Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | December 31, 2009

The Break-up, New Year’s Eve 1996, and More Echoes

You know,
If you break my heart, I’ll go —
But I’ll be back again
— The Beatles, I’ll Be Back

Boston, December 31st, 1996.

There were four of us spending the holiday together, at least that I recall: my good friend Kyle, his good friend Frank, Frank’s fiance Lesha, and me. Penny was supposed to join us as well, but she ended up making other plans. There may have been a few others with us — my memory of that particular evening is dark and shady; blurry and twisted. Like a bad dream, some bits of which stick to your brain and others of which fade in the light of day.

That previous Thanksgiving, my girlfriend Penny had put me on notice: become a better, more attentive boyfriend, or we would break up. So, I became more attentive. And she pulled away. I tried harder. She withdrew even more. And the more I tried to be a better boyfriend, the more I found myself emotionally invested. I started to care more deeply. More than that, I was coming to love her.

So, on New Year’s Eve day, she broke up with me.

It just wasn’t working out, she said. She didn’t feel that way toward me any more, she said. She would always be fond of me, she said.

(The single worst words I have ever heard her say to me: “I will always be fond of you.”)

She decided she was going to ring in the new year with some other friends, she said.

I spent most of the day wandering around the city. I eventually met up with my friend Kyle, who was up from New Jersey to visit with me and his buddy Frank. Frank had an interesting history of his own: he had, long before, been left at the alter. Twice.

But now Frank and Lesha were soon to be married, and it was obvious to everybody that this was the real deal. Lesha was smart and beautiful and had a quiet strength about her. And integrity. And loyalty. And she had eyes for Frank — you knew just from looking at them that she had his back.

Kyle was set to be Frank’s best man at the wedding. I was also invited; Frank and I had become friends because of our mutual friendship with Kyle. So we spent part of the day visiting the church where the ceremony would be held, making plans, and just generally doing the town. Boston is a great walking town, and Kyle and Frank and I all shared a particular fondness for walking it.

But I was in a dark head space, as you can imagine. You know that feeling when you are climbing the stairs quickly in your home, a place you know well, but you somehow reach the top before you expect and step where there isn’t a stair to step? I felt like that all day. The adrenaline fight-or-flight response. The hole in the heart. The clenched fist in my intestines. Tight breathing. The whole bit. All damned day.

Of course, I’d told Kyle. And Frank and Lesha knew, as well. But I couldn’t dwell on it with Frank — he was going to be married soon, and he had a rather troubling history with wedding ceremonies, so best to not dwell on bad break-up juju. And Kyle… well, I think he had seen our break-up coming for over a year, but he didn’t know that I’d been trying harder to turn it around, and so he didn’t seem to understand that this hit me harder than either of us would have expected.

Lesha, though, was very empathetic. As the group strolled around town, she would meander over to me to ask how I was doing. To listen to me, to offer words of encouragement. She was a real sweetheart. And of course, knowing that she and Frank were in the midst of planning their wedding, I didn’t want to be too much of a bring-down for her, either. So I tried to keep my tangled-up emotions bottled up as best I could. Tried not to be a bother to anyone. I know I was pathetic, but I did try not to be.

Per our plan, we to the Medieval Manor to usher in the new year. This is one of those places set up like a King’s Court in medieval England, with bawdy songs and jugglers and court jesters (read: comedians) for entertainment, and traditional meats and veggies and potatoes served in bowls but with no forks or knives, and ales (or, in my case, cider or water, if I recall correctly — no Dr Pepper back in medieval times!) in stout mugs. All very cheery. It was the first (and, so far, only) time I’ve attended such a thing.

History nerd that I am, I might have enjoyed the hell out of it on some other occasion. But all I kept thinking about was her. And how I failed. The rows of revelers were loud; the entertainment was loud. When the time came for everybody to stop and countdown the new year, the cheer that erupted was deafening. But it didn’t touch me. It washed over me. I was apart from the whole scene. Detached. Welcome 1997. Yee-frickin’-ha.

