It was 2007 going on 2008 and we packed into the commuter train like a herd of sequined cattle and made our way to the bar-car, even though this particular bar-car had not been functional for as long as I’d been taking this particular metro line which had been about four years or so, at that time.
It was a simple task, convincing my friends to spend the last few hours of the year in a crowded bar and drinking overpriced Coors Lights bottled in festive metallic because what else was there to do? There was the Backyard Pub which was the local haunt in our college town with their jukebox and their chicken wings and their ash trays and our friends, who were more frugal and less enthusiastic about blowing the hundred dollars their grandparents gave them for Christmas in a single night, our friends who stayed behind at the Backyard Pub where things were familiar, like the faces and the prices and the smell in the air. But the rest of us went to Manhattan to shimmer and to wear wristbands that clashed with our outfits and to kiss strange mouths come midnight. Except for me, because I had a familiar mouth to kiss, which is why I convinced my friends to make the trip down in the first place.
Grand Central buzzed and we buzzed off the vodka and the whisky and the wine we had experienced on the train ride. We moved through the terminal and headed underground to the subway and we got out on Astor and then had no further thoughts on where to go, except away from uptown, because uptown was where the cameras and the tourists and the large, hopeful globe sat in the sky, waiting to crash down and end it all. So we didn’t want to go there.
We found a Russian or Polish or Irish restaurant that moonlighted as a pub and it was empty so we made it ours. On every table sat a white cloth and on top of the white cloth sat gold New Year’s top hats for us, the guests. I put a hat on my head and slipped my phone between my breasts so I would not miss the call from the boy with the familiar mouth and then I posed for a photograph.
We drank and talked until we drank and shouted and I checked my phone every time the second hand on the clock touched six because it was getting later and then even later and still not a word from the boy with the familiar mouth which I imagined he was using to charm or to woo or maybe to kiss someone who knew the right places to go on New Year’s Eve, a person who was not me.
At 11:40 or somewhere in the neighborhood of 11:40 I got what I was waiting for and I was given an address and it was miles away, at least two of them and still I told my friends that I would be back, I just didn’t know when and I left the Russian Polish Irish pub and made my way toward the West Village, maybe in high heels but more likely not.
I did not know a lot of things at this time in my life and one of those things was what happens when you love someone who does not love you but another one of those things was the geographic spread of the West Village which does not sprawl politely like a grid, it is more complicated and more formidable than that and so I found myself on a cobbled street brimming with people who knew where to go, how to stand, who to be and I reached between my breasts and retrieved the phone once more and dialed the person I thought could teach me all of those things to tell him that I was here, I was outside and would you let me in?
He came downstairs and he looked expensive. I was wearing a black dress and he was wearing a white suit and if this were a David Lynch film or any other film, we had our colors all mixed up and they were not representative of who we were, not in the context of our relationship anyway because another thing I know now that I didn’t know then is that people are never all good or all bad. We rode the elevator until it couldn’t go any higher and when the doors opened I stepped out into a loft the size of a regulation basketball court or maybe two of them and the ceiling was high like it was mocking church or mocking god or maybe it was just mocking me.
Girls towered over me in seven-inch heels and their clavicles pawed at their skin every time they laughed or smiled or swigged from their glasses. Guys clutched flasks and asses and were rich in stature and poor in height. I made small talk and danced around the only thing that seemed to be happening which was: I don’t belong here. The clock struck twelve and we kissed and he asked me to stay over. I said I would but for now I had to go.
I took the elevator down as far as it would go and got out and never questioned why we go out of our way to honor traditions like kisses at midnight when the most important things happen in present tense. I found my friends and we went to bars where everyone wanted to kiss you and no one wanted to buy you a drink. I welcomed neon green and pink and sky blue bands around my wrist like they were currency. I paid a doorman $20 here, $60 there because humans will take everything from you if you let them. I sent a message saying I was ready to go and it was dangling like a modifier. It was a new year, except nothing was new.
My friends began to tire and so did I but I was waiting as ever for the phone to rattle me, wake me up, send me to his bed where I belonged. I made it all the way uptown again, was standing in the atrium at Grand Central Terminal with 4 a.m. hope in my eyes that the boy with the familiar mouth would save me from the commuter train and the no-bar-car and the parade of drunks making their way back to wherever after a long night of small disappointments.
I sat in an aisle seat and my phone vibrated somewhere between Fordham and Pelham and a message waited for me, it asked me to come over, but I was already gone.