For a lot of years I made New Year’s resolutions and then the year didn’t turn out to be anything like I expected. Then I’d be paying some therapist to talk about my total failure as an adult to ever accomplish anything I set out to do. Like three years ago I’d never have guess I’d be living in a half-dead town at the top of North Dakota. That would have looked like a total failure. Last year I guess I was starting to think about opening this cafe but I think I was telling myself it would be nuts. So there’s another failure for you. This year it seems like things are maybe looking up. The cafe is coming together, at least there’s Finn and Jackie to hold it together for me, and this divorce may finally be done after two years. But probably if I made a resolution about it Finn or Jackie will quit, or people will stop coming to the cafe, or god knows what new shit Erik will try to pull, or his mother will throw some kind of lawyer at me who has connections to every judge and jury between here and Fargo. I want to hope that I can get some good sleep, wouldn’t that be something. But I don’t want to sleep any worse than I already do.
I didn’t feel like getting up early but I had to make sure Chris got back home. He’s probably too young to be going out so late, or at least driving home after, but it was warm yesterday and he said all the other kids were going and he promised not to drive if he drank too much. I know some people think that’s terrible that I’m even talking to him about drinking, saying I know it’s happening like it’s OK. Hell, I know what I was doing my last year of high school and I doubt kids are any more angels now than they were then. Anyway, I peeked into his room to see that he was there and he was all sprawled out with the blankets half off just like usual, even though it’s getting colder and this old house isn’t exactly warm. It didn’t smell bad or anything, so I guess he kept his word and didn’t drink too much so he could drive. But jeez, now I have a kid going out and doing god-knows-what for New Year’s Eve. Maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution: don’t get old.
(… The light through the curtains is dull and vague. He reaches up to touch the pane from the bed. The air behind the curtain there is hard and cold. They must be finally having a winter day. For all he cares. His head has a heavy ache around his temple as if a stone had had it and he tries to keep still so as not to stir the mess in his stomach that feels like a mix of hot lava and seaweed. Kate is facing away from him, toward the door, the long strands of her hair tousled elegantly across the white of the pillow and in the folds of his old blanket. Looking at her sleeping quietly made his heart hurt, on top of everything else. Whenever he stopped and looked at her he was always struck by how, without trying or doing anything, her face, her body, her being just seemed to say how naturally right and perfect things were. And the lava and seaweed in his stomach reminded him that he always made things complicated and fucked up anything that was easy and good …)
We do New Year’s completely back-asswards. New Year’s Eve, the end of the old year, is always fun. Even when you think you have nothing good to do or the party’s going to be bad, or, like last night, I’m thinking why do I want to hang out with these people from high school I don’t even see or talk to anymore, and it turns out to be pretty fun. I didn’t even mind listening to Bryan Mickelson talk about that shit he’s doing at Columbia, the space between electrons and neutrons and protons and neutrinos and whatever else that was. It was wild. And then maybe you get a few good minutes right after the ball drops on TV and then you wait an hour and the clock strikes and people light off firecrackers or roman candles or rockets. But then you wake up like right now and you can’t quiet remember the rest of the night or how you got to bed and what you remember you kinda wish you could go back and redo some of it, some of the stupid things you said or you remember something and you think, Shit, I hope Kate doesn’t remember I said that or some other person doesn’t remember something stupid I was talking about. And you feel like shit, like I do now. Maybe that’s the point of New Year’s: to start off feeling so crappy, it all goes uphill from here, even if from this point you can’t see where that would be and it doesn’t seem to feel very good right now.
It’s nice to be up early on New Year’s. Things are quieter than usual. It’s just you and the land, the same land as it was yesterday. So it’s not anything new at all. Just a marking of time that we have come back around again. Some years we’ve had storms, big wind and snow blowing and it’s hard to get out the back door of the house and walk across the yard to the shed or the barn. Today it’s getting colder, but even when we’ve had a warm winter like we’ve had so far, it reminds you that all of this, the country, the trees, the soil, the birds — they persist, no matter whether we’ve taken good care of them over the last year or we’ve been absolutely stupid. I like that knowing, that something alive all around us endures, even beyond whatever little things I’m worried about today. I was hoping to catch that feeling this morning, up early, and I do. I was hoping it would help me get a feeling of Laura, is she out there somewhere. I can’t tell. Sometimes I feel her when I’m out here by this old maple. This used to shade the porch of the old homestead, when it was still here. Laura liked to come up here on a sunny afternoon and sit in the shade and be with the old people, as she said it, even though no one’s lived on this section in fifty years. After she went to New York I could come up and find her here, a feeling of her. That may seem odd, but people do leave an imprint or a feeling from the time they spend, when they love a place. Now, I don’t know. The feeling is fading. Maybe she really is gone. This morning when I drove up here from town I didn’t have much of a feeling of her. Mostly I just saw the usual people who are up early, or their trucks idling in their drives, warming up. Just a reminder that I’m still here and with this place.
I asked her what her New Year’s resolution was and she looked at me funny and said she didn’t make New Year’s resolutions. I said, Really? Everyone makes New Year’s resolutions and she said New Year’s resolutions were just for companies that sold diet food and exercise equipment to make you feel bad and get you to spend money that you didn’t have anyway because you’d just spent it all on Christmas. She was very negative about it. I thought, This isn’t going to take us anywhere good, so I just dropped it and offered to buy her another beer. Just as well we dropped it, because then I thought she wouldn’t be happy to hear that my main resolution was that I wasn’t going to spend another New Year’s stuck away in goddam Grand Forks.