On New Year’s Eve when I was fifteen—in effect, with a mid-January birthday, the eve of turning sixteen—I was despondent. I had nothing to do. Like other holidays, but particularly New Year’s Eve, the expectation of something grand, meaningful, or fun and the lack thereof made for great disappointment—particularly crushing as an adolescent. The previous New Year’s Eve my older sister had instigated a party that I know remains in the memory of many friends: they arrived from all over the city at our relatively remote location to enjoy a relatively unsupervised household.
In contrast, this year my older sister had a few friends over, I suspect my other siblings were around, but in my misery I was alone. I am sure I wandered up and down the stairs in our multistoried old house, perhaps in and out into the cold, unforgiving bayside winter. My misery was particularly acute because my best friend, Pam, had gone off to a party with another of her friends. In those days there was a tug of war for my best friend’s affections, or at least that is how I perceived it. I often felt deliberately excluded, and I doubt this was an imagined rebuff. Admittedly, the other friend was much more adept at providing tantalizing social opportunities than I was.
Then a miracle occurred. The doorbell rang, and there was Pam. She came because she had realized that she wanted to be with people she loved at midnight. That admission was pure joy for me, but after a few minutes of joy, we were left with nothing to do on New Year’s Eve. So we decided to go to the party. I don’t recall whether she had already been there or she had never gone.
Full of glee, we headed out into the cold, dancing along the sidewalks, sharing our ebullience with the world. For some reason we kept quoting a line from a school performance Pam had been in—Charlie Brown’s Halloween utterance, “I got a rock.” Never a particular fan of Peanuts and not in attendance at the performance, I had no idea what this meant, but we both found it hysterical. It became the theme for the night, evoking laughter whenever it was declared.
Going to the party entailed a five-mile trip to the other end of Rockaway peninsula. For some reason, probably because the bus was too long in arriving, these mass-transit savvy teenagers decided to do something neither of them had ever done before: we hitchhiked. We immediately regretted our decision. A single man, probably the age of our parents, picked us up. We soon realized he was intoxicated, and something about him made him seem less than paternal. Frightened, we engaged in absolute gibberish about meeting Pam’s father and brother (nonexistent) that was so transparent in its intent that I’m sure he saw right through us. By time we arrived in Far Rockaway, we decided we just wanted to go back home. It was cold, it was late, and Pam wasn’t even sure how to find (or re-find?) the party. We had had enough of an adventure. We took a car service back to our end of the peninsula.
Now, many years later, when there are but a few particular New Year’s Eves that I remember, this one remains with me. The memory is like a rock that Pam gave me when she came to my house that night, to “ring in the new year” with me.
Happy New Year!
Addendum: I called Pam while writing this to get some details straight. She didn’t remember the night at all. Such are memories. We had a good laugh.