There’s a lot to tell about what happened over the course of the next several months. How devastated I became. How I discovered friendships that I didn’t realize were there. How I changed and grew (albeit very painfully) into a more serious man — a man who could commit. And how, just when I finally started to turn a corner and maybe, possibly, was able to move on… Penny came back to me.

But that’s a story for another time.

What’s on my mind right now is not only the ghosts of New Year’s Eves past, but also this: when Penny told me she wanted to get back together, it was after a very tumultuous time. And I must be clear on this point: although I have never doubted that Penny had no intention to hurt me, she nonetheless did some very hurtful things. We can chalk it all up to us both being young and stupid, but it was what it was. When I talked to one of my dearest friends about Penny’s desire to get back together, I asked my friend what I should tell her.

My friend’s advice: “Tell her, ‘Too late.'”

I didn’t. I took Penny back. Against even my own better judgement. (“Fooools in love,” sings Joe Jackson. “Are there any creatures mooore pathetic?”)

But my friend’s words have been bouncing around in the back of my mind for a while, now. Especially lately.

Although I’d never really considered it until today, I’ve had more than a few momentous New Year’s Eves. In addition to the highest of the highs in 1991 and the lowest of the lows in 1990 (with the same girl as 1991, no less!) and 1996, there’ve been others that have planted seeds that I see now are starting to bear fruit.

Penny and I have not yet had The Talk. Although I’ve been in a surprisingly okay mood for the past several days, today was rather bleak for me, and I fully expected to have The Talk tonight. Penny ducked it by going to bed after getting one of our children down to sleep while I was busy working on another. That’s okay. The Talk is going to happen soon; there’s no need to wake her up to make it happen. And truly, I want everyone to be as fresh, friendly, and open-minded as possible when we start working out the details and the timing of our divorce.

Who knows? It might even happen on New Year’s Eve. (The Talk, not the divorce.) Probably not, but… who knows? Either way, though, it certainly is a part of this years New Year’s scene. In keeping with the theme of new starts and new resolve and all that. Whether it happens “the night of” or a few days after… it’s a part of kicking off the new year.

Happy New Year, my friends. As I commented on another blog:

May we all find love and peace and joy.

And a big bag of money.

And someone to spend it on.



  1. Ditto to you New years wish! 2010 is going to be good. I can feel it.

  2. Happy new year to you too!

  3. Good read. I hope that you handle your divorce with good taste. I have experienced the other kind, and would not wish to repeat that experience.

    Happy New Year!

  4. Happy New Year, may you find the happiness you deserve.

  5. It’s going to be a big year, filled with happiness. Grab hold! Brace yourself. So many powerful changes ahead.

    Here’s to 2010. Glad to count you as part of the ‘family.’

  6. Oooh pick me pick me! 😉 Happy nude ear!

  7. Getting serious here,…

    “I became more attentive. And she pulled away. I tried harder. She withdrew even more…”

    This should have been a warning sign to you, no matter what your other thoughts about Penny. It would have prevented all the other pain that you’ve gone through since. Had I known this, it would have saved me from a very painful experience.

    When your children are old enough, you need to explain this to them. You don’t need to relate every little detail or disclose that it applies to their parents, but they do need to know this.

    There isn’t much parents can do to prevent their kids from experiencing pain from bad relationships, but we need to do what we can. I try to tell my kids that if a relationship is going too one-sided it’s time to end it. So far, one has followed my advice and ended a bad relationship before it could get too serious and irreversible. Of the others, one is very happily married and the younger ones are still focused on completing college enough that relationships are seen as an interference to that goal. We’ll see if there is anything I need to do should a situation arise.

  8. It’s good that you’ve had a lot of nice NYE’s to look back on. Expectations for that night are always so high that I find it’s nearly impossible to meet them.

    My most memorable NYE was when I was about, oh, eighteen or so and my BFF’s boyfriend ran out into 3 feet of snow, sans shoes and plastered out of his mind, because he saw her talking to her ex (in her defence, they were on opposite sides of the room and she was flat out rejecting him). We tried tracking him down but saw him get picked up by the cops so we caught a ride to the cop shop. I don’t recall who it was that drove us or what happened to them, but the cops wouldn’t let him out and we couldn’t find a cab to get home. We slept in a post office that night. Yeah, memorable.

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