The new year starts on the bathroom floor with a man, thirty-six years older than me, throwing up. Maybe he’s had too much booze, or maybe too much life—it can be hard to tell—but vomit looks like vomit, no matter the cause. The chunks are just as pink from whisky-and-bean mash as they are from debt-and-lies soup.
The man moans a bit and turns on his side. His head clunks against the porcelain toilet base, and it feels nice against his frown lines—cool and soothing. He stays there for a while, and when he’s ready to leave, to rise above the beige-ing toilet bowl and full box of tissues behind it, move beyond the toothpaste speckled faucet and fingerprint smudged light switch, he ambles to the kitchen, fumbling over the place where wood meets tile, tripping over the brink between now and before:
A highly stylized stagger. An arm flung toward the doorframe to catch himself. A snicker followed quickly by a straight face.
The curtains on the kitchen window are flung open, frozen and caught in the overhead lights that glare at the set table: one paper napkin, one fork, one plate, no placemat.
The man pushes off the wall and stumbles to the window. He takes the thin red fabric into his fists and draws the curtains closed with a dull snap. He stares at the cupboard that houses his cups and then sits behind the single setting at the table. He keeps looking at the cupboard.
He calls his daughter. I’m asleep. It’s 1:15 in the morning.
I’m imagining this, of course. Not the phone call, but the booze, the dehydration—it’s how I expect his new years looked moments before he picked up the phone. When I was away and went to sleep because I was tired, and so was he. Neither of us have much stamina. I get that from him.
We get tired from the hustling streets and clacking keyboards. We hate when the dishes are done, and there’s nothing to do but feel the pressure of the I don’t knows and it’s due tomorrows.
But when I get tired, I go to sleep. I curl up beneath my purple blanket and dream of monsters that I can see and feel and touch, and sometimes even taste. I dream of monsters and dream that I know I’m running from them. And I know where I’m going: away.
When he gets tired, he drinks.
He didn’t used to. I don’t know when he started, but now he drinks, and I think it’s because he found a different kind of tired. My grandmother talks about bone-weariness and soul-exhaustion, and I think it must be that. He’s never said it in so many words, but sometimes I hear it in his hi sweeties and when am I going to see yous? and he just sounds so exhausted. When he drinks, he gets sleepy, so he drinks so he can sleep.
I hate that dreamless hooch-sleep that wakes me up early and makes me forget my monsters. They’re mine.
It’s New Years. Why would I want to stop dreaming?
Once he’s slept off the whisky, it’s January 1st, and I call him mid-afternoon. I sit on my bed, and my flashcards from my job volunteering with kids at the synagogue around the corner are fanned on the blanket in front of me. I’ve selected two to help our conversation stay on track. They sit perpendicular to their family, face up and ready to be read.
What was something you did this year that you want to do again?
He’s quiet for a while, then responds. I can hear the rustle of the kitchen curtains as he jiggles them open and cracks the window. His voice sounds very large and very hollow. I bet, if I knocked on it a bit, you could hear the ring all the way across the country between us. It carries well over phone lines.
“I went on a hike,” he says. “Through the woods with Janet’s dog, and that was nice.”
“Uh-huh.” Pause. “And how is Janet?”
I haven’t seen my dad’s girlfriend since she moved to Ohio and ripped him in apart, to share between us. He hasn’t taken a hike since he followed her.
“Oh, you know.”
“No, I don’t.”
“We’re, you know.” Stop. “Fine.” Stop. “Ok.” Stop. “When am I going to see you?”
“You left for Ohio the day I got home.”
I’m back from college. Winter break and COVID-themed activities and lots of time to sit outside in the snow with him, unmasked but six feet apart with him. Walk, with him. Talk, with him. Do something, with him.
His curtains rustle.
“Sweetie, you know I’d stay if I could.”
Where do you want to be this time next year?
I want to be exactly where I am. I’m at home, under my purple blanket, dreaming about monsters I can see and creatures I can touch—who’s fur I stroke and scales I polish and breath I spritz with Listerine Cool Mint Pocket Mist. Dangers I know I can wake up from and come back to when I please. My monsters. My dreams.
I move to the pale shades covering my own window, above my bed and beside my nightstand. I push them aside, and pale light filters onto my purple blanket, unmasking the dust mites and long strands of hair curled between yarn-like tufts. Their tails look lean and spikey, dormant but dangerous.
“Oh, you know,” I say. “Somewhere nice. And warm. With a cup of tea. And you. That’d be good.”
It’s not a lie.
We hang up the phone, and as I slide mine onto the nightstand, I image we’re both looking out our windows, up at the sun. I close my curtains, and I think he does, too. We sit there, for a while, in silence. We look at the fabric covering the light. The dust and hair on my blanket has once again disappeared, and my father is sipping a glass of water, settling his stomach in preparation for another night of deep, deep sleep.
I’m tired, but not bone-weary, so I have time. Time to dream. Another year, at least.