January 2, 2022

Songs of Sorrow on the New Year: Why I’m not “Starting Over.”

I woke up on the first day of the new year to the sound of something dying outside my window.

When I first heard the cry, I thought I was dying in my dream. I experience those big, all-consuming dreams that leave you somewhere between reality and fiction when you first wake up.

Some might categorize them more as nightmares because they’re never sweet visits from friends. Some mornings I wake up in a panic that all my teeth have fallen out; I touch my tongue to each of my front teeth to make sure that they are still, in fact, there.

So when I was awoken to the sharp scream of something dying, for a moment I reached for my own heart and wondered if it was me who had cried out in pain. Had I dreamed of something I’d lost, somebody, or just the fear of starting another year alone?

But as I placed my hand under my shirt to my heart, I could feel the steady, strong beat of me. I was still here. Still breathing. Still hoping. Because isn’t that what we all do when the clock turns to midnight on the New Year? We hope.

But then I heard it again. A long drawn out moan through the darkness. I curled myself deeper into my blankets and stared out the window. I counted the moments between the screams; they were never more than 10 seconds before another long, low moan of pain vibrated through the darkness.

What was it out there? Someone’s dog? A coyote that had been hit by a passing car driving too fast down the road? Whatever it was, whomever the creature was, I thought over and over in my head, please, go quickly, please let the pain stop. Please let it be over. But it didn’t go quick.

Does pain ever really leave quickly? Or does it linger long enough for us to relive every beautiful moment?

Was he out there reliving the best moments of his life, I wondered? Can animals remember things like that? I listened to him for almost an hour, until finally I felt it in my bones as he took his last almost silent scream into the rainy morning of the New Year. And I, too, let out a breath and closed my eyes, fading back to sleep.

Hours later, I wandered the yard with the dogs, searching for the animals whose last moments I had heard so intimately. Where was he? How close had he been to my window on the third floor? My slippers turned wet in the rain and my heart thudded slowly in the back of my throat. Did I really wish to see the animal? Would I be able to handle seeing him? Did I want to put a face to that sound that still lingered in my mind hours later?

I never found him. Perhaps for the best.

Instead, I found a fox. Or rather my dog, she found a fox in the basement of our landlord’s garage. I slowly followed them through three fields as she sprinted after that wild, little orange thing through the long grass and into the woods. My dog never caught him; she never will. Foxes are faster than six-year-old mutts, no matter how hard she runs, she can’t outrun nature. Nor can any of us, really.

Within the first few hours of the New Year, I had lain in the dark listening to an animal lose its life and watched another run wildly, so full of its own life. I guess it made me think of the New Year a little differently this morning.

The New Year comes with all sorts of promises we make to ourselves. We promise to be healthier, to go to more spinning classes, to eat more veggies, drink less, and to do things that will make us happier. As we begin again every January 1st, we think now we get a fresh start. A new beginning.

But do we ever really begin again?

My dog still believes she can catch a fox whether it’s January 1st or June 28th, and she will continue to chase wild animals through the field until her nose is completely gray, and she’s become an old dog. I’ll still miss someone oceans away today, just as I did yesterday and the day before, and that doesn’t change just because a new year is upon us today.

The chocolate chip cookies sitting in my fridge still taste better with a warm cup of coffee for breakfast than the green juice I’m currently sipping on. The blank pages of the stories I want to write are still just as overwhelming as they were three weeks ago in a sunny café in California as they are today as I type out my thoughts at the kitchen table that only rarely gets used as a table for two—or three, or more. I am just as much all the pieces that made me exactly who I was yesterday that I am today.

So maybe we don’t start over this new year.

Maybe we remember where we’re coming from and where we want to go. There are so many things I want to do in this new year, places I want to go, people I want to hug, words I want to write down, and people I hope to laugh with.

I want to grow, thrive, learn to play the piano, and run barefoot everywhere I possibly can. But with all that I hope to become this year, I do not for a moment want to forget where I’ve been and the woman I was just yesterday as the year ended.

More than anything, today, I was reminded that no matter what I want this year, in the next five years, and in all my life, I hope that I’ll always be just as soft to the world and never shut my window to something crying out for love, even if just for an hour in the early hours of the new year.


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