I was looking forward to New Year's Eve that year. The boyfriend and I had decided to join the First Night festivities that would be parading past my front door and maybe even crash the party we'd been uninvited to when the boyfriend pissed off the girlfriend of the other dude living at the party house.
Got that? Yeah, I didn't either, but I will say that forgoing a roommate was one of my better ideas.
You know what they say about the best laid plans, though - New Year's Eve turned into a dud when the boyfriend decided hanging with his crew and a bag of smack was a better idea than First Night festivities with me.
"You don't mind, do you, Lemony?" he asked. "I'll call you tomorrow, sweetie love."
"No, you won't, because you'll be too out of it to remember your own name let alone my phone number, and that's okay. In fact, just forget my phone number forever. Okay? Sweetie? Love?"
So went the boyfriend. Loser.
With the boyfriend went my plans for the evening. I was stuck alone, with nothing to do and nobody but a cat for company. I reminded myself that there were things worse than being alone on New Year's Eve, like getting your tongue frozen to an ice sculpture in Copley Square. Getting arrested for being an underaged public drunkard. Kissing the smacked up boyfriend at 1:00 a.m. because he was lost in a bathroom with a spoon and a lighter at midnight.
I put on my jammies, rescued my Donald Duck slippers from the cat, and dug around the pantry until I found some popcorn and a few cans of ginger ale. Voila. New Year's Eve party.
When somebody knocked on my door just before midnight I figured either the boyfriend realized he'd blown any chance he may have had at getting a New Year's kiss or the neighbor across the hall had locked himself out again. Imagine my surprise when I opened the door and saw a dog...and a table.
"It's a table," I said.
"Very astute," said a voice from behind the table.
"What am I supposed to do with it?" I asked.
"Beats the fuck outta me."
"Well, as long as there's a reason for the table..."
I let him in and offered him a ginger ale, but he had other plans. Big plans. Plans so big they involved a table.
"Are you drunk?"
I asked him when he tripped over a dust bunny and crashed his forehead into the wall.
He looked horrified at the suggestion but then he pulled an unopened bottle of Guinness out of his coat. "Ten empty in the sink, too," he announced proudly, and it was my turn to look horrified.
He couldn't tell me what he was doing at my apartment, or even how he'd gotten there. He certainly couldn't tell me why he had a table. He finally stopped trying to explain himself and sat, with a huge sigh, on my kitchen floor. His dog gave him a look of disdain before looking up at me with a can you believe this fuckwit
expression on his face.
"You left the other dog home, didn't you?" I asked.
"I had the table."
Of course he did.
Now cats are one thing, but dogs? You can't leave a dog alone while you sleep off ten bottles of Guinness. I told him I'd go fetch his abandoned dog and bring her back, but he protested. He could make it home, he insisted as he hauled himself from the floor. He was fine, really, he just wanted me to have the table.
He stood, swaying, in my kitchen. He swayed himself right into a sitting position on a window sill.
"Arseholed even. Interesting."
He'd remembered his dog, a bottle of Guinness, and a table, but not his wallet. I was facing my end-of-month shortage of cash and barely had enough for a subway token let alone a cab ride, so we walked. Me in my pajamas and a pair of boots and him swinging the unopened bottle of Guinness over his head and singing a Pet Shop Boys song. Loudly."Since you went away, I've been hanging aroundI've been wondering why, I'm feeling downYou went away, it should make me feel betterBut I don't know OH!How I'm gonna get through?"
We were a sight, I'm sure.
We left the table behind.
We weaved our way down Charles Street and up the Hill, singing, swinging beer, and slipping on ice the entire way. Every window of his house that I could see from the street was lit with a warm glow; the stained glass on the door and in the round window above it cast red shadows on the snow. I thought it was beautiful and said so.
"Quite misleading," he said merrily.
Now, you'd think a man in his condition would need to find a place to pass out, but no. As usual, he was determined not to fall asleep. He brewed a pot of coffee, poured some into a giant mug - and gave it to me while he popped the top off the Guinness.
"Is it midnight yet?" he asked.
"Midnight was over hours ago. Happy New Year, darlin'."
"It's not my birthday..."
"No," he said, and he was very serious when he said it. "It's mine."
He then put his head down on the table, leaned the half-finished bottle against his forehead, muttered something about a fire behind his eyes, and passed out.
I took the bottle of out of his hand, shoved a pillow under his head, and left him there. I mean, what else could I do? He had me by 80 pounds. I entertained myself by cleaning up his kitchen. I found exactly what he said he had...ten empty beer bottles in the sink...and a few things he hadn't told me about; the two empty beer bottles in the bathroom, another one on the coffee table, and an empty bottle of Bailey's in a potted plant.
While I was contemplating calling 911 and reporting an alcohol poisoning, he woke up.
"You need to throw up," I told him.
"I assure you that I do not," he assured me.
Three hours later, when he'd stopped puking and had taken a shower and downed a bottle of aspirin with his pot of coffee, I asked him if he'd been trying to kill himself.
"Well, no, actually, I wasn't, but I'm starting to wish I had succeeded all the same."
Hell hath no fury like a case of beer and a bottle of Bailey's, man.
He spent the next ten hours in and out of consciousness, and in the ether world between the two he forgot about his determination to always be stoic and private. He murmured stories -snippets - of his mother and of her cruelty. He talked of a father he was only allowed to call Sir,
And then he told me of a birthday, the last one he had ever celebrated, when he was ten.
"...she wished me dead, you know, right there in the middle of the foyer...I should have aborted you,
she said. I may still, you know,
she said. Kill me in my sleep...lock the door..."
I don't ever remember being more horrified.
When he finally looked up at me with clear eyes, I breathed a silent sigh of relief. I smiled. I asked him how his head felt.
Served him right, damn it.
I didn't make mention of it being his birthday, and he didn't either, at least not right away. He spent the day - what was left of it - working. While he scoured through pages of text with a red pen and an attitude, I went home to shower and put on pants that didn't have coffee drinking cats on them.
I was greeted by a table.
Later, when I was back at his place and we'd eaten a meal, I asked him about the table. He told me about how he'd found it the weekend before Thanksgiving at a tag sale on Cape Cod, about how something about it's cracked paint and neglected finish made him think of me.
"Broken and neglected things make you think of me?" I said.
"Only because you know how to fix them, darlin'," he said softly.
Silent minutes passed and we both waited; me for the right words to say, and him for me to say something, anything,
so he'd stop feeling so vulnerable. I held his gaze and he held mine, and we waited...and waited...and then finally I knew what to say.
"Happy birthday, baby," I said as I kissed his cheek. "Next year I want a chair."