I don’t remember how many New Year’s Eves I have plugged my ears as they all shout “Happy New Year!”, blow paper trumpets, and start singing Auld Lang Syne off-key. Perhaps I could celebrate the Persian New Year in March, the Chinese New Year in February or the Jewish New Year in September instead of our New Year. I bet they don’t watch a smarmy celebrity counting down to midnight on the television while waiting for a stupid glass ball to drop at midnight in Times Square on December 31st. I’m a writer, not a party animal.
My significant other, Alexis, and I are incompatible in one important way. I have never liked parties, especially New Year parties, and she loves them. Parties with people I don’t know well or like much and who are in various degrees of intoxication are not my idea of fun. I worry if I’m talking too much or too little, being too serious or too silly. My clothes never seem right. I don’t know whether to gesture with my hands or keep them in my pockets. If I eat, things get stuck in my teeth or I drip food down my front. The only thing worse than going to New Year parties is going to outdoor New Year celebrations. You still encounter people in various stages of intoxication but end up half-frozen and then sit for hours in the line to get out of the parking lot. One freezing year I was thrilled to see they were selling hot cider on the sidewalk until I burned my tongue on it and couldn’t eat for three days. I haven’t been able to enjoy cider since. This year I begged her to show mercy and leave me at home.
“Alexis, I know I’m a party-pooper and a drag on your fun,” I said. “I don’t want to hold you back.
“Joe, you’d be missed if you weren’t there. You’re over-thinking it. Let your hair down for once.”
“I have party-phobia,” I said. “Don’t you know that’s an actual thing? Forcing people into unnatural social situations is cruel and unusual. I should be catching up on my writing, not out socializing.”
“Phooey,” she said. “You’ve been whining about writer’s block for days. Maybe you’ll find some inspiration if you get out of your usual routine.”
We compromised, which meant that I gave in. This year’s torture was worse than usual.
“Riley’s holding the party this year,” Alexis told me brightly. “It’s a tacky tux party. Isn’t that cute? It’s a New Year’s version of the tacky Christmas sweater party. We’ll have to hit the thrift shops to look for something to wear.” A New Year’s costume party seemed like the worst of all worlds to me, but I bit my tongue.
“I’ll let you deal with that, with your usual good, or in this case, bad taste,” I said, shuddering at the idea of traipsing around dusty thrift shops. “And a clip-on tie is fine. I am not learning to tie a bow tie.”
She permitted me to miss the shopping after I agreed to wear whatever she found without complaint. She returned with a musty-smelling formal suit for me and a flashy green satin dress for herself.
On New Year’s Eve, several of her girlfriends gathered at our place to get ready. They banished me while they got dressed and tried on pieces of garish costume jewelry to match their outfits, shrieking with laughter and starting on the martinis. In the bedroom, I stared gloomily at the suit. Alexis had brushed it and hung it out to air, but there hadn’t been time for dry cleaning.
“I hope I don’t get fleas,” I muttered to my reflection while struggling with cufflinks. I paused to admire the craftsmanship of the jacket before putting it on. It was obviously top quality. Judging from the style, I guessed that it was from the late 1950s or early 1960s. I was surprised to find it fitted me perfectly. As I slicked my hair back, I could picture myself out on the town with Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. Maybe clothes do make the man, I thought, at least until I clipped on the tartan bow tie. Taking a deep breath, I headed back to the living room. Silence fell as I entered. I cringed, feeling my face burn.
“Is it that bad?” I said anxiously. “I’m not sure about the tie.”
Alexis shook her head, speechless for a moment.
“Joe, you look amazing,” she said. “That suit could have been made for you. You must wear the tie to qualify as tacky. Otherwise, you’d be too elegant. I love it, and you!” The others chorused approval.
“Whoa,” I said, pleased but embarrassed as she flung her arms around my neck and planted a kiss on my cheek. “No lipstick on the collar, if you please.”
When we arrived at the party, I assisted the ladies out of the cab and proffered my arm to Alexis.
“Would that you were always so gallant,” she said dryly, but I could tell she was pleased. I enjoyed the party for once. The suit seemed to give me confidence to join in conversation, even with the obnoxious people and to dance. Alexis kept looking at me sideways with a twinkle in her eye.
“You look like my boyfriend Joe, but who are you really?” she murmured in my ear.
“Stop. You’re making me feel like I’m going to turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.”
“Here it comes. We’ll test that theory in a minute! Ten, nine, eight…”
I joined in the midnight countdown and blew my paper trumpet with the best of them as the ball dropped in Times Square. Perhaps I’d celebrate Persian New Year another time.
We returned home in the wee hours, tired and pleasantly buzzed from champagne. I undressed as I headed to the bedroom, tossing the tie onto the table and the jacket across the back of the couch. Alexis grabbed it and hung it up.
“Steady on now. Treat the good duds with respect. We might want to go elegant for real another time.”
“As long as you don’t make me wear that stupid tie again,” I said, yawning.
“Wait,” she said, with a puzzled frown, feeling the jacket. “There’s something crinkly in here. Did you leave anything in the pockets?”
“No. What is it?”
She sat down beside me on the bed and spread the jacket out. The outer pockets were empty, but we could feel some paper inside the lining. She inspected the inner breast pocket.
“Look, the bottom of the pocket has torn.”
She maneuvered the paper until she could extricate it, trying not to tear the material any further. Agog with curiosity, we sat down at the table and carefully smoothed out the folds of a letter, creased and smudged in places, but with most of the writing still legible, dated February 1962. Alexis began to read aloud.
“Dear Jer…, Something…something… will miss you terribly while you are gone. Don’t forgo, no, forget me. You look great in your uniform, but even better in your suit. It makes you look glamorous. I am glad we good, wait… got to go out for a special evening before you left. Good thing you won’t be wearing it over there or all the women would go crazy for you! I have heard that the women in Vietnam are beautiful. I know you can’t tell me what you’ll be doing but let me know that you are safe. I will miss you so much and will praise, umm, pray for you every night. Now the hard part. I wanted to so much to tell you, but I was too much of a coward to spoil our last evening together. You are going to be a fail…father. I know this is not what we planned, and I hope you are not an… angry, maybe? My parents found out, and they have been quite under…something.”
“Understanding?” I said, peering at the faded writing.
“Could be. It continues…but they are sending me to Aunt Rae in California to have the baby so no one here will know. I will have to give the baby up for adoption and I am not to tell you, but that seems wrong and cruel, so I want you to know at least even if that mea…”
The writing became larger and more erratic as the letter went on and trailed away in a smudge of ink. We looked at each other. Our happiness had suddenly evaporated. Alexis wiped a tear and sighed.
“I suppose that was what passed for being understanding of a single girl with an unplanned pregnancy in 1962. We’ll never know what happened. There’s no way to find out where the suit came from. Was there another page? Did Jerry or Jeremy or whatever his name was, make it back? Did he even read the letter? This is going to drive me nuts. Poor girl.”
For the first time in a very long while, I felt like writing. I refilled our glasses, pulled her into my embrace and kissed her.
“We’ll never know the outcome, but I feel a novel coming on. You can help me imagine what happened. I never thought I’d say this but thanks for dressing me up and dragging me to that party. Here’s to our new year of endless possibilities.”