December 31, 2019

The New Year's Eve Curse

champagne

I used to think New Year's Eve was cursed, or at least that I was cursed to always have a lousy one. No matter how close I'd get to finally having a fun night, something always went wrong. It started when I was about 10 or 11. My family had lived across the street from a family who became our best friends, both the parents and the kids. My family then moved out of state and only got to see our friends about twice a year. For several years, we would meet them in the mountains at a ski area, renting a house together. Although the exact dates varied depending on schedules and availability, we almost always arrived a day or two after Christmas and stayed until a day or two after New Year's.

Our parents usually went out on New Year's Eve. They'd go to dinner followed by a late night of dancing. I don't recall having a baby sitter. Either my memory is bad or they decided that the normal rules didn't apply because it was New Year's Eve and we were away from home. In any case, we were left to get into all sorts of trouble. I remember included shooting each other with slingshots, having snowball fights that resulted in large pieces of ice drawing blood and tears, breaking furniture, or the time my friend fell while chasing his brother with an axe. I'm not sure what our parents were thinking, but I guess they probably weren't. After all, one of these nights was the first time I'd seen my parents falling-down drunk.

Some of the trouble we got in was more than enough to ruin our New Year's Eve. There was nothing quite like having our parents come home to discover that somebody had a bad cut on their face or had broken something that would have to be replaced. This was the beginning of what we came to think of as our New Year's Eve curse, and it was not limited to us getting in trouble. There was the night our parents rented a VCR so we could watch movies while they were gone and it promptly broke. That was all we had to do, and it took mere minutes before we turned on each other. There was the year we got lost in the dark and the snow while trying to do whatever stupid thing we were trying to do. It just seemed like something always went wrong that ruined the night.

As we entered adolescence, things got worse. The years where we were interested in meeting girls but too young to drive were especially rough. I remember walking for over an hour through the snow and in the dark to get to a dance only to discover that it had been moved to a new location we were unable to find. Like every other year, we had been sure we were finally on the verge of having a great New Year's Eve but encountered only disappointment. Every year we would tell ourselves it was going to be different, but it never was. I remember "borrowing" a car a couple years before any of us could legally drive. I don't think we made it more than a few hundred feet before losing control on the ice.

Our big break would come a couple years later, or so we thought. For a variety of reasons, including some of the trouble we had gotten into the previous years, our parents decided not to stay at the resort but for everyone to go to my home. I could drive by this time, and being on my home turf meant there would be no getting lost. Not only that, but I could virtually guarantee we'd have a great New Year's Eve party to go to. We were so excited this year because we knew things would finally be different. I knew of a great party in a neighboring town. Several of my friends were going, so getting in would be no problem and I'd know at least a few people even though I wasn't familiar with the host. I had concocted a decent lie to explain why we would be gone as long as we would, and we headed out. Our parents were staying home this year, so the odds were good that they would be too drunk to notice how drunk we would be when we returned.

Just as everything was looking up, the curse reared its ugly head. My car broke down before we could get to the party. These were the days before cell phones, so we'd have to walk a long way to get to a pay phone. Once there, we realized that any friend I could have called would not have been home. I didn't know the name or number of the person having the party. We had no choice but to call our parents, admit we weren't even close to where we'd said we would be, and face the consequences. Another New Year's Eve was ruined.

Fortunately, we did finally manage to get one New Year's Eve right. And since it would be our last one together, it was the one we had to get right. I was in college and would soon be moving away. The tradition of getting together every year would end after that year. This was another New Year's Eve on my home turf where they stayed with us. There was an even better party, and it was in my hometown this time. In fact, I had known the guy throwing it since we were in third grade together. We got there without incident and finally had the New Year's Eve party we had been wanting for so many years. The curse was over. It was so much fun we didn't even mind when the police showed up.

Of course, we never really thought we were cursed. Skepticism prevented that. We recognized that the repeated disappointment was largely of our own making. We had unrealistically high expectations about what New Year's Eve was supposed to be. Every year, we put so much pressure on ourselves that the night had to be so much better than any ordinary night that it never could measure up. I suspect lots of us do something similar in many situations and that the unrealistically high expectations we place on ourselves are part of what contributes to "holiday stress."

If I am going to entertain any ideas of New Year's Eve curses nowadays, it will happen at approximately 2:00 am when the fireworks are still going off. Happy New Year!