I must have been insane to do it. Maybe my ability to reason had not been fully restored. I still operated under my old personality. It was the end of 2007, and the old me loved going out to ring in the new year.
Vivian looked cute. She wore tight metallic pants with a black silk scoop-neck and the strappy heels with the high cork wedge I’d passed on to her. I loved those shoes. Even as painful as they’d been after a night out, I loved them.
We waited in a short line. The girls wore tops covered by leather jackets that would later be shed to reveal sparkly colors and glitter and too much skin. I was conscious of my jeans and frumpy black sweater. I wore flat, black boots that might as well have been corrective shoes surrounded by all those tottering heels. These women clacked. I clomped.
Viv began making our way, pushing the wheelchair toward a large empty table up front that had a homemade sign with the words, “RESERVED — BAND” on it. Rob came over from practicing to thank us for coming out. He didn’t know we were grateful to have an automatic place to go. I used to love that when we were dating. Viv’s husband was in a band too, so we always had a choice of venues.
People parted as we cut across the dance floor on our way to the table. I received lots of attention, “Happy New Year!” wishes and condescending “you go girl!” pats. Apparently, my very existence among the scene was to be commended.
When we reached the table, I had a moment’s panic. It was a bar table. It wasn’t so high that I could’ve rolled under it, so I insisted it was fine. Actually, it was fine if I sat back from it a bit. Good thing I was tall. When the waitress came over, I ordered my new signature drink. Cranberry and vodka.
I drank cranberry and vodka for the straw. I had done enough time looking stupid with straws in wine glasses. At home, I felt free enough to sip my screw cap Chardonnay out of a big water bottle, but in public I tried to class it up a bit.
I’m not sure why I bothered trying to blend in at half everyone’s height with two very large wheels attached, but I did. I don’t like to call attention to myself. Hey, the hemorrhage left all my character defects intact. I still have my vanity.
My drink arrived with a coffee stirrer, so Viv had to go up to the bar anyway. I sat cloaked in the darkness of the wall that was next to us, listening to the music. By my second drink, I was drunk. I knew this because I was having to repeat myself more than usual. I slur worse after a few cocktails.
The band played a Train song. Viv and I had always danced to it. It didn’t matter if we were at opposite ends of the bar or if one of us was in line in the ladies’ room when it started. We would hear it and run, meeting out on the dance floor. It played now.
“Do you mind?” she asked.
“Of course not. Go,” I said.
And just like that, she was out on the floor and I watched her dance.
I have no rhythm now. I can’t chair dance. I can’t bob my head. I can’t even tap my foot in time. I’m like that cowboy friend of Kevin Bacon’s in Footloose. The only thing I can do without looking like a total spaz is shake my shoulder (my right one, don’t ask me why.) Kind of a shimmy.
I had another cranberry and vodka. The song ended. Viv came back and the band took a break. Rob came over and sat down. He gave me a long look.
“You’re drunk,” he said. I hadn’t even said anything.
In the hospital, he’d been the only one who could figure out what I was saying. Back when all I could do was grunt and gesture. When even my parents had shrugged. Well, we had just lived together for three years. I hadn’t lived with either of my parents for eons. And when I did, I hadn’t talked to them as much.
“You know me so well,” I said.
“Y ou know me so well,” I shouted, giving new meaning to the word slur.
Hours passed. The band played on. Friends I’d known through Rob or Vivian came over to say hello. I usually didn’t like running into people that hadn’t seen the new me — old co-workers, acquaintances, men I had dated casually. The pitying looks, the uncomfortable silence as they tried to figure out what to say. I always wanted to start, “So! You can see what I’ve been up to. What’s new with you?”
This was different. These were good friends of good friends. They seemed genuinely happy to see me.
We were down to the last 15 minutes of 2007. I thought about where I was this time last year. Asleep in a hospital bed. A nurse was supposed to wake me up. She said she forgot but after I thought about it I realized she probably wasn’t allowed.
Viv brought me a plastic champagne glass with a straw bobbing in it. It looked ready to fall out.
I could so easily not be here. I looked at all the people on the dance floor, Rob behind the drums, the band counting down. Viv had put a silly party hat on my head and was jumping up and down with a horn in her mouth.
So I wear clunky shoes, drink out of a straws and can only shimmy my shoulder. This whole crazy New Year’s might be taking place without me. But I was here to see it, to be part of it. I slurped my champagne through a straw at midnight and felt grateful. You go girl, indeed.