New Year’s eve for us is not what it once was. There was a time we flew away to celebrate New Years in New York, or San Francisco or Vancouver. We’ bar hop and then get very, very, drunk and stumble back to the hotel and crash into the bed. Then, as we got older, we stopped traveling and celebrated at home in Toronto, again by going out to bars and carousing around. Now, years and years later, we celebrate a United Kingdom new years. As they are 5 hours ahead, we celebrate, with the Queen, at 7 pm here, and then are in our bed without our books not long after that.
Last night, as I readied for sleep, I remembered an incident from years ago, that happened at a New Year’s Eve party at a straight bar downtown. We typically celebrated in gay or gay friendly places, but this even we’d gone out with friends to a bar we didn’t know but that they really liked. I wasn’t in a wheelchair back then, but I’ve always been fat, so at most points in my life I haven’t really fit into the places where I lived, worked or socialized. I felt a little uncomfortable because Joe and I were at least a decade older than everyone else and we weren’t sure that our relationship, should it become known would make us targets.
But as the evening wore on and drinks were consumed, we all began to relax. Then at one point a woman at the bar, like me there to buy drinks, turned to me and said something unspeakably cruel to me about my weight and after lobbing that at me she laughed hard, like she’d been funny. She was on the outskirts of drunk but not quite there. Even though what she said had hurt, I paid her no attention and began using strategies I have taught myself to deal with situations like these.
About five minutes later she dragged her boyfriend over to me and told him that I was the guy at the bar she had told him about and then turned to me and said the same thing again. She laughed. He looked amused but also like he wanted to get her away from me quickly. This time I didn’t stay silent. I said, and I remember this clearly, “You are a horribly mean and cruel woman. I suspect your friends fear you more than they like you.” My words caught her and she looked as if she had been slapped.
Then her boyfriend managed to get her away and back to her crowd. It took several minutes for me to get my breath back. Then I saw her coming back to me, she was crying. She said that she wasn’t cruel or mean and that she wanted me to accept her apology for what she said. I looked at her and said, “No, I don’t accept your apology and I don’t take back what I said. You attacked me, a stranger, just because I’m different. Get away from me.”
Twice more she returned, each time more desperate for me to say that I understood she was joking, that she wasn’t mean or cruel, that she was sorry for what she said. Twice more I asked her to leave me alone. Twice more I said that she had hurt me for no reason and I have no reason to accept that her apology is real.
Maybe a half hour later her boyfriend approached me and said that this whole thing was ruining her night and would I please just accept her apology. I looked at him and said, “No.” I told him that it wasn’t just her night that had been affected by this, but mine too. I asked him if they could just now leave me alone. He nodded.
At midnight as people were kissing she approached me for a kiss and I refused it. To be fair here, I don’t kiss people I don’t know no matter how drunk I am. But I really didn’t want her to touch me, touch the body that she found funny, touch the body that she had held up to ridicule.
And then it was over. I said to Joe, who was of course aware of all of this, I hope she remembers this night and remembers how words can hurt other people and that those she sees as being below her can fight back.
All of this memory flooded back into my mind and I could remember everything, the sounds, the smells and, of course, her words.
Then there was me.
I refused her apology several times. I knew that she was distressed and wanted absolution and I didn’t give it to her. I had been hurt. I was angry. I wanted to hurt back. And. I did.
I value kindness.
Kindness for all, not just the deserving, but for all.
I had said, almost as if cursing her, that I wanted her to remember that night, remember what she said to me, remember how it hurt me. I wanted her to reflect on the impact of her actions.
I didn’t realize that I’d also cursed myself because I still remember that night. I remember it as the night that I was unkind and unforgiving and even cruel in reaction to someone who hurt me. I don’t like the man I remember being very much.
Every year, for many now, my only resolution is to live in such a way that my memories are of a ‘me’ that I respect and a ‘me’ that operates in the world with some kindness, and some forgiveness, and some compassion.
I don’t always succeed. I didn’t yesterday.
But that’s the thing with resolutions, you make them and make them and make them until you finally make them.
Enjoy your new years eve. Where ever you are. Make memories that will bring smiles to your faces ten or twenty or even thirty years later.