nephew and his lovely girlfriend, I started to feel a sore throat coming on. The next day I had a full-blown head cold, and over the course of the following three days I wasn't getting any better. I would wheeze whenever I layed down and routinely hack into tissues like an old man. Piles of white balled-up Kleenex created their own mountain range in the apartment. The ones I threw in the trash were rescued by the kitten and then dragged around the floor until she got bored and left them wherever they dropped.
Luckily, like most publishing houses, the company I work for was closed this week so I didn't need to use up any sick days. And I wasn't SO SICK that I couldn't putter around doing a little cleaning, a little baking, a little dusting, a little paper recycling during my vacation. I got a pile of books for Christmas that I placed in the favored position on my bedside table, eliminating some older runners-up that no longer made the cut (for example, I can't seem to get past the first couple of chapters of The Liar's Club.)
You there, the fresh novels purred, why don't you come over here, put your feet up, stay awhile. For me new books are like an invitation to Mae West's boudoir. And being sick is the perfect excuse to spend all day in bed reading.
I wore the same flannel pajama bottoms everyday, and even though I showered a couple of times during the week so as not to be completely gross, I never really bothered to brush my hair, so I had a brownish-blonde tangled mass on the top of my head. I resembled one of those pencils toppers I had in elementary school, the ones with the googly eyes and shock of red cotton hair that you puffed up by furiously rubbing the pencil between your palms like you were trying to start a fire.
By Thursday morning I knew I wasn't going anywhere. It's not that I wasn't dying to get out of the house--I'd been cooped up inside since Saturday and was beginning to feel like a vampire (but not one of the sexy ones.) I just didn't have the energy or the usual party spirit. It used to be, whenever I was preparing to go out at night, I'd put on some disco mix CD--maybe something with a few Donna Summers tracks on it--take a long and leisurely shower, try on a bunch of outfits just because it was fun to dance in front of the mirror holding up different wardrobe possibilities, then maybe have a pre-dinner aperitif before heading out the door.
This year there would be no Bad Girls or costume changes or glass of Lillet. I was parked on the couch under a red plaid flannel blanket, eating cup after cup of strawberry Jell-O and adding one balled-up tissue after another to the plastic bag by the couch. The cats, no doubt sensing my pathetic-ness, stayed close by. They even made a temporary truce so they could both sit with me--Joey behind my bent knees and Audrey at my feet.
Though this New Year's get-together at my cousins' wasn't the sort of affair where I needed to put on a classic cocktail dress, I pride myself on overdressing for occasions, and I had no intention of showing up in a sweat suit. Progresso Chickarina soup was sounding so much more tempting than shrimp cocktail and Brie en Croute (yes, I was feeling that lousy.)
So Mike and I wished each other a Happy New Year, see you in 2010, and off he went.
There's something nice about being alone indoors on a cold winter's night. It's cozy and warm, you don't have to pile on layer after layer until you're two dress sizes larger than when you started. No need to be witty and gracious despite your Seasonal Affective Disorder, or eat a healthy, balanced dinner when all you want is a pair of English muffins and a handful of Bacis while you watch corny old movies on your new favorite channel, TCM.
Like the first movie I watched, Woman Obsessed, starring Susan Hayward and a very hunky Stephen Boyd. I was slightly disappointed that there were no actual obsessed women in the picture, and there was that preposterous scene at the end with Boyd sinking into mud like it was quick sand before his recalcitrant stepson decides to rescue him with a tree branch. But it was good, clean fun.
Throughout the evening I checked myself for any hint of loneliness or self-pity. Here I was, alone on New Year's, no one to kiss at midnight, etc., etc. I anticipated feeling like the ugly duckling who never got invited to Prom (geez, Jenn, when are you going to let THAT one go?) I imagined grabbing my cell phone and telling my husband I had changed my mind and that he should turn around and come home right away. Or saying hey, I was only testing you when I said you should go without me--and guess what? You failed.
But none of that happened. Instead, I felt happy that both Mike and I were getting what we wanted and that I would be no one's party spoiler. I opened up another cup of Jell-O and settled in to see what was on Pay-per-View. I rented Up, the Pixar movie about the old man in the balloon-propelled house. This was not a night for my usual movie fare--foreign films featuring poor, orphaned, Hindi widows, forced to dance at beer bars in Mumbai to pay for their children's education. I wanted something fun. Up turned out to be the right choice; it even had some tender moments that made me cry--not tears of sadness, but more like life-is-good tears.
And when that movie ended, I turned on a Thin Man marathon on TCM, and watched the always elegant Myrna Loy, with her hat boxes and cute shrugs, trade loving wisecracks with on-screen husband William Powell. I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of Shadow of the Thin Man. When I woke again, it was 1:30AM. 2009 had come and gone.
I was surprised and relieved that I had actually enjoyed my own company. Part of that was offset by the fact that I really wasn't alone. I knew there were people in my life who cared for me. But even if there weren't, even if my feared scenario were to occur and I found myself living alone, small things like not having plans for New Year's Eve wouldn't be the end of the world.
It's OK to be alone sometimes, not going anywhere, not dressing up or dancing or joining a raucous sing-a-long (though there was plenty of that going on in the Thin Man movies--when did people stop gathering around a piano and singing at parties?) Yes, I believe we all need friends in this world, that no man is an island or a rock. But to be alone and peaceful in the moment--that's a gift that doesn't require the right circumstances or the right people to make it happen. You can always carry that with you.
When my husband came home the next day, I sat with my feet in his lap as he told me all about his night and the delicious nibbles he ate and the great conversation he had and the unexpected friends that crashed the party. Then, with eyebrow raised, he commented on the piles of empty Jell-O cups in the sink. I told him I had had a very good night, too.