I decided to do something different this December 31st. For as long as I’ve been celebrating New Year’s Eves, I’ve been greeting the subsequent morning with blurry eyes, a hangover that proves impervious to all the bacon and coffee I can throw at it, and a sullen and increasingly loud resentment of sunshine.
Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been some very good New Year’s Eves in there; the problem is usually the reverse. Some of my particular favourites have been spent working in clubs, because there’s nothing quite like the combination of free alcohol, double time pay, and a crowd of a couple thousand people, all secure in the knowledge that no matter what happens, they don’t have to go to work the next day, to spell out a good time.
But, after the train wreck that was 2009, it was time to switch up my style. Not only did I swear to myself I wasn’t going to wake up hungover on New Year’s Day, I also decided it was time to use the fresh start that everyone talks about as just that: a fresh start. After some lengthy discussions with the incomparable Zara Potts, I worked out just what I was going to do.
For a couple of days prior to NYE, I’d been writing down everything I was done with. Personal demons and demonic persons, mental confusions and spiritual contusions, grim frustrations and grimmer situations… everything got named and nailed down onto scraps of paper; mugshots of the things I wanted to change. I stuffed them all into a cardboard box and sat it on my desk – from time to time I would eye it off uneasily, half-expecting the unpleasantness defined inside to stage some kind of Dillinger-esque break-out as I added to the collection.
At sunset on New Year’s Eve, I took the box outside, placed it on a concrete slab so there would be no last-minute fire outbreak (although I would have grudgingly acknowledged the irony of such a well-placed final fuck you from 2009, and half-expecting one, I placed a bucket of water nearby), and put a box of matches to it. Of course, as I lit the matches, they flared up in a burst of sulphur and singed my fingers. Couldn’t resist one last bite out of me, could you, assholes? I thought, and dropped the matches into the box¹.
It burned sullenly, at first. The flames flickered around the thin cardboard edges of the box, catching in parts, then sputtering out with the job only just begun. The papers at the top were left singed and charred and rimmed in glowing lines of ember, giving the impression that everything had burned, but I refused to fall for that ruse.
Sorry, guys, I thought. There’s no escape. Not this time. Not for you.
Remembering the basic physics of fire (Dear Mr. Strohfeldt. Thank you for being such a wonderful high school science teacher. I remain truly sorry about the time I filled your classroom with the smell of deodorant. It was horseplay gone wrong, and nothing personal), I flipped the box and lit it from underneath, where the flames could suck in oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere and burn upwards.This time the fire caught rapidly; hungrily it ate through the stacked papers, long tongues of red and orange and yellow flicking across the undersides of notes crowded with the things I longed to erase. And I stood and watched every last piece of paper burn to ash until finally everything, box included, had been consumed.
Let me tell you, that’s a satisfying sensation.
Minutes after the fire was done, the clouds opened up into thunder and lightning and rain. And I drove to my friend Dean’s house to ring in the new year.
I got home the next morning at five, and sober², with an hour to wait until dawn and the second half of my plan.
Minutes before six, with the first sunrise of the new year starting to move up from behind the horizon, I took the second box, the one in which I’d stored my notes of all the things I wanted for myself, my family, and my friends in 2010, and tied the fifteen helium balloons I’d bought for just that purpose to it. I walked out to my back yard, found the clearest space I could, and, at sunrise, released them.
It was overcast and breezily cool, and I was worried the wind might carry the balloons into the higher branches of one of the surrounding trees (which would have been an undeniably bad omen). But the wind died just as the clock hit 6:01, the time of the rising sun. At first the balloons broke ranks and split away from each other, jostling for direction, but they quickly moved back into a cohesive unit that looked, to my fatigued eyes, as if it was moving with definitive purpose into the air.
And I stood and watched my colourful balloons and the box of my hopes and dreams rise swiftly up to the moody grey sky. In a few seconds, they were a tiny dot far up and away towards the clouds.
That’s right, 2010, I thought. You and me, baby.
So with a clean slate, a request list for the year to come, and 365 days that I’m really looking forward to, I have only this left to say:
Happy New Year.
¹ sadly, the box³ neither screamed nor did any gibbering phantoms fly out, as I was kind of hoping.
³ yes, I lifted the phrase ‘Box Full of Evil’ from Mike Mignola. I apologise for nothing.