It’s an unbelievably breathtaking night. The air is laced with frost and the sky is deep and dark. But who needs the stars when they have the twinkle of grand cityscapes scaled in infinite pin-dots of light? Who needs the moon when they have the globe of time honored tradition hanging overhead?
I always wanted this singular experience where the old year dies and gives way to the new. And some might find it to be too cliché or conventional, but I wanted that feeling, that rush, that fragile hope that maybe the slate could be wiped clean – that maybe for just one night I could forget the past and the dangers looming in the future.
I know that it’s just a ball of lights in the grand scheme of things, but sentient beings find sentimentality in even the most trivial of things, things like a hoodie or a glance or a touch or a photo. And time, the passage of it, the fact that my eyes still have sight and my heart still beats, well, it’s obvious why it’s so much more than just a ball to me.
Right now, in this moment, I’m surrounded by flamboyant celebrants, everyone dressed to the nines and packed together like sardines in a sprawling metropolis of skyscrapers and merriment. And I realize that, for whatever reason, for whatever purpose, I’m still alive.
I don’t know how I really feel about that fact, but only if for the night I refuse to overanalyze it. I’m just going to let it be. I’m here; I’m healthy, flushed from the crisp champagne and lower winter temperatures, but I’m utterly well.
So completely well…
And it’s all because for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel alone.
I spent the last few days in Ohio with Kyla and Christine getting reacquainted. And I found that once the elephant in the room had been addressed, things became so much easier. I was finally able to just relax, to allow myself to be part of the family. And that’s when it became clear to me that all of the suffering that I’d endured over those two months had been my own doing. If I could have just spoken with Christine, made an effort to explain, things would have been so much better.
But I couldn’t. I was too afraid, afraid that I was beyond reproach. I didn’t believe that she could or should forgive me because, in so many ways, I still can’t even forgive myself. And so to compensate, I was keeping her at a distance, forcing her into a corner, demanding that she be the first one to risk her heart even when I’d made it perfectly clear on numerous occasions that I didn’t want to be there.
But that wasn’t the truth. I did want to be there. I did want to make it right; I just didn’t know how to let that happen. Spencer had been right: I needed a safety net, and without one, I just couldn’t risk it. But then I found myself at my breaking point, frustrated and hopeless and trying to walk away but unable to do so. How ironic that for once walking away was the right thing to do and I just couldn’t do it. I’m thankful though, because if I had, I wouldn’t have found a way to repair that bridge to my past.
But it’s on the mend, and I’m not alone.
Who could have guessed that a terrible Christmas from hell could give me so much to look forward to?
I’m no longer alone…
I realize that maybe it’s not entirely fair to have felt alone. I’ve had Shirley and Sam nearly from the start, and then Kate, and Jac and Jon for over a year now, but each person that comes into my life has their own place, their own meaning, their own space to fill in the puzzle.
The missing pieces from my past were deeply steeped in history; those connections were specific. The memories and inside jokes had been inked onto my heart, and nothing short of the real thing could ever fill those gaps, no matter how much I appreciated the new additions.
But now, now I have both.
I’m not alone…
Perhaps alone is the wrong word. Perhaps I’m no longer so segmented, so perforated, so fragmented. Maybe I just feel their presence more because they had been so achingly missing.
They’re not missing anymore…
I like the sound of that.
If I look to my right, there’s Kyla, my sister, a sister that I’m still very angry with. I still feel like she coerced me into going to Ohio just to throw me to the wolves, or wolf, as it were. We had a descent few days before leaving for New York, but since I shut her down on Christmas, it’s been jilted.
I just can’t understand why she didn’t stand up for me more. Why didn’t she try to include me? Why did she shut me out knowing that it was hurting me?
I don’t have any of the answers to those questions yet, but as she looks over at me and smiles so fully that it lights up her chocolate eyes, I can’t help but grin back at her. All of that is on hold for tonight, a night where it’s all about the celebration of longevity.
I’m alive, and they’re not missing anymore.
The atmosphere, the energy of this place at this moment is magnificent, even as I can’t hear over the incredible roar of the overanxious crowd. I’ve always adored city life, and while LA is my home, my lover…
New York may turn out to be my mistress.
Just beyond Kyla is Kate, easy and relaxed as she just takes it all in. I think that’s one of the things that makes our friendship so easy: her ability to just let things roll off of her back. She doesn’t stress, aside from her stage fright. She doesn’t yell or get overly emotional. She’s quiet and shy and a touch naïve, but she’s impossibly patient and unfailingly kind.
In fact, she optimizes the cliché surfer persona. It’s everything about her, from her golden tan to her white, easy smile – from the straight, sun-bleached hair that falls into her eyes to her nonchalant agreeability. If she weren’t so smart or so beautiful, she’d easily double as Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
If I look to my left, I see Spencer, her expression relaxed and open, her eyes hooded, her smile bright like a beacon, and her hair tumbling past her shoulders in gentle waves as she happily sways her streamer stick.
