As holidays go, New Year's Day is the second most-idiotic one after New Year's Eve. I'm no teetotaler, but I stopped celebrating New Year's Eve back in the '80s. Party dress? Two hundred and fifty dollars. A bottle of Dom Perignon for the host? One hundred dollars. Finding a locksmith on New Year's Eve at 3:30 in the morning because I drunkenly gave my coat to a bag lady with my house keys and a Visa card in the pocket? Priceless.
New Year's Eves, for me, always became New Year's Days fraught with disturbing inner dialogue, like: Why is there a car parked on the front lawn? Please tell me that's clam chowder on my dress. Why is my hair crunchy? Was there a naked guy at the party? I can't believe I called her that. Why are there traffic cones on the dresser?
And that was all before I got out of bed ... the one with the naked guy still in it, crying. Any day that asks for a commitment to change and promises to remind us in a year of how we screwed it up is no holiday. Here's a sample of my 2005 goals report card:
Finish my novel ... F.
Up workouts to three times per week ... F.
Fire my agent ... F.
Have children ... F.
Make Sunday night dinners ... D-.
Organize closet into fat clothes and thin clothes ... F.
Give away thin clothes ... F.
No drinking on weeknights ... F.
Show of hands - how many of you went to last night's alcohol-free bash at the Convention Center? I thought so. I'm sure there were a lot of pregnant couples holding hands and first name/last initial people, but I'd say that in a drinking town like Buffalo where the collective blood-alcohol level on a typical Tuesday hovers around 90, the odds are pretty high that last night, the devil on your left shoulder kicked the hell out of the angel on your other one. Of course, that's assuming you didn't secretly lock the angel in a closet, which begs the question: Why does the angel throw the fight on the one night of the year that most of us will voluntarily swan dive into Devil Lake?
Because angels have compassion. We just endured the phoniest six weeks of the year, capped off by a list of failed goals and the "torture lite" of Kenny G's "Auld Lang Syne." Please kill me.
And yet, the angel rallies and we go on. Maybe the angel threw the fight to allow us to experience for a minute our own version of "It's A Wonderful Life." Maybe it's the Please Kill Me moments that spur us to redefine ourselves and keep our stories moving forward.
A beloved mentor of mine tells me that happiness is ... moments. And that our goal is to string together as many moments as we can. Sometimes it feels like I've barely strung enough moments together to make a pinky ring, but still I bow to the angel on my shoulder. I met that angel one year around the end of the holidays.
I was in a bank robbery that threw my life into a years-long tailspin. I wrote about it in this magazine once before. I couldn't shake the psychic terror, couldn't leave the house. My doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety drug called Paxil, and within months I was back to normal. Then normal stopped being so normal. I couldn't stop talking, or thinking, or being awake. I heard music that wasn't there. I'd go to bed at 11 and wake up two hours later ready to start the day. I lived on watermelon. I dropped enough weight that compared to me, the Olsen twins looked morbidly obese.
My husband was living his own nightmare at the time, battling the depression that came after losing his father, tethered to three jobs he despised, watching his wife become a shell of my former self. Full-blown mania - a fine-print side effect of Paxil - feels pretty damn good, at least for awhile. I understood God and the true meaning of love. I felt rapture and bliss.
I stopped denying that something was very wrong when I cut my own hair.
The doctor yanked me off Paxil, but had to eschew the weaning process, thus plunging me into a depression I'd only wish on Al Qaeda. Things got ugly fast and it consumed me. By the time the holidays came, my marriage was broken (I bought Nick a suitcase that Christmas), my mother was sick, and the news portended a millennium terrorist plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.
In my darkness, it was obvious to me that I was not Y2K compliant. I wanted out, and living on the 17th floor would make that pretty easy. I had a date, a time, a plan, and lo and behold, an angel on my shoulder who convinced me to check into a hospital where among other things, I learned to cut dry-baked chicken with a plastic fork. I was lucky. It wasn't bipolar disease or manic depression; just a long strange trip that left me with a bruised ego and an acquired vigilance against stress.
After three months apart, Nick and I went into marriage counseling and found ourselves and each other in a new relationship far deeper than we ever could have attained otherwise. Mom died quickly and peacefully, the FBI foiled the terrorist plot and LAX is still standing.
This year, I don't have a list of stupid goals I'll never accomplish. I just have one, and that is to do everything I can so that next year, when I'm done mocking the stupid, phony holidays, I'll still be here - alone at my dining room table, my dog at my feet, my husband snoring in bed, my cats running around as fast as they can for no reason at all - and I can watch the sun rise over Los Angeles and know that yes, it is indeed a pretty wonderful life.
Robin Bakay has a 50-50 timeshare on this page with her husband, Buffalo native and "King of Queens" consulting producer Nick Bakay. She promises she'll try to be funny next time.