Noah Ranson was alone on New Year’s Eve and okay with that, he half-convinced himself, as he watched the flames of the fire roiling in the fireplace turn goldfish orange, scarlet red, and light blue. There was something to be learned from watching the flames, he was sure, but didn’t know exactly what. It was definitely a Zen experience like raking the leaves, driving on a long trip down a straight highway lined with leafless trees in winter, cleaning and dusting his small house.
He had used the dead branches from the dying maple tree as kindling and some drafts of poems that weren’t going anywhere. It felt good to surrender the failed attempts at creating musical sentences with not enough or not perfectly amalgamated concrete detail, imagery, cadence, abstraction; linguistic and philosophical meaning. And the drafts, he knew, weren’t really failures per se, but part of his writing process of peeling and creating layers. Everything was so complex to him, and he longed for a simplification down to essential truths.
He would write more in 2017, he promised himself; the first on his list of New Year resolutions. And he also resolved not to be alone so much. His solitude was essential for writing and his mental health; he needed time to think and simply be, but at 52 years of age, he had come to the realization that he did, in fact, need to spend more of his time around other humans.
But tonight, he was alone, as usual, with the exception of his dog, Wallace, who was half asleep in the glow from the fire, warm and happy that Noah was home and in close proximity. Going out on New Year’s Eve was overrated, and he wasn’t a fan of driving on a night when everyone was drinking and when the ball dropped in Time Square, one felt obligated to kiss the strangers within physical reach. Not that anyone had invited him to a party or to meet at a bar. His few friends were busy with their children and/or spouses.
The years he was married, he and Rebecca would make baked-stuffed lobster on New Year’s Eve and play Scrabble until midnight before going to sleep in the king-sized bed he loved sharing with her. He usually won their Scrabble games and that frustrated her. She liked to be in control, the one calling the shots, and he was happy for eight years to let her make decisions that affected them both. He hated confrontation and drama but did pick his battles and stick up for himself a few times. In fact, doing so is what precipitated the collapse of their marriage.
He had had enough of her preaching at him and telling him what to do, how to behave. “I’m my own person,” he told her, “and please back away from me.” She was standing in front of him, blocking his exit from the kitchen; her face an inch away from his.
“No problem!” Rebecca yelled, as she walked out through the front door they never used and only returned to their home once to collect her things and all their furniture with a moving van, his neighbors told him, while he was teaching Camus’ The Stranger. When he came home to the empty house, he sighed a large breath of relief. It was over. He no longer had to give his will over to her to mold into what she wanted of their life together. He would no longer be living in a D.H. Lawrence novel. And just as he had suspected, she had found someone new; new clay that she could shape into the kind of man she needed. When she married Seth, he was glad that his son, who chose to live with his mother, would have a man in the house for safety and a somewhat conventional life.
He had to admit, for he had thought about it in obsessive detail over the last seventeen years that overall, she had been skilled at making good decisions; rational ones; whereas, he was often more emotional. They had balanced each other in that regard. He missed being married but couldn’t stomach seeing Rebecca when he had to at an event that involved their son, his estranged son, who had always been aligned with his mother, a mommy’s boy that Rebecca coddled. They were a team, a duet, whispering in a corner of the kitchen about things that didn’t include him and that he couldn’t even imagine. Were Gavin’s soccer clothes clean, was she going to pick him up from practice? What else could they possible need to discuss in whispers in their private world without him?
Gavin was still living with Rebecca even though he was engaged, so he could save money for a house. He was responsible and successful like his mother, unlike him. Both had a predilection for numbers and details; he was more of a person enmeshed in language and ideas. Gavin inherited more of his personality and way of thinking from Rebecca or had merely evolved by mimicking her. He was determined to be an actuary and had passed his first exam while working full-time for an insurance company; a job that Noah couldn’t imagine as he was not cut out for cubicle life. When he worked in an insurance company himself when he was nineteen, his day revolved around the clock, watching it barely move throughout the long eight-and-a-half-hour day; dreaded Monday to glorious Friday.
Regardless of why, his son was different from him, and they had a hard time carrying on a conversation once Gavin became a teenager. He couldn’t remember the last time he talked to his son. He had seen him at his college graduation but didn’t have the chance to speak with him one-on-one with all their relatives there and Gavin’s fiancée’s family. It was his son’s day, after all, but it pained him that he felt excluded from his son’s life. Gavin never responded to Noah’s text weeks ago, but that was par for the course.
The clock on the mantle was approaching midnight, and the fire was calming down. He felt too exhausted to carry more wood in from the garage and knew that Wallace was ready to go outside one more time. He put on his boots, and Wallace stood up and stretched, knowing that they would be heading out into the fresh air of night.
The bitter cold air hit him in his face; the Arctic wind of the last few days was still blowing—cutting right through his coat, legs, and hands. He hadn’t put gloves on, so put his hands in his coat pockets. “Come on, Wally, be a good boy!” the phrase that signaled it was time for the dog to do his business on the pile of snow amassed on the side of the driveway. “Let’s make some yellow snow, boy!” Wallace complied as Noah looked up at the crisp stars in the clear, black sky—wanting to drink of their steady, faraway light.
It was going to be a long winter; three more months of New England snow, sleet, and ice. He would try not to cross off the days on the calendar this new year; he would try to live each one without merely trying to get through the day. Teaching had become draining, and he was happy to have three more weeks off before the spring semester began. He would have to revise his syllabi but would wait until a few days before classes started. He would write until then. Yes, he would write and try to be more social.
The now-January air was bitter cold but refreshing. His thoughts seemed untangled but that would change, he knew, when his head hit the pillow and Wallace nestled up to him with his head on his chest. He would listen to music and forget about his lonely New Year’s Eve. It would be a different year, he vowed, unlike any other—a new blank slate on which to carve new figures, designs, lines, circles, and dots to be connected like the stars that were steady up in the winter night sky, hoarding their own light.
He wasn’t sure how much time he had left with his sickness and deteriorating health, so he was committed to living fully every day, every moment. He would not watch the clock. He would be Noah, a new Noah, who was connected to the Noah of his boyhood, a simple person who loved being in the world, who collected fallen autumn leaves and picked wildflowers for his mother. He missed her. Perhaps he would see her in the afterlife or perhaps he would return to the calcium dust of the stars.
“Come on, boy.” It’s time to sleep. He and his dog returned to the warmth of the house, to the warmth of down blankets and the silence of night. He needed sleep; his body and mind needed to rest. He knew he would wake too early at five o’clock in the dark and light the fire again on a new day of a new year. He would be grateful for the sleep. He would be grateful for everything.