It’s December 31st, but to me it’s nothing more than another Thursday. Still, I reluctantly accept its significance, so I go to the deli and get some things for my last meal of the year. I stop in the liquor store for a bottle of Jack and a small bottle of champagne – now the libations for the evening are procured.
I walk along the row next to the park, seeing the scrawny limbs of bare trees scraping at the cloudy winter sky. There are a few birds floating around, a couple walking arm-in arm along a path, an old man on a bench flipping pieces of bread to pigeons, a mother pushing a baby carriage, and a homeless fellow carrying a black garbage bag probably filled with all he owns. I wonder where they all will be tonight when the ball drops. At least the couple and mother and baby have one another.
I pound into the vestibule of my building, take envelopes and a small package from my mailbox, and then press up three flights of stairs to my apartment. I throw open the door, drop everything on the kitchen table, and look around the room. The walls are silent shrouds with images that seem indecipherable – hard to believe I picked out every one of those paintings – except the Chagall that was a gift from Bella. Now I feel as if I am in someone else’s room, like an unwelcomed stranger who snuck in the door.
After putting my stuff away I check the mail – all end-of-the-year requests for donations and my Con Ed bill – not a single thing that comes from a person who knows me. I look at the package – it has some heft to it. There’s no return address, so this amounts to about the most mystery I have had in my life in months.
I take a knife from the drain board, slice open the corner, and then rip away the cardboard. There are six CDs with a yellow post-it note in Bella’s handwriting: Wanted to return these to you; know how much you love them. B.
I look at the CDs briefly, walk to the garbage can, and drop them inside along with the note. I wash my hands thoroughly after that as if to get the detritus of any Bella-dust from them after handling her package. I then walk to the window and look out across the East River, knowing she’s somewhere out there. The Manhattan postmark on the package lets me know she’s still in town, but she might as well as be in Boise, Idaho or Singapore. It really doesn’t matter anymore.
I get up after taking a nap in order to stay up late to welcome the new year. I was tempted to just go about my normal routine; however, something compels me to be awake and mark the moment. It doesn’t make sense to me, but nothing really makes sense anymore.
I make ham on rye, smear mustard on both sides of the bread, slip a few pickles in there, and drop a glob of potato salad on the side of the plate. I grab a beer and sit at the table where I eat alone all the time. Sometimes I just go out to have lunch in order to eat with other people, but it’s all the same – it’s just being alone in a crowded place.
After I’m done eating I crack the cap open on the Jack, pour some in a glass, and take another beer from the fridge. I put on the TV and flip through the channels. I wish good old Dick Clark was here again. New Year’s Eve is not the same without him.
As I switch stations I come across The Honeymooners marathon on Channel 11. I used to watch these reruns all the time with my father. No matter how many times we saw them, Dad and I laughed. He’s gone now but no doubt sees me watching them. I wish he were sitting in the chair next to me again. I pour some more Jack and drink another beer – no buzz, nothing!
At around 10:30 I get a call from my brother Hank. In the background I hear music, laughter, and people talking rather loudly.
“Why didn’t you come out with me tonight?’
“What’s the point?” I ask.
“You’re never gonna meet anyone alone in that place.”
He takes a deep breath. “Look, Bella isn’t worth all this.”
Hank screams, “What you’re doing to yourself!”
“Oh, come on, Hank, you didn’t know her. She was the one.”
Hank says, “She was not the one the way she treated you; she was a mess. Time to move on, bro.”
I end the call by saying, “I have to go.”
I go into the kitchen, pour another Jack, and take the champagne bottle from the fridge. I sit in front of the muted TV and remember Bella’s whirlwind. Hank is right – she was a mess, but for a brief time she was mine, and I welcomed her storm.
Rushing to the garbage pail, I pull the CDs from it as if they were going somewhere. I yank one from the lot, pop Ten into my machine, and forward to the fifth song. As Pearl Jam’s “Black” fills my room, I stare out the window sipping Jack. I think of resolutions and endings. How can I move forward if I can’t look back? How can I resolve to do something if nothing means anything now?
I listen to Eddie Vedder singing – “Someday you’ll be a star in someone else’s sky, but why can’t it be mine?” Cruelty, thy name is Bella!
Later I watch the ball drop and people celebrating – why are they happy we all got a year older? I pop the cork, drink some champagne, but have nothing to toast or hope for – I mean, yeah, it’s a new year but just the same old me.
Photo credits: pix11.com, cnn
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