She’s nothing like Kate. She’s bubbly, girly, slightly obsessive compulsive, and fairly demanding. But still, somehow, the two of us just click. If she were anyone else, I’m not so sure that we would mesh so seamlessly. But as I look at her, really look at her, as my heart thumps harder, I can’t help but wonder if the reason that it worked was because she is everything that I’m not.
And she’s beautiful…
In fact, there is nothing in this world that can rival just how gorgeous she is both inside and out: no city, no natural vista, no starlit sky or maudlin memory. If I went blind right now and her face in this moment was the last that I would ever see, I could go happily.
It’s so obvious that she’s in her element here, and that may just make her even more beautiful if such a thing were possible. New York was her home for four years, her college experience, the haven that gave her the safety to lick her wounds in peace, the very place that she met Carmen and found the will to move on with her life.
God, she awes and inspires me. She doesn’t give up, even when she should. No, she bends when she should break. I envy that about her. I wish that I could be more like her, or at the very least, borrow some of her strength.
It’s a strength that I need desperately, and there are immediately apparent reasons for that need. One of them is Carmen standing next to her, just as relaxed and comfortable in this environment. In fact, I’d say that she’s bored and unimpressed.
I know that this is nothing new for her either, but I can’t help but feel that part of her disinterest is due to the fact that we’re here because of me. I don’t know how many of our trips she plans to tag along on, but does she have to do it so grudgingly?
She glances over at me and gives me a tight smile, pulling Spencer snugly against her side with a possessive grip. I get it; I really do, and I know that I’d also be nervous and jealous of sharing Spencer with someone that I perceive as a threat. But Spencer isn’t someone that deserves distrust. She’s the most honest person that I’ve ever known, and also the most loyal.
Spencer loves me. She will always love me. There is a place in Spencer’s heart that no one will ever be able to occupy but me. There’s no way around it. I was there first.
No one else will ever know what it means to run away with her and shout injustice to the sky.
No one else will ever know what it meant to me to be there for her when she was first discovering herself.
No one will ever know what it was like to touch her for the first time, to give her that first unquenchable taste of passion.
No one will ever know what it was like to be there for her when her world was falling apart.
Those pieces of her are mine and mine alone.
They always will be.
And in that same way, no one will ever know those same parts of me.
No one else will know these lonely dreams that haunt me.
No one else will ever know my regrets.
But I robbed Spencer of the chance to be there for me when my world was crumbling down. I pushed her away and killed the one thing I was even living for. There aren’t words for that regret. And this is why I don’t understand how Carmen can’t see that she has a place that I will never know. She was the first to be open and honest, to give Spencer all of herself with abandon.
She was the first person to be patient and diligent.
And as much as I hate it, these are things I can never get back; these are pieces of Spencer that weren’t stolen, but carelessly thrown away.
They, Spencer, are Carmen’s.
She’s won the war, no matter how many battles I own.
And these thoughts want to depress me. They want to own me and destroy me like they’ve already destroyed so much, but not tonight. I can’t go there tonight.
Because when Spencer smiles at me something warm tingles in my very viscera. Somehow, despite it all, I’m here with my closest friends, some pieces lost while others are restored. And even some are a new shape entirely, but they still fit together.
And I don’t want to ruin it like I do everything else. I just want to pretend tonight.
“Holy shit,” Jon screams over the noise of the crowd in front of us as she bursts through them excitedly, Jac hot on her heels.
These two – I want to shake my head at how utterly absurd they are, even as much as it’s the very reason that I keep them around. Jon is wearing a tall, felt, red-and-white top hat with huge golden glasses that exclaim the new year.
Jac is sporting similar glasses, a fluffy, rainbow colored fur coat, and she has a black and white horn that, despite its small size, makes a god-awful amount of noise. And she’s blowing it like a sack full of queers.
Elton John would be so proud of them…
“Taylor Swift is up there,” Jac exclaims excitedly as she jumps up and down.
“So fucking hot,” Jon says in that cocky, overly certain way of hers.
My face screws up at the thought. I’ve never been a Swift fan, but I definitely dig blondes. I don’t mean to, but I glance over at Spencer before tucking my hands in my pockets and scolding myself. I have to stop that. I can’t keep thinking those things about her.
Even over the excited cacophony, Jac startles the shit out of me when she throws her arms in the air and screams, “Riley!”
I glance over and see two girls making their way through the bodies towards us, and find myself doing a double-take. The one called Riley has those boyish, baby-faced good looks just like Jon. Her hair is short and sort of shaggy, and it falls in her eyes when she gives a nod of her head as if she’s king shit of fuck mountain.
“Sup,” she says, giving me the once over as she throws an arm over Jac’s shoulders.
I glance at Spencer out of the corner of my eye to see her trying unsuccessfully to swallow her laughter at how I was just blatantly eye fucked like a piece of meat.
I spurn the open appraisal and ignore Riley, but I also determine to keep an eye on her. I hope that Jac is just looking for a fling. The arrogance nearly oozes out of Riley’s confident posture. And yet again, I’m reminded of Jon.
