The thrill, the exhilaration, the excitement of bringing in the new year doesn’t happen for me on New Year’s Eve. It happens in the morning, when I wake up on New Year’s Day. No, “it” is not that. I know what you’re thinking, you naughty blog reader.
This year my husband and I went to Monterey for New Year’s, as we have for the past ten years. They have First Night, an “alcohol-free-family-friendly” street event. There are little puppet shows, a guy with ten parrots that pose with kids while parents shoot pictures for free, a juggler, a clown, and other gentle activities and entertainment. What might be the world’s smallest parade, at twilight, features people on stilts dressed as the moon and planets and stars, young dancers from local dance schools, a troupe of middle-aged belly dancers, a small paper-lion dance…. If you blink, you’ll miss it. Food booths and a few small bands are scattered around the town and stores and restaurants are open until midnight. Every year we eat at the same Greek restaurant, Epsilon, and every year the menu is exactly the same. I always have the dolmades and Frank has the chicken kabob.
It wasn’t what you’d call a rousing evening. But when I woke up in the morning on New Year’s Day, I absolutely quivered with excitement and anticipation. Like I always do. I quiver because I remember where my car is! It’s in the hotel parking garage. I even know the space number every year. I’ve been waking up sober since 1984, when I awoke on New Year’s Day sick and tired of being sick and tired. I’d been drinking alcoholically for twenty years. I also had what is called in alcoholic circles a Moment of Clarity. I woke up knowing without a doubt that if I didn’t stop drinking I would lose my family, my friends, and myself. The very next night I went to a county alcoholism treatment center near our house and have been sober ever since. I enrolled in their treatment program and in another venerated organization they recommended (go ahead, guess!). I have thirty-one years of sobriety.
So there it is, the honest, naked truth about me. My past is not pretty. Among other things, I had lots of missing-car experiences. One New Year’s Eve I was inebriated and a good friend drove me home from a party in my car. The parking lot at my apartment was full (poachers). She parked two blocks away, walked me home, put me to bed and drove away with another friend who had followed us. The next day I was shocked to find someone else’s car in my parking space when I walked out to drive to the grocery store. Panicked, I called my friend, who reminded me what had happened and told me where she’d parked my car on the street. Thank goodness she was home. In those days there were no cell phones and people only answered the phone when they were at home or work.
Another morning, during the week, I was hung over but determined to go to take an SAT test I had scheduled. When I rushed to my car, it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. I rushed back to call the friend I had been out drinking with the night before, and saw her note by the phone that she had driven me home, followed by a friend, and my car was around the corner from my apartment. I found it and raced to the university, where I annoyed the testing staff because I was a tad late and obviously hung over. They grudgingly let me take the test and somehow I passed it.
In my most spectacular misadventure, I woke up in bed in a hospital, unable to remember a single thing about the night before. I learned eventually, from the police, that I had left a popular restaurant located at the edge of an estuary of San Francisco Bay, and driven my car off-road into the water. I somehow got out of the car and swam to shore, which I was told was quite a distance. Several people saw me stumbling around and called the police. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know where my car was that night. Nobody knew, for several days until it was dredged up.
There’s a point to all these stories. I’ll tweak a line by old-time entertainer Sophie Tucker. I’ve been drunk and I’ve been sober. It’s better sober.
By the grace of God, and with recovery programs and a lot of other support available, for the past thirty-one years I always know where my car is. It’s such a good feeling. I would even call it a buzz. I’m particularly grateful for this on the morning after New Year’s Eve, which of course is the biggest drinking night of the year. And to think I didn’t even have one. Yay. It’s great to know I don’t have to ever again go outside to my car and see an empty space or someone else’s car where it should be. After all these years it hasn’t ceased to delight me. But of course the real miracle is that I didn’t injure anyone—or worse—all those years I was driving under the influence.
I just wish I always knew where my keys are. I’m constantly losing them, and spend half my life searching around the house. I always find them eventually, in the oddest places: my underwear drawer, my tax file folder for 2012, the mini-freezer in the garage. But I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough to suffer from this touch of dementia. Considering how many times I drove drunk and how many years I abused my mind and body with alcohol, I shouldn’t even be alive. And here I am, blogging away.
Happy New Year from a grateful blogger.