We start by uncorking the bottle. Unscrewing it, actually – corks are for fancy wine, and this is utilitarian stuff. Good, but cheap.
It’s New Year’s Eve, an alleged holiday I never gave a fraction of a hoot about, until Stephanie came along. She made it one of my favorites, though. There's something marvelous about kissing the woman you love at midnight, as the annual odometer rolls over.
We never went out for New Year’s Eve. Every year, Stephanie and I would share a bottle of wine or champagne and have a little two-person party at home, eating something nice for dinner and then just enjoying the evening and each other’s company. When I say we’d share a bottle, that means that I'd have one glass, watered down, and Stephanie would drink the rest. She always drank more than I did, but she was still quite a light drinker. She'd have a glass of wine with dinner once or twice a week, or a beer with dessert. Rarely, she got a bit tipsy, though I never saw her drunk.
Me, I drink even less – perhaps a six-pack of beer over the course of a year, and fancier liquors only in very small quantities and on very special occasions. Rarely have I had so much to drink that I felt a buzz, and I’ve never been drunk or had a hangover. I was raised in a liquor-less household, and my parents believed that alcohol is the Devil in liquid form, so I never acquired the taste for it, or the habit.
The bottle is already about ¼ gone.
So on New Year's Eve, Stephanie and I would break out a few noisemakers, and toot them enough to frighten the cat. Steph would drink more than usual, and she'd develop a delightful mood, and she’d share that mood with me. Everything she said was amusing, clever, and cute. Everything she ever said was amusing, clever, and cute, but even more so on New Year’s Eve, when she became the screwball comedy version of herself. We’d laugh all evening, until the countdown and the kiss at midnight.
As I got older, though, my few sips of alcohol put me to sleep earlier in the evening, and Steph needed to nudge me awake for my midnight kiss. She always did, and she never complained – at least not much – about my alcohol- and age-fueled drowsiness.
Tonight is my first New Year's since her death, and my plan was to do nothing, drink nothing, fall asleep early, and hope the fireworks at midnight don't wake me up. It's the end of the worst year of my life, the beginning of another that holds no promise of improvement, and there's no-one to kiss, nothing to celebrate.
But ... I've reconsidered. It's still a stupid holiday – everyone gets drunk over turning a page in the calendar – and 2018 has been awful indeed, so let's loudly kick it out the door. I've purchased two bottles of Stephanie's favorite wine, a hard-to-find import from California. Electra, it’s called, from Quady Winery in California. We discovered it when we lived in San Francisco, and Steph was delighted when I found it years later on the shelf at a giant liquor store here in Madison. She always liked its pretty label and fruity taste. I like it too, though to me, to be honest, a cold orange soda tastes better. I plan to consume one bottle of Electra tonight, and leave the second one as a gift to the Shrine.
Never before have I consumed an alcoholic beverage alone, but there's a first time for everything. Perhaps this is what I should've done, right after Stephanie died. It just never occurred to me. And I don't expect that getting drunk will help. I’m stupid, but not that stupid. It's pointless and pathetic, but so's life so that's not going to stop me.
I had a biggish dinner, ‘cuz I’ve heard you’re not supposed to drink on an empty stomach. I don’t know why, though. Does food blunt the effects of the booze? Or is it just so you’ll have something solid to puke up? Took my daily regimen of vitamins and prescriptions, all downed with a swig of the bottle. Our fancy wine glasses were for Stephanie, but since she’s gone I drink milk and apple juice out of the jug, so why wouldn’t I drink this moscato straight from the bottle? Hey, that rhymes.
* * * * * * * * * *
The smallest things could make her so happy, and her smile would light up several square miles. If the cat came to visit her unexpectedly, she would be happy. If I brought her home a candy or a pastry, she would be happy. If a neighbor knocked on our door to share some leftovers, or if she saw cattle out the window while we were driving on the freeway, Steph would be positively giddy. The faces of little girls, enraptured at watching the collegiate women's hockey team, made her happy. The scent of bacon made her happy. Little things lit Stephanie’s smile to 100 watts, out of all seeming proportion with the things themselves, and she would be so deliriously, delightfully happy, it shivered my spine. I miss the sight and sound of Steph being happy.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the immortal words of Roy Clark and Buck Owens, "Where, where, are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone?"
I needed her, so much. It’s only legally that I’m a grown-up; inside I’m still a boy, a big dumb boy. I don’t know much of anything about anything. I don’t really know how to take care of myself. I haven’t vacuumed the apartment since a couple of weeks before Steph went into the hospital. I am not a responsible adult. I just pretend to be one. Been pretending for decades.
* * * * * * * * * *
… And I woke up on New Year’s Day, to find the bottle of Electra about half-empty on the table. Or half-full, if I’m being optimistic. I didn’t get drunk last night, just buzzed and a little loopy and lethargic, and I’m not hung over this morning.
As expected, a few swallows of wine didn’t deaden the pain, and a few swallows is all it takes to knock me to sleep. Still, I’d judge the drinking experiment a success, because it was followed by a nice dream of Stephanie. The dream had nothing to do with New Year’s Eve, or anything, really. She was alive and well, and we were fishing at Tenney Park, as we had occasionally until a few years ago. “We,” meaning, Stephanie was fishing, and I was sitting nearby, reading a book. An ordinary, quiet, pleasant morning we’d spent together, now the stuff of dreams. I woke with a smile, though.
Happy New Year, if anyone's reading this.