The Horn Blows at Midnight

While hundreds of men kissed passionately, I was as invisible as the Ghost of New Year's Past

I was at that awkward age: out of college, which had been little more than a marijuana-fueled study hall; out of a relationship I cannot remember; out of a job working for people who screamed a lot; and living again with my parents.

It was awkward for them too. I was in my thirties, camping out in their guest room without the socially acceptable excuse of a divorce or an unwanted pregnancy. In retrospect, I was way ahead of the slacker curve. Holidays were especially difficult. My parents monitored my comings and goings as if I were a teenager. Perhaps, emotionally, I was.

That's why I decided to spend New Year's Eve in the city with my closest friend Franny, rather than watch TV with Mom and Dad. Nothing depressed me more than seeing Dick Clark drop the ball in Times Square. Hate me if you must, but I still miss my childhood New Year's Eve with Guy Lombardo and Jiffy Pop popcorn.

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Franny's situation was equally unstable but she had her own apartment in a section of the city my parents considered dicey. Following her divorce and a master's degree that catapulted her straight into a waitress job, Franny was burning it at both ends.

"I'm thinking of dating women," she said with a glint in her eye.

"Cool," I said.

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Who was I to judge? Franny, a petite redhead, had always been popular. Besides, I wasn't husband-hunting at the time. Hell. I wasn't even boyfriend-hunting. I was totally focused on getting a job that would get me out of my parents' house. Sex was something that happened, or didn't, with a passing parade of consenting adults. While I have no memory what Franny and I did before midnight, I will never forget where we were when the clock struck twelve.

"I have to say hello to a friend who works in the kitchen at Equus," she said.

I had no qualms about her request. Equus was a popular gay bar, one of many where we had hung out in college. (Note: Dancing is always better in gay bars, regardless of your gender identity.) The bar was packed with gorgeous guys sporting snuggly fitted plaid flannel shirts, suspenders, tight jeans, work boots, crew cuts and beards. Stylistically, it was the gay Paul Bunyan look.

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"Wait here. I'll be right back," Franny said, leaving me at the bar while she vanished into the kitchen.

I gazed at the young men, faces flushed with champagne and desire, dancing frenetically to Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." I envied them their sense of belonging, of community. They knew who they were and where they were. I, on the other hand, had no clue. I was an unmarried, childless, Jewish woman who had chosen a high-wire career, rather than marrying an orthodontist and having 2.5 children in the burbs.

At that moment, I would've given anything to be a gay man. To gyrate against a lean, hard body until I "got enough." But where the hell was Franny? The crowd was too thick to make my way to the kitchen. I couldn't move. Then, it happened. Voices shouted, "Three, two, one ... HAPPY NEW YEAR!" The brightly colored lights and disco ball flickered, then went dark. Lonely doesn't begin to describe what I felt. I wanted to kill Franny. Eventually, she reappeared, having no idea what I had just experienced. To this day, neither of us can recall where we went afterwards. But Equus became a permanent part of our collective memory which, eventually, included Franny partnering with three women over the next three decades. I liked the first one, stopped speaking to her over my antipathy for the second and joyfully celebrated her engagement to the good-humored, female psychologist to whom she is now married.

My subsequent reinvention as a writer was as precarious as my love life. According to the Chinese, "May you have an interesting life" is a curse. Mine was no exception. My partners were filmmakers, photographers, artists. "Interesting" doesn't even begin to cover it. But they all had a short shelf life. Which is how I ended up with no plans for this New Year's. That is, until Franny called.

"Hey," she said. "We're having a New Year's Eve party. Want to come?"

I was grateful for her invitation even though I will be the only straight woman in a house full of lesbians. At midnight, they will shout, "Three, two, one" and kiss one another. But this time, I will not feel alone. I will be in the home of my oldest friend, a woman who has known me for over 40 years and understands my vulnerabilities. I volunteered to bring Portobello Sliders and music we can dance to: Sam & Dave, The Band, Leonard Cohen and Warren Zevon.

"Bring your jammies and stay overnight," Franny said. "We'll have mimosas and pancakes in the morning."

This just may be my best New Year's ever.

Tags: friendship