It’s official, Figs: the weather is getting frightful, the mistletoe has been hung, the lights are twinkling–the holidays are upon us! To celebrate, we’ve asked some of our favorite authors to share holiday memories with us. Tune in all through December to get in the holiday spirit!
Robin Wasserman is the author of the Cold Awakening trilogy, about teenage Lia who almost loses her perfect life in an accident–but is saved by a new medical technology: The Download. She’s lucky to be alive, but she feels somehow changed and struggles to reclaim her old life. To celebrate the new year, Robin is joining us to tell the tale of new years past: the cold, the crowded, and the sober.
Should’ve Known Better
I believe there are three kinds of people in this world. Those who love New Year’s Eve and every year have a fabulously successful night with seemingly no effort whatsoever. Those who hate New Year’s Eve and every year resolutely skip the crowded parties, overpriced dinners, and alcohol-fueled resolutions, and instead stay in, rent a movie, and make sure they’re in bed by 10 pm. Then there are the rest of us, who resolve each year to break the streak of disappointments, to stumble onto some glamorous, thrilling, Hollywood-worthy New Year’s Eve extravaganza, to finally have a night to remember . . . only to find ourselves, year after year, chugging warm champagne in front of the TV, watching more interesting people have more interesting nights, and vowing: Next year will be better. (Maybe.)
Given that I spent my formative years in the suburbs with a group of friends for whom hanging out at Barnes & Noble reading Cosmo and old Sweet Valley High novels represented the height of Saturday night fever, you can guess which group I fell into. Our New Year’s celebrations usually consisted of takeout, TV, and the occasional ill-advised party that we usually left early so as to be home in time for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.
In junior high, we assumed things would get more exciting when we made it to high school. In high school, we reassured ourselves things would improve when we made it to college. By junior year of college, it was clear we were going to have to take matters into our own hands. And because we lived in suburban Philadelphia, practically shouting distance (or at least dreaming distance) of New York City, our choice was clear: We would go to Times Square. We would watch the ball drop in person; we would be the people we had watched on television, drenched in confetti and goodwill. We would stay up all night . . . somewhere. Doing . . . something. We figured instead of working out the logistics ahead of time, we’d make it up as we went along.
What could go wrong?
I should mention here that I’m sure the East Coast is filled with twenty-somethings who decide on a whim head to New York on New Year’s Eve and spend the night wandering the city, bouncing from one unforgettable adventure to another. It’s possible to do. It just wasn’t possible for us to do.
There were three of us. To protect the innocent (namely me), we’ll call them Spunky and Cranky. So, Spunky, Cranky, and I took the train to New York—to this city in which none of us had spent more than a couple days on our own (rarely, on any of those days, venturing beyond a six block radius of the Times Square subway station). We raced over to Times Square around 6p.m. . . . only to discover we were about nine hours too late to get a spot anywhere near the action. The closest we got to Dick Clark & Co. was a corner twelve blocks away, packed into a crowd of thousands of people, all of them wearing thick coats and carrying thermoses of hot drinks and bags of snacks, because it had occurred to all of them, as it had not occurred to us, that we were about to spend the next six hours standing still, in the windy, 20° dark, waiting.
We stood. We waited. We froze. We did not eat, drink, or take a bathroom break.
We did not have the time of our lives.
Hours passed, with Cranky (whose idea this had originally been) yelling at us for dragging her to such a hellhole and Spunky (who knew Cranky well enough that she really should have remembered the snacks) looking in vain for a bright side, which only made Cranky crankier. Then, salvation! In the distance, blocks and blocks north of us, we heard muffled screaming. Word finally trickled back to us: It was midnight. The ball had dropped. The hellish ordeal was over. Somewhere, Dick Clark was wishing the world a happy new year. Somewhere, people wiser and happier than us were watching it all on TV.
The plan was, our parents would pick us up at the train station in the morning. The plan was—or at least, had been, before we turned into popsicles—that we would go downtown and somehow magically find a thrilling place to pass the rest of the night. Spunky was still all for it. “We’ll wander,” she said. “Something will happen.”
“I’ll tell you what will happen,” Cranky said. “We’ll go back to Penn Station, where they have fast food and central heating. We will sit there, all night, and at the crack of dawn, we’ll get the hell out.”
(Suffice it to say, I had enough years of experience watching Spunky and Cranky fight that I knew better than to offer an opinion of my own.)
If you’ve never spent any time at New York’s Penn Station, just picture the filthiest place you’ve ever been, then add a few rats, a few condom wrappers, and some streaks of something that you hope is blood. Now picture it on New Year’s Eve, filled with drunks puking in (and more often, beside) trash cans, drunks getting into knife fights in the bathroom when all you want to do is wash your hands to rid them of whatever gunk you horrifyingly touched on the way up the stairs, drunks edging up to you, breathing in your face, and slurring about what pretty hair you have . . . and three stone cold sober girls from the suburbs, huddled on the floor against the wall, trying to stay awake until dawn. (Not as hard as it sounds, since Cranky and Spunky passed the time by shouting at each other—which you’d think would have kept the drunken knife-fighters and hair-sniffers away, but you’d be wrong.)
The night was a total failure; we were failures. At the time, it seemed an inauspicious way to start the year—but maybe not. Because that was 1999, the year we would become college seniors, the year we would realize that college doesn’t last forever and eventually we were going to have to decide what we were doing with our lives, the year that we started figuring out exactly who we were and who we wanted to be. We were not the girls who partied the night away amongst confetti and litter in Times Square; we didn’t want to be. And when December came around again, when we launched a new century and celebrated what we thought might be our last New Year’s all together, we did it at home, with homemade food and board games and cheap champagne and Dick Clark, and, maybe because now we knew what we were missing and how little we missed it, it was the first New Year’s that ever felt exactly right.