New year, she says, new beginnings. Resolutions.
I nod knowingly despite feeling rather lost and overwhelmed. This month catches me off-guard every year. I plan for parts of it: sister’s birthday, check. Roommate’s birthday, check. List of things I need to bring back to the dorm, check. I understand those details. The big picture, the month that ends with short little February sauntering through my door, always avoids my notice.
That, I suppose, is January for you: December’s off and gone without so much as a by-your-leave and suddenly — quite unexpectedly — the champagne is popping and everyone joins in a slightly off-tempo and lyric-weary rendition of Auld Lang Syne. You turn around and find January First all dolled up, the tastefully embroidered sequins on her little black dress winking at you as she smirks those red-painted lips and sinks gracefully into Last December’s vacated chair.
You never quite see the baggage she left in the hall. That always gets left for her successor, January Two. Well. Those two spar more than any siblings I know. She brings it all, though: Midnight drags those suitcases past your front door, all those Regrets From 2013 and those Weighty Resolutions That Cannot Be Kept.
New year, new beginnings. Resolutions, you know.
I frown and grab her arm before she whisks away from our table at the coffee shop. How, I ask. She pauses, puzzled, between the weight of my hand and the weight of my words. How do you expect me to think about beginnings right now — I sweep my free hand at the table, the tea, the shop itself. How can — I gulp — how can I think about beginnings when all I see about the next few months is one ending after another?
She drops back into her seat, curious. Endings, I explain. You know — change. This moment, this month — it’s only the tip of the iceberg that sinks the Titanic. She quirks an eyebrow and chuckles as Melodrama refills our mugs.
Darling, things aren’t ending. Changing, yes, but not ending. This is not an apocalypse.
Hmph. Typical of her, twisting my words. Graduation’s coming, I say, trying to grasp my quickly-fraying thoughts. I keep talking, knowing they’ll find their way back eventually. They always do. Words are funny that way. Graduation is practically around the corner and I have no idea what to do after that. This part of my life, it’s ending. It’s ending, and I’m scared. I know I’m repeating myself. I try to voice the truth these concerns hold for me. All I know about life is ending here.
Ah. There they are.
She takes my hands from their spot around my mug. Look at me, my dear. Look at me. I force my eyes into hers. Listen, my dear, dear girl. Listen to me. That is not true. What you know about life does not depend on your textbooks, or your progress on your degree, or receiving your diploma, or even having the familiar structure of school.
What you know, she says, squeezing warmth back into my chilled hands, does not depend on these things alone. You are more than the sum of your experiences. You are more than all that you do in the future. You are more than all you understand right now. I nod, staring at that third cup of tea.
Life does not cease to exist when you graduate, my dear. In fact, quite the opposite. She smiles, gives my hands a final pat, and stands back up to leave.
One last thing, she says. She cups my tear-streaked cheek in her palm and I stare at those old, wise eyes that will one day be mine. If you understood anything past what you’ve already learned, already seen, already done — would you still be where you are?
I shake my head slowly, still leaning into her hand. Well. There you have it, then. New beginnings was not quite the right term — it’s more of a new stage, isn’t it? The next act of your continuous experience of life. Figure out the next step or two, darling. You don’t have to know the whole itinerary.
When she’s disappeared in the morning light creeping through the door, I breathe deep. As I turn back to our table, Melodrama disappears with our dishes into the kitchen. Tranquility brings me a cool glass of water, sparing a second to pat my back before moving on to the next customer. New beginnings, or continued experience?
I sip my water and smile at the sunlight.