Speaking of Jon, Riley’s friend has introduced herself as Sarah and she’s hanging all over Jon like a limpet. And fuck help me, she reminds me of Jac.
She’s smaller, more petite, and more feminine as she leans up on her tip-toes to say something obviously naughty in Jon’s ear. Everything about her appearance screams shy and reserved, just like Jac. But everything else, from the way that she smiles slowly, to the way that she plays her fingers in the hollow of Jon’s throat, gives me the impression that once she’s done copulating, she eats her lover’s head.
And honestly, that’s just how Jac comes across. She does it on purpose, even when it couldn’t be further from the truth.
I find myself kind of staring at the two couples in wonder, though I’m not even sure why.
About this time the energy in the crowd kicks up a notch, and we find ourselves gazing up at the giant screen at the corner of Broadway and Seventh to see that thirty seconds has begun to count down.
Shouts and bells and whistles fill the already pregnant air to bursting as the numbers on the screen descend, the ball starting its slow trek downward. And as we draw closer to those last ten seconds, it feels like the very atmosphere will explode.
I can’t help but shout along and watch as the excitement builds until that last second, but then time suddenly slows down, the noise falling into the background until I can only hear my own breathing.
It’s as if I’m waiting for something, or maybe having a panic attack, because just like that, it’s over. It’s another breath, a heartbeat, a blink, and it’s over.
I’m one step closer to a grave.
Suddenly that crisp air feels colder, almost biting, despite the collective heat of gyrating bodies en masse. And for a moment, I almost can’t realize where I am. It’s like nothing happening makes sense. I feel like I might implode but I’m obviously the only one.
Jon and Jac are each engaged in a torrid lip-lock with their respective strangers, and Kyla is giving Kate a kiss on the cheek that makes her blush.
And I know – I know that if I look the other way that I’m going to see things that I don’t want to see. But then I’m one step closer and Spencer has much further to go than I do. And somehow, I know that if I face it, this strange moment of stillness that I’ve found myself in will end.
So I force myself. I force myself to look her way and watch as her heart moves on, moves further and further away from me. It’s a sweet kiss, the kind that’s unhurried and practiced. And it would be a lie to say that there is not love in that kiss, even if it’s not so intense or passionate.
But maybe that’s the way that it’s supposed to be.
I used to believe that love has to burn out of control for it to be real. But the older that I become, the more that I’m beginning to believe that heated, desperate, intense love that lasts is rare. Most who experience that kind of love tend to find themselves consumed by its intensity.
But there are those lucky few who find that kind of love and not only survive the flames, but enjoy the heat.
People like me.
I had that once.
And I believe that Spencer did as well.
And yet there she is giving herself to someone else. There she is being wiser, being smarter, choosing the more temperate path because that’s the only way to survive when the fire dies and leaves you alive, scarred but still inconceivably breathing.
And it’s for this reason that all that I can believe at this point is that lasting love isn’t as enflamed as it is calm. Lasting love is the one that’s milder, easier, safer.
I look at them for only a moment, but that image will forever be engrained in my mind, a constant reminder of the fact that for all of the ways that my runaway plan didn’t work, it actually did.
Spencer is happy.
My eyes find my feet as the popping sound in my ears rushes the noise back in, and my breath hitches in my chest with a wheezing inhale, I realize that while New York may be my mistress, my time with her could never last. I long to be back home, in my own bed, away from the commotion of it all.
Out of the fire…
But then soft lips find my cheek and warm breath skitters across the blushed surface of my skin. And I shut my eyes, feeling burned, feeling consumed, even by so little.
Yes, I had that once.
And I think, no, I know, that Spencer did as well.
I look over at her as she pulls away and she meets my gaze, smiling as she reaches up to rub the gloss from that part of my face that I may never wash again. I almost want to tell her to leave it, but then I love the warmth of her hand far too much as it strokes my cheek to be indignant.
She’s smiling the kind of smile that crinkles the skin at the corners of her eyes ever-so-slightly, and I know that I’m meeting that smile with one of my own, despite the fact that I just want to fall into her arms and cry.
And I don’t even know why.
I guess, with her, I’ll never have reasons. She defies reason.
And there, for a moment, she knows it. Her face falls a little, and my sadness is mirrored in her. But I can’t take it. I hate doing that to her. She deserves to be happy.
And she knows, because she always knows, and she’s so easy in that knowledge that she just lets it go, lets me slide, leaves the attic door precariously shut.
“Happy New Year,” she says, or mouths, I can’t tell over the chorus of Auld Lang Syne thundering around us.
“Happy New Year,” I reply just as inaudibly.
And it’s hard to watch her pull away and go back to Carmen, but it’s necessary. I know it. I feel it. I just can’t face it. Besides, the worst is yet to come. Soon, I’ll have to face it all.
And in just a couple of days, I’ll be back in Ohio, taking the first step towards fully recovering my life.
I’ll be making a stop at the Federal Correctional Facility in Elkton, Ohio to lay the hardest piece to rest. And if it doesn’t work, then I’ll die trying.