Another New Year’s Eve

By Patricia Hemingway

old couple dancing

 

It’s funny how New Year’s Eve sneaks up on you when you’re seventy-five. The Christmas decorations are still up and each night the soft glow of the strings of lights lulls you to sleep. Always one week after Christmas Eve, the last night of the year signals that another year will begin in just one day.

Ten or twelve years ago, when I was still only in my mid-sixties, we stayed out dancing until midnight on New Year’s Eve. The “we” were a group of good friends visiting this small town for the first time. The evening’s restaurant had an upstairs that looked out over the hills. It also had a large dance floor and a band with vocalists. What could be better? We ate our fill, the wine was flowing, and we were dolled up. And we all loved each other.

I was sitting out one dance, catching my breath, having a little more wine. An old New Year’s Eve memory came into focus and I wondered, where do memories come from? How do they choose a certain time to come back with such clarity?

It is a long-ago New Year’s Eve, and I am sleeping over at my best friend’s house. Her mother is out on a date and we have the place to ourselves. We have the television on, turned up loud. And we are ecstatically happy at the opportunity to explore our favorite activity: dressing up.

In her mother’s closet are a dozen cocktail dresses with full skirts and horsehair underskirts that make them swirl outward like a night full of stars. We slip out of our pajamas and begin with undergarments. The most dramatic are longline bras: they have a long row of hooks and eyes that run up the back. We have to do up each other, taking turns. The effect is instantaneous. We now have, instead of girlish bodies, small waistlines and smooth hips and—most important—padded breasts that make our shapes fascinating and entirely different .

One of my favorite of her mother’s dresses is the black taffeta with tiny silvery dots all over it. When I dance around the room, the entire atmosphere changes. I am on a terrace overlooking the New York City skyline. In a man’s arms I dance gracefully and he holds me with his hand at the base of my spine so that our every move is perfectly coordinated. The music plays and we whirl and sway and laugh and everything is perfect.

My friends returned to our table and so did all the other happy revelers. The band announced they were taking a short break. The tables were pushed so close together that we had become one large group, all smiling at each other. Everyone was a little winded from the continuous song after song the vocalists sang. Our dinner plates had been cleared away and the tiramisu was being served with more champagne. What a happy night.

“Hey, look out the window,” someone shouted. We got up and crowded onto the small balcony. Close enough to be touched, or so it seemed, was a multi-tiered structure. On each level fireworks had been carefully attached, so that as the swirling began, one layer caught fire, and then another. Once it got going there was no stopping it. Like happiness itself it was contagious. Whoever thought I would be standing here with life ablaze all around me?

In the street below were bonfires. All the kids ran around acting crazy, playing tag, blowing small horns that bleeped as they stretched out and then curled up again. They shook small metal tins that rattled, and the fire leaped up and more wood was added by their families and the kids laughed so that we could hear them from up above. I thought of my best friend and me, creating our own fun in a small house, and I knew what these kids were feeling. I had felt it too. That expansive freedom that comes from moving your body over and over until it doesn’t know where it ends and the rest of the world begins. It creates its own fantastic swirling and whirling and normal reality no longer exists. Yes, I knew about that.

There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns. I read that somewhere and it has been true all these many years. For now, I yawn and enjoy the soft glow all around me. I may make it until midnight or not. I’m happy tonight.

 

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