I found the invitation on the front door last Saturday afternoon, affixed there by a thick strip of camouflage duct tape. The New Year’s Eve party at a neighbor’s house around the corner has been an annual affair for as long as we’ve lived at the edge of the wood. According to the card, they’d decided to step things up a bit. Barbecue was on the menu. Entertainment would be provided by the big screen that arrived on Christmas morning and the pool table that arrived the Christmas before. Fireworks at the stroke of midnight. As if to employ one last effort to state the obvious, underlined on the inside of the card was a promise that it would be “The best damn night I’ll ever have.”
I didn’t go.
I laced up my boots and grabbed my hat and took a stroll around the corner to deliver my regrets in a proper way. The neighbors understood. We’ve known one another for quite a while.
New Year’s has always been a quiet time for me. The circumstances lend itself to a certain introspection. The last of December to the first of January is always a good time to take stock of things. It’s a fine spot to pause in our travels and look around, to see how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go, and to make sure we haven’t somehow gotten lost along the way. Serious stuff that, to me, requires a good dose of solemnity. There is an almost spiritual quality to those final hours of the year, when all is dark and quiet and it feels as though the whole world is holding its breath. It’s a holy time, one nearly on par with that grand morning seven days prior when I woke to magic and joy.
I tried the New Year’s Eve party idea exactly once, as a senior in high school. It was all fine until the hands of the antique clock on the mantle neared their union. Drinks were poured and toasts raised. Couples clutched one another in anticipation. Those who had come in search of company scrambled to find someone—anyone—to kiss at midnight. The home was an old colonial built well before the Revolution, surrounded by woods and barren cornfields. I ended up in the middle of those fields as the old turned to the new, staring at the stars. To this day, that is the best New Year’s I’ve ever had. It has become the standard by which I have measured all the rest.
That’s what I do now. No parties, no alcohol, no whooping and hollering. Come midnight on the first, I take a walk outside. I look at the stars and I breathe deep, and I ready myself for one more trip through the calendar. Did it this January first, too. I could hear the neighbors celebrating. I wished them well.
For years I thought myself a misfit for preferring quiet to clamor during this time of year. I don’t any longer. I finally figured out that to me every new year is a blank page, and there is nothing that fills me at once with more excitement and fear as that. It’s a chance to write a new story, to begin again, even as I know failure is inevitable. I will stumble through many of my days just as I stumble through many of my words, trying to find the right order and the right tone, all the while understanding that perfection will be impossible.
It’s a tough thing, this living. It hurts and scars. Maybe that’s why so many choose to trade one year for the next by plunging themselves into the nearest party. I know for sure that’s why I choose a little quiet. A little perspective.
When the clock at my house turned from 13 to 14, I was sitting in a lawn chair in my backyard. Above me, the Milky Way stretched in a dull ribbon from one end of the sky to the next. The silence was broken by the boom and shine of fireworks. I watched as they burned bright, only to fade to quiet once more. Just like us, I suppose. Oh, but how they burned. They lit the sky in wonder and daylight and chased the shadows away, and I toasted them with a glass of iced tea.
Maybe I’ll go next year.