Saturday, December 31, 2005

I love champagne

But I hate New Year's Eve.

I blame it on the movies. In the movies, NYE is a huge deal. It is the night of the big date. The big party. Something special happens. Someone gets found. Or lost. Kisses are had. It's an exciting night full of unexpected happenings.

Except it's not. It's a farce, a lie and almost always a bummer. For a lot of years, I spent the evening in Seattle with Mike and/or Shawn. This continued after I moved to NC for grad school because I'd always be home on NYE. January 1 is my mother's birthday and I never used to miss it. She has unhappy childhood memories associated with her birthday (hungover parents who did their celebrating the night before) and I used to make it a point to spend the day with her and do something special. A couple of years ago, she decided to get over it and let me off the hook. Now I spend NYE were it is convenient for me.

But, this was when I was 27, still in grad school, and still going back to Seattle every Winter and every Summer. And I expected to see Mike and Shawn on NYE. If one of them was out of town it would be the two of us--or the three of us after Shawn got married. This tradition began after the most disastrous NYE of my life. (See this for the briefest possible summary. I'll tell the whole story another time.) My goal was to be with friends and to expect nothing. But, after keeping our tradition for eight years, my two good friends made other plans--without telling me. I was stunned. I couldn't believe they would do it.

Mike and his wife were leaving Seattle before NYE. Shawn and his wife were going to a party with married friends and he decided, unilaterally, not invite me because I wouldn't enjoy it. They didn't let me know ahead of time. I found out at the dinner following Mike's wedding on the 27th. It was almost a physical blow. At first I didn't believe them. I was so hurt I didn't know what to say to them--but they knew I wasn't happy.

I gave it some thought and the next day I called Audrey. I've known Audrey as long as Mike, and consider her one of my best friends, but we never spent NYE together. I called her and told her my sad story. She was open to doing something with me and we made plans see a band Matt (her husband) really liked. (The band, Goodness, seems to no longer exist, but info on the lead singer is here.)

Going to see a band was the right way to spend the evening. It normalized things. I wore a cute little black dress and I was in a good mood. And then we met Owen. Owen was an acquaintance of Matt's and Audrey's. He was a friend of our friend Devon's little brother (they worked for Microsoft). Owen had big brown calf-eyes and a sweet smile. We hit it off right away. Owen was there on his own because he was very into the band (I didn't realize how much until later--I also didn't realize that I knew someone in the band).

We talked and talked. We smiled and smiled. He was sad when I told him I lived in NC. We separated from Matt and Audrey and listened to the band. We stood close together and, in the press of the crowd, he put his arms around me. It cozy and warm and comfortable. I couldn't stop smiling. Was this it? Was I finally going to have the New Year's Eve of my dreams? A woman next to us said, "I have to tell you, you are the cutest couple!" We just smiled and nodded. We gave each other a long look. There was some nervous laughter, but what could we do? I floated along on the fantasy. He asked me, "So when are you going back?" That was awkward.

"Um...the day after tomorrow."

"Oh. That's soon."

"I know."

We went back to listening to the music.

We shared a brief kiss at midnight. I was very happy and had a great, bittersweet time. There was more kissing later in the evening. And a request that I come to his place. I declined because of my mother and her January 1 birthday. I had to get back so she wouldn't worry and so she wouldn't be sad. He gave me a ride home.

When I got home, Mom was up with a couple of her friends. They were all drunk. I felt like an idiot. I should have gone to Owen's and gotten in more kissing. Mom's friend's said, "Why are you back so early? Did a boy drop you off?"

"Um, yes. Well, I need to go to sleep sometime."

Mom said, "You could have stayed out later. It would have been fine."

Oh really, Mom? That would have been the first time in my life if that were true. I got in a little sleep while they kept dancing.

I met Owen the next day for a late lunch. We stayed in touch via phone and email when I got back to Chapel Hill. When I was home in the summer, I saw him again. I planned another visit to Seattle October and I saw Owen several times. My mom was not pleased when I spent the night at his house. Actually, we had one of the worst fights of our lives during that visit (it was an 'extra' visit and did not cut into my usual Winter/Summer trips). I'm sure our fight was because I was spending so much time with Owen, but she wouldn't admit it.

On the October visit, Owen took me to see Goodness again and this time I recognized an old friend of mine as the guitarist. I didn't talk to him, but his best friend was standing just a few feet away from us in the audience. When he spotted me, he ran over and gave me a big hug, "Jamy--I haven't seen you in forever!"

"That's because I don't live here."

"Oh. Really? Where do you live?"

"I'm in Chapel Hill. North Carolina--for grad school."

After that visit, Owen and I stayed in touch, but not as steadily. Yet, I somehow had a hope that we would have another good NYE together. Eventually, reluctantly, he invited me to a party. I could tell it would not be a romantic evening. I saw Shawn and his wife that night and borrowed their car (they lived a few blocks from Mom) so I could pick up Owen and drive him to the party. I did not have fun at the party. Devon's little brother was there and his face lit up when he saw me. He was just drunk enough to tell me he had a crush on me when we were teenagers. When I told Audrey later she was not surprised. "Of course he liked you; you were the cool one." "I had no idea. We didn't even know him."

"He knew us."

That was the bright spot of the evening. My friend's little brother telling me he'd had a crush on me when I was 14 and he was 12. I didn't even get a kiss at midnight. Nor did I get drunk; I was driving, after all. It's tiresome being so responsible. Still, I've had worse times. And it didn't take too much away from the fantasy night a year earlier.

This NYE, I'm going to drink a little, see my friends and not expect anything. Or try not to.

Happy happy everyone! See you in 2006.

Grateful for: one great night.

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