Twenty years ago today, I was a senior in high school. Enjoying a prolonged holiday break. Almost certainly putting off the mountain of college applications I'd yet to start, the intimidating January 15th application deadline still seemingly far, far away. Waking up in the same bed I'd slept in all my life, the mattress rotten with holes and collapsed springs. The walls of my small room a warm grey, the color of December skies. Looking forward to the evening, to what was - for me - a new experience: a New Year's eve with a girlfriend. Someone to hold hands with as I wandered aimlessly through Boston's First Night. Someone to huddle with for warmth, when the wind blew cold. Someone to kiss, when the clock struck twelve. The calendar in flux, my life overflowing with promise and possibility.
Ten years ago today, I was living in San Francisco with TheGirlwhobecameTheWife. On her left hand was a shiny new bauble, a slim gold band supporting a 1.02 carat, round-cut diamond that had cost me something more than 3 months of meager salary. In the two months since my proposal (or, as I insisted on calling it, my proposition) we'd determined that we would leave California and return to Massachusetts, just before the September wedding we'd already decided to stage in a distant corner of Maine. This New Year's Eve, our fourth in San Francisco, would be our last. It was a good one. There was a dinner with friends. Wine, and rich food. Laughter. Then we returned to our apartment (SF lingo: our flat), parsing our way through the deep fog and thickets of spot-searching cars that filled the Castro evening. And when the windows began to rattle with distant explosions, we stepped out onto our back stairs. Our home was a basement apartment, but from the back - as a function of the city's famed hills - we were three stories up. And as we looked into the fog, out into a shifting, wind-blown expanse of low cloud masking distant views of the city's skyscrapers, the bay and the East Bay and hills beyond, we found wonder: instead of the expected display of blinding brightness followed by twinkling, tumbling filaments of intricate light, we saw only the muffled glow of colored light buried in the fog. There would be darkness and wind, and then suddenly the fog would warm and fill with muffled greens, reds, whites and blues. A moment later, the boom would echo up from the Bay and the windows would rattle and shiver, the vibrations creating a reflected shimmer of distant, fading light. I held her hand in mine, my fingers gently brushing against the new ring. The night was aglow, surreal and wonderful. One year passed into the next.
One year ago today, we dropped our kids off at school. Then we took a day together. Time away - for the two of us - was a rare enough event that it became a thing we'd have to schedule: I called it "our quarterly save-our-marriage days." This one was less ambitious than many (we often traveled out of state, to New Hampshire or Rhode Island or even up to Maine, gambling only that we could be back in time to pick up our kids) — we simply drove a bit north to a place where we could wander through stores, enjoy a long lunch, waste our time. Together. TheWife was in the early stages of a job search, beginning to wrap her head around the reality of leaving a company she'd been a part of for ten years, but realizing that it was time for a change. Her day away was a welcome escape from a place where she no longer felt comfortable. I wasn't escaping from anything — just savoring my time with her. I was heading into my fifth year at a job that I loved and was good at. Business was good, and my boss had just promised me an upcoming raise. We saw the year ahead as a time of challenges, but largely ones of our own making. And we saw the day as a time to celebrate our good fortune. So we did. We took advantage of sales, and filled bags with warm shirts and fleece jackets. We began toying with the idea of a new dining room table, and spent an hour debating the merits of this, that, the other. We were flush with relative prosperity and comfort. And we wandered and wasted our time happily, passing the hours, sharing the day. Until, finally, we wrapped it up with a long and absurdly indulgent lunch at a high-end steakhouse. Glasses of wine appeared, were savored; vanished. She ordered a filet; I had a ribeye sandwich. It was - without question - the greatest lunch. Ever. A great way to end the year strong, and to signal an even better year ahead.
(lifting a glass, and toasting you all — in hopes that whatever marvelous place you find yourself one year from now, it brings you glad tidings and happy memories for the year ahead.)