Taking no prisoners. Including herself.

This year had been a doozy.

Serious relationship of many years ended — sticky and with the emotional tear of a slowly-pulled bandage… maternal grandmother-slash-friend passed away… family sold property of immense childhood sentimental value… asthmatic bronchitis came up like frying pan to the head (thrice!)… rejection letters to journalism school had no acceptance counterpart… new job… new apartment… new life.

Additionally, she was coming up on a quarter of a century, and although she was quick to admit that 25 years of age is hardly old, it is important to recognize that this girl was more obsessed with the passage of time than Proust.

At first, she had a number of celebration options for New Year’s: throw a big party, drive to the desert and go camping, dress up and attend a fancy-schmancy champagne-binge, share quiet glass of wine among friends. 2005, however, was worth making this midnight really symbolic.

In this culture, she recognized, New Year’s Eve is imbued with such significance everyone scrambles to ensure she is where she wants most to be, with whom she wants most to be, and doing what she wants most to be doing — for Optimum Symbolic Celebration Achievement.

And so, like most in search of that New Year’s experience of closure and rebirth, she decided that she would spend December 31st, midnight, volunteering at a local charity to symbolize a year that has been very “Me-focused” ending with an act that was not.

Only, no one would take her.

Honestly. Saturday morning she tried in vain for two hours to find a place to volunteer for the evening, but all of the non-profits she called were either closed for the holidays or required extensive training ahead of time.

So much for the season of giving.

So, continuing with the symbolism bent, she decided she would spend New Year’s Eve alone in her studio with her two favorite friends — Mr. George Orwell and Mr. Charles Shaw — in a defiant celebration of her independence. That, and she was sick.

The evening might, she reasoned, even be over as early as 9PM — the codeine cough-syrup willing.

The night doesn’t unravel as expected, however. Friends call and sigh in exasperation at her plans. “You’re single, 24, and live in one of the best cities in the world. There is no reason for you to be alone on New Year’s Eve.” Her best friend stops by for a drink, and after a few therapeutic Hot Toddies, convinces the girl to venture out to frequent a couple of parties.

The two end up waiting way too long for a cab that cost way too much and have way too much to drink with people the girl cares way too little about.

She tries hard. She really does. But the subtle nudging in the back of her mind knows she won’t be satisfied if she stays put. She must take flight! There’s something out there, she thinks, some sort of wonderful new-age warmfuzzy introspective moment I need to discover alone.

So, with 14 minutes to 12:00, she jets.

She salutes her friend and springs for the door, spiraling down the staircase and out the front. I’m taking off! she yells behind her, her words trailing further behind her than her scarf. Confused calls come from the group that perches on the front step, mimicking cigarettes perched between lips–

–she’s already gone.

She smiles something fierce, knowing this feels right, and her walk-turned-skip now evolves into a jog, and run, and back to a skip. She’s hitting pavement now, moving fast but eyes scanning, and everything turns to snippets of moments rather than linear travel.

Bounding down Filbert Street, exuberant, through North Beach, slightly wet from the thick air and brandy and adrenaline… nearly hit by a taxi… people in silver metallic hats pouring out of bars… restaurants lit from within like lanterns, couples nestled in each other’s company… three men with cappuccinos and mustaches — both dark and frothy– recline at an outdoor table and one tips his hat… Waiters, they smile, too, when they see this girl coming, smiling, determined… two homeless, seated — now she’s handing out all the cash she has… crossing Broadway with swarms of people, those skinny little tops and button-up shirts and the neon signs and a handsome young man in a pressed black suite not yet 30 walking into a DANCING LIVE doorway… the crosswalk flashes go!

She swerves left down Columbus. She’s panting now, huffing on her inhaler, damn asthma, damn cold, but nothing matters because she knows now where she’s going, she’s got 7 minutes and she just might make it. She’s running again and pumping her arms hard, feeling the sweat bead up under her thick wool coat in the low of her back, clumsily unwrapping from her neck her frayed scarf. People begin to disappear, Chinatown is dead; there’s a moment of panic as she sees one lone man stumble out of one lone bar and look at her, hard, and she realizes suddenly no one is around.

But she makes a sharp right.

