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New Year’s Resolutions

New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are always about letting go of something bad. Or chasing something good.

People get revved up for change, excited about the possibilities. Then they ignore the work necessary. The day-to-day grind of living up to that sacred resolution. I think they—the resolutions—are so fake and stupid.

I hate New Year’s resolutions.

I go for a third option: do nothing. Let things happen around me. Not proud of it. It just is.

My relationship with Amy was over the day she stuck correction tape around one of our cheap wineglasses, the ones we bought at Target after we moved in.

I knew it was over. But I did nothing. It was New Years, not a time to act.

She stuck the tape two inches below the rim. A white line on the glass. It was part of her New Year’s resolution. She was full of New Year’s resolutions. For her, for me, for us. Amy was the kind of person who chases something good and lets go of things bad.

This time it was tape. The tape had her name on it.

At first, she had used a Band-Aid on the wine glass, the one she kept in her wallet for blisters. We were out eating sushi once, and I cut my finger on a splintered chopstick. Winter, dry hands. I was bleeding and had to ask the waitress for a paper napkin. Amy said her boots were rubbing and maybe she’d need the Band-Aid on the way home. She had drunk an entire bottle of Pinot before we left. She saw a movie that romanticized Pinot, and it was all she’d drink. Said it went with everything. Even sushi. Even bloody fingers.

She didn’t like the look of the Band-Aid on the glass, though. I think its quiet reminder of injury overwhelmed her. I didn’t say anything.

She tore it off and used a scrap of correction tape. Whatever quiet reminder the correction tape suggested didn’t bother her.

She wrote her name on it, like a name tag. Re-purposing the tape and the glass and in her effort perhaps trying to re-purpose. Chasing possibilities.

I told my brother when I went to his house a few days later, I told him about the wine glass and Amy’s latest attempt at re-purposing.

He nodded, like he does. Nothing surprised my brother. I couldn’t remember if he was always like this or after the kids and Kristen or what, but now, nothing surprised him. He looked at me, nodded, and exhaled unspoken words “Yes, your girlfriend is the kind of person who would put correction tape on a wine glass and then write her name on it.”

All he said was “New Year’s resolutions. People do weird things.”

I should have realized my brother wasn’t surprised about the wine glass and the tape. He wasn’t surprised that Amy had—yet again—attempted to enforce false and weak boundaries on her drinking problem, and that this one involved tape.

When I got home on New Years, she walked over to me holding up the glass, smiling like she made it herself.

She said she’d fill the glass up to the tape. Once a day. No more.

“Which line, the bottom or the top?” I asked. The tape was thick; it made a difference.

She narrowed her eyes into screwdrivers, like she does when she tells me I don’t get it, I completely suck, I’m the reason she’s drinking in the first place. “Leave it to you to not support me.”

“How am I not supporting you? I just asked a question.”

She was trying to grab hold of something good, and I was in the way. I knew it. She knew it.

“Fuck off, J.”

I couldn’t help noting the glass already had a red stain at the bottom.

“Don’t judge me. Everyone drinks. Look at the French—they live forever. Red wine is good for you. And if we have kids, I want them to be healthy around alcohol. We have to have alcohol around the house. Drinking isn’t my problem. I just need to limit how much I drink. Now I can.”

I couldn’t figure out which part of her speech made the least sense.

She tapped the glass, a soft ping bounced off and got muddled in the grey furniture, the chevron pillows, and the hairy blankets she’d ordered when she decided we deserved a “real” apartment. The same day she made shelves out of painted tomato cans, told me I could store things in them and they’d save floor space. They sucked. They looked horrible. I tried keeping the remote in one, but it was too heavy and knocked the can off the wall. And I cut my hand on the rim trying to pick it up. Bloody hands.

She repeated, ignoring me, “I’ll drink to the tape. Only to the tape, only once a day. Perfect.”

She was happy all night, grabbing what she wanted. Grabbing it with both hands.

We had sex that night. Fast sex, but still. Sometimes I think her nerves were buried deep inside her, she pressed so hard against me it hurt. Like she wanted to climb inside me. Or bury me in the mattress. It used to feel like she wanted me; now, it just hurt.

We both fell asleep after our athletic, painful sex. Taking our pain out on each other. I woke when she got up to pee. I heard the toilet flush. Looked at the clock, 1:40.

Happy New Year.

I didn’t leave her then, not for a while. It was New Years, I kept my head down. The tape on the glass, in a way, worked. It held things, for a while. It was a containment of her needs and an appeasement of mine.

In another way, the way that mattered, it didn’t work. She said she’d drink up to the line. The bottles told a different story. She’d take them out to the recycling, but I noticed.

