by Joe Bedford
Imagine you’re at a party with everybody you ever loved.
They’re all there, chatting in small pockets around the room, except now the chatter has stopped and they’re counting down to the moment when the fireworks will burst outside the open window — 2021, hugs and kisses, Auld Lang Syne. Someone is splashing around the last of the prosecco, all the cups and glasses huddled under the stream. The buffet’s been ravished — it looks like a scene from the Bayeux tapestry. Polite laughter and no cigarette smoke. That kind of New Years’.
Imagine you’re in the corner by the kitchen door, right by the speaker where the music is loudest. It’s not your party, not really, but let’s say you can pick the music, whatever you’d like. You can pick the food, the drinks, the decor. The only thing you can’t pick is the guests.
Headcount: the one you loved first, the one you loved second, the one you only loved physically (there are a few of those perhaps), the one you loved through pity, the one you loved because they made you feel special, the one you loved because you wanted to save them, the one you loved because you wanted them to save you. The ones you loved with brief, fierce flames — without knowing it even — and the others that are still burning, cooler and dimmer and maybe forever. Perhaps there are many dozen from all over the world or maybe just a couple, who made their impressions last.
I guess if you’re older you might need name-badges.
Now imagine you’re leaning against the wall, taking a sip of your drink and asking yourself: what is it these people have in common? Not the way they look, not the way they dress, not the way they speak. Some of them share the same backgrounds, maybe you met them under similar circumstances, but that’s mostly superficial. Underneath their job titles (those that work) and the fact that you still, mostly, find them attractive, there’s nothing discernible to connect them together. One has a strong sense of humour, almost overbearingly so, and another has a gentle wit, and another has no sense of humour at all but a sincere clarity, like a deep, clear pool. One is smart, smart enough to talk lucidly on philosophy, psychology, history, and another is so humble their intelligence is almost completely hidden, and another is jolly and cumbersome like an inflatable Santa Claus. Actually, seeing them all together you couldn’t imagine a more different group of people.
You could have spent your life with any of them, even the ones who didn’t love you back, or who fell out of love with you, or the ones who treated you badly. But seeing them all now, how would you know which one to choose?
Maybe you have spent your life with one of them, a happy life even but still occasionally wondering (as everyone does) if they were the right choice, and really if you are honest with yourself you know that it’s impossible to know. Not for certain. You’ve spent time imagining your life with a good number of these people — where, how, how successfully. You might have been rich or poor, if that matters, or happy or unhappy or healthy or sick or even alive or dead. It’s absolutely impossible to know, and even if you did know you might not be able to decide whether that’s better than what you have or what you don’t have or what you might have had with somebody else, even a stranger.
Have another drink, by all means, because it’s simply impossible to know.
The only thing you can be sure of, the one thing these people have in common, is that each of them has spent time imagining this same thing — not perhaps their life with you, but their lives with the other people they loved at one time or another, their unexplored avenues. They have each stood in the corner of their own parties imagining the assembled guests. They have counted down together to the new year, which no one imagines, can possibly imagine, will be as bad as the last. (That’s the kind of thought that only comes to you when you’re at your weakest, your most self-defeatist.) No, no one’s thinking that, no matter what happened last year or who you were with and why. Everybody is imagining a change, as parties like this make you imagine.
You are looking at all the people you ever loved and knowing that when the party’s over, you’ll all go home to your separate lives. Ask yourself: how can you be certain who it is you want to come with you, and who’s better to try to forget?
The room is loud now with the buzz of excitement and the question hanging there, which even as you scan the happy faces of those waiting to call in the new year becomes larger and greater and harder to manage. You’re still thinking about it when the room inhales for its final release, and you can see the excitement in everybody’s eyes which you are still searching for living love, for new promises, and it feels like the answer is rushing into you like a gust of cold air, like –
Now imagine that just then, just as the room inhales for that final release, the fireworks don’t burst outside the window, and the new year doesn’t arrive, but instead the whole room goes completely dark, as if a fuse has blown, and not just the room but all the lampposts outside and all the headlights and the light of the stars and the moon. And it’s not just dark but silent, completely silent but for the faint whisper of warm breath on your lips, and then the sound of a kiss being withdrawn. You don’t know who it is who has kissed you, only that it was soft and perfect and fleeting. You wonder who it is, out of all these people, but more than that who you want it to be.
And then the lights come on
and they are standing in front of you in the empty room
and you say:
Oh. Of course it’s you.
Like it was silly to have ever thought about anybody else.
And they say Yes, and
Happy New Year
while the fireworks burst outside the window.