She’s heading for California Street. Grace Cathedral. The labyrinth. Utter symbolism. Yes, this is it, this is her New Year’s destination, it’s brilliant. She’s not one for religious significance, but walking around and around the in-lay stone labyrinth that sits in front of the cathedral on the top of Nob Hill all alone (all alone!) is precisely right, she thinks: she’ll make it to the top and feel the passing of the year under the canopy of the cathedral, in a moment of mediation. Hell yes.

Her legs are Jello at this point. Her vision is actually starting to blur, the brandy and codeine and echinacea mingling lovingly in her stomach. She nearly trips as she peers over the curb, a petite Chinese woman bending to throw out the trash. The Chinese woman looks at the girl. The girl looks at the Chinese woman.

Amusement written on the Chinese woman’s face; concern on the girl’s.

She’s taking out the trash, on New Year’s Eve. Why is she taking out the trash at 11:56PM on New Year’s Eve?

The city shakes. She stops running. The explosion comes again and she knows, knows she’s missed it. Her heart’s still hurting as she slows, rounds the corner, only now nearing California Street, and she shakes her head — shakes her head and turns around, faces the crest of the hill, faces the beauty and spectacle of the fireworks, faces the midnight bay.

And there it was.

She is nowhere in particular, doing nothing of any real significance, with no one to kiss on January 1st, 2006, 12:01AM, and she couldn’t have been happier.

She climbs the rest of the hill, turning every now and again to watch the fireworks. Eventually, she stops looking, stops turning and watching, and just climbs. She climbs past people who have come out of their houses to watch the display, climbs past the three paramedics, waiting for disaster, past the trolley car paused in the middle of the intersection, waiting for inspiration.

At the top of the hill, she passes by well-dressed socialites who are torn between the spectacle of the exploding sky and the spectacle of the lone girl unaware of the fireworks, smiling straight ahead, at nothing.

She’s alone on New Year’s. Why is she alone and smiling at 12:09AM on New Year’s?. She’s not even looking at the fireworks?

The foot of Grace Cathedral… a man and woman, sweaty and drunk, smelling of beer and burnt plastic… more revelers… the remaining blinking of Christmas lights… at the top of the cathedral steps a priest in collar, statuesque… the periodic chiming of a Buddhist’s bell, another behind him with a lit candle… other’s walking around and around and around, and around.

She enters the labyrinth, and wonders if better late than never applies to new years. As she continues to walk, more and more people join her, spiraling together. Her heart just now begins to slow to a normal pulse, and it doesn’t matter that it’s 12:23. It’s just a tick of the clock like any other tick of the clock and she’s satisfied. She hardly cares that she’s crying, it’s dark and Buddhist’s don’t care about tears, she tells herself. She reaches the center and stares out over the city, sneaks surreptitious smiles at her fellow labyrinth-mates, pauses a moment but not too long of a moment and spirals back out and doesn’t stop when she reaches the beginning again but instead continues to walk, left over right, as she had just been doing, out across the plateau of the cathedral, down the stairs, along the crest of California, down the other edge of the hill, past two other bars and a laundromat, unlocks her front door, kicks off her shoes, wriggles out of her damp clothing and promptly goes to bed.

§64 · January 2, 2006 · Narrative, San Francisco glory · · [Print]

3 Comments to “New Year, Same Girl: A New Year’s Short Story”

  1. Jeff says:

    Your night sounds much more fufilling than mine was. I very nearly did the fall into bed and never escape thing, but dragged myself up the street to a party around 11 only to stand in the backyard and catch up with an old roommate and generally attempt to avoid everyone else. Oh, and send a text message or two, but I guess you already know that.

    New Year’s never really does anything for me, but I guess it’s the same problem I have with most every holiday. The traditions I’m stuck to don’t feel like *my* traditions, and no one else seems genuinely interested in creating new ones. Or maybe they just don’t feel totally detached from most holidays like I do. Like Arbor Day? I barely even celebrate it! Shocking, I know.

    They actually turn on the TV every year at the New Year’s party I’ve been going to for the past few years because they need to see the ball drop in Times Square. And they need to count it down from 10. And they talk about how Dick Clark’s going to retire once and for all. Then they yammer on about resolutions, like they’re really going to keep them–this year they *mean* it! It feels like a comedy sketch that’s missing the punchline. Oh well, at least they’re heavy drinkers.

  2. you better believe I'm keeping score says:

    Come on…work with me here…I expect new content every fricken day!

  3. roya says:

    my new years was great but yours had actual meaning….

    way to bring in a new one:)

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