I was not dead: this must be understood. There is a little bit of doubt about whether I was awake or asleep though; I’m still not completely sure whether this was all a dream or reality, but the writing on the wall does not lie. The strangest thing occurred to me last night, which I will now recount to you.
It was New Year’s Eve, an hour before 2020 would dissipate and 2021 materialize, a moment as simple as a single digit changing, yet an immensely anticipated event for cynics all around the globe. 2020 was the year the COVID-19 virus launched its evil plan to take over the world, and its oppressive regime seemed to change the fate of all humanity. Multiple other tragedies compounded on top of this disaster, leading to a worldwide attitude of hatred towards the year 2020. Like many other intelligible citizens, Bryant and I were spending New Year’s Eve at home.
Every year for New Year’s Eve, I have historically written a list of resolutions, which are essentially “predictions” or “soft goals” of mine, activities I believe I will accomplish or would like to accomplish in the coming year; typically, I write them and hide them away, only revisiting them in July and the next New Year’s Eve, where I either laugh at my past self or congratulate myself for the job well done.
However, after Coronavirus took over the world this year and its germ soldiers began patrolling the streets, forcing innocent civilians to stay inside lest risk falling victim to its disease, I had been feeling rather jaded with “goals” in general, especially because it appeared that the Coronavirus fed on them, as though it could sniff out hope from a mile away and gobble down any aspiration of success. There were mutterings of an intergalactic superhero named Vaccine entering the scene to save the day and aid vigilante crime-fighters known as Masks, but I refused to get my hopes up, knowing how strong the Coronavirus had become during its reign this year. And now, it was about to discard its partner in crime, 2020, and join forces with a brand new year, 2021!
Which is all to say, I didn’t write New Year’s resolutions because of my immense cynicism spurred by the horrific pandemic.
So last night, Bryant and I were in bed watching television, vaguely reminiscing on New Years Eves of the past—back when we would venture out to bars and clubs on frigid December nights with our friends—yet also burrowing deeper under the blankets as a cool draft circulated, the space heater by the bed then kicking on louder. I had been sipping on a glass of champagne for hours, and still half the liquid contents remained. I’d much rather be drinking some tea, I remember thinking, right as I began to nod off. (2020 had aged me three decades.) The chattering of the TV and the few sips of champagne put me down easily, and before I knew it, my eyes were shut and my mind wandering through color and sound.
I awoke—or at least, I believe I awoke—to a tickling on my cheek. At first I thought it was some whiskers poking around my face, a cat having joined the bed for some cuddles and body warmth. But the tickling persisted, growing firmer, and as my eyes fluttered open, I saw a few slender bones stroking my hair. I continued to blink, but then I saw the skull and its empty holes for eyes, and would have let out a scream had my voice been working. No sound uttered from my startled mouth as I threw the blankets from me.
I am the Ghost of New Year’s Past, the skeleton before me said without saying. He hovered beside my bed, a large white dress floating around him as though the space heater was blowing air beneath it.
Ned Theodore Ed?!?!?! I turned to see if Bryant could also see N.T., but he was asleep beside me and merely rubbed his eye amidst his slumber, unbothered by our visitor or my shock.
Yes, I am N.T., the skeleton admitted, but tonight, I am the Ghost of New Years Past!
Holy crap, I thought.
Holy crap indeed, N.T. replied solemnly. We are in between realms at the moment, so we cannot speak or disturb the living, but instead we can communicate through thought.
This is the coolest dream I’ve ever had. I’m lucid! I thought. I looked around the bedroom, but everything was exactly how it was when I fell asleep—the wine glass on my nightstand, my glasses on the window sill, the television still playing cartoons; the clock read 11:15.
It’s not a dream, N.T. reiterated, his non-voice arriving in my thoughts as though they were my own. And it’s not quite 2021, so I have some things to show you. I have been sent here to reinvigorate your love for New Year’s Eve.
Wow, this is so cool! I always try to lucid dream but I’m not always successful, my thoughts chattered, completing ignoring N.T.’s shtick.
N.T. lacked eyeballs, but he rotated his skull in a mock eye-roll. Again, not a dream. He looked around the bedroom, which was still lit by the bedside lamp, and picked up a Sharpie from the ground. With a quick scribble on the wall, he wrote “N.T. was here.” You’ll see, he said.
Okay, thanks, subconscious, I thought.
Now, we have only an hour. Follow me, N.T. ordered, grabbing my hand and floating through the bedroom’s wood door, which seemed rather unnecessary because it was still open a crack, but it was a neat dream effect. We went across the hallway to my office, where he pointed to a stack of papers beside my desk. With a dramatic gesture of his white gown, suddenly a wind swept through the room and part of the stack fluttered away, revealing some papers which were underneath them. There, he urged. Tell me what you see.
These are past years’ resolutions, I replied, glancing at the papers. I’ve made resolutions every New Year’s Eve since 2010.
Except for this year.
Right, I replied. Just didn’t seem necessary. I mean, it’s not like Coronavirus expires on December 31! No point in hoping because that’s just setting yourself up for disappointment. I’m just trying to stay alive.
Hm… Why don’t you look through some of those old lists? N.T. prompted.
I shrugged, picking up the oldest piece of notebook paper at the top of the pile, which was titled “Resolutions for 2010”:
- I want over 200 friends on MySpace
- I want to be nicer to my brother
- I want to own Underoath: They’re Only Chasing Safety (CD)
- I