It was impossible not to. Our apartment was tiny. Neither of us made any money. I was getting my Masters in Education at UMass, she was a second-year law student at Boston University. We lived in a basement apartment out in Brookline. Our kitchen was her workspace, the place I dumped my bag, our eating space, and storage for our overflowing recycling.

You can’t get your needs met in a space that size. We had stopped having sex a few weeks after we moved in. She couldn’t clear her head, is what she said. We never sat and talked, or watched TV. We’d cook things like eggs and toast, but that was it. And Pinot.

We had a few nice days after the new furniture came, but it didn’t last. She couldn’t clear her head. I was in her way, in all its meanings.

I told her to just put me in a tomato can on the wall. She didn’t laugh.

Our needs could not be met in that apartment. They also couldn’t be contained.

And I certainly knew, when I saw her hold up the wine glass, that she couldn’t contain her needs in a space cradled by cheap machine-blown glass and topped off by an imaginary horizontal plane suggested by a piece of correction tape. I knew. She didn’t.

But I just let it go, for a while. She had plans, hope—she was grabbing chances.

A few days after the wine glass incident, my brother had Bruins tickets. He asked me to go. We didn’t talk much. He dropped me off at the end of the night. He found a spot, pulled over and turned the car off.

“You’re not married. Just end it.” He didn’t say much. But he said that.

“I know.”

“She’s no good for you.”

“I know.”

“Hell, you’re no good for her.”

“Yeah.”

“Look, marriage. I’m not saying it’s great. But it’s better than this that you got yourself into. It should be better than this.”

“You have that with Kristen?”

“Oh I fucking wanna strangle her, most of the time. You know what I mean. But I love her. I love her. Always. She lights me up. Makes me better.”

“Yeah.”

“You need that. Man, just end it.”

I hated that I needed permission. We had an adult apartment. We had adult jobs—or would, once we finished school. Now was not the time to act like a child. But I didn’t love her. I couldn’t remember the last time I did. She didn’t love me.

“Yeah. Thanks, man. Game was fun.” I hugged him quickly and stepped out into the cold, dry air.

That night, I wrote Amy a note: “You are an alcoholic. You need help. I can’t do this anymore.” I didn’t give it to her. We had had fun once, I had loved her.

Instead, I waited for her to run away. I knew it was coming, it usually did. This time, I wouldn’t push back. I wouldn’t fight for us. She wasn’t happy, she couldn’t clear her head. She had thought it through, and she knew it wasn’t right. Us. I was holding her back. She had a plan. She was sorry.

I had been part of her plan once, she had swept me up in it. The vision she presented for herself, for us, it was luminous. She did shine. She did light me up. She was loving and strong and so full of light. I don’t know how it stopped, slowly, over time. More drinking. I didn’t do anything until it was too late. And even then, I didn’t do anything.

After she ended it, I emailed my brother and asked to crash. He lived in Framingham, but I could get to school on the Pike. I asked him if I could stay in his basement. He said, “Sure, long as I don’t have to drive you anywhere and you babysit.” He didn’t ask his wife, but I knew it’d be OK with Kristen. She was the one who made him generous in the first place.

I packed whatever was mine—very little—and went to Pat’s. I felt bad leaving Amy with all that grey, but she was an adult. It hurt, deeply, that night and for many nights afterwards. She called a few times. She had other ideas. I called her best friend, told her to get Amy to help. I couldn’t do it anymore.

I was outside her tape line.

That was a long time ago. When I was in my 20s, new to things like commitment and sacrifice. New Year’s resolutions meant something. They meant trying. Caring. They didn’t mean giving up. Which is what I did. On her, on me, on us.

  • Kuntal Majumdar

    Lovely read, Ellen. I’ve loved your posts, but this is the first time ever I was able to connect with one.

    • Hi Kuntal, thank you very much! I think this one was pretty high beta in connections; some people wrote they really connected, others didn’t get it. I was trying to set up the male character’s backstory, developing him a bit further in another piece and I needed to get him to a place where he was out of touch with his emotions and yet overwhelmed with guilt. I was writing about his past experience with gf he couldn’t save, and then decided to just publish it. Anyway, thank you. I’m glad it resonated, that means a lot.

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  • This was wonderful, and heart wrenching, and very brave. Big fan of your writing! Found it on medium, but glad to keep reading. Cheers!

    • Hi Carley, thank you so much! This one was so quick, it felt almost visceral to write. Pulled from some past experience, too. Glad you found the site. I’ll find you on Medium, looking forward to your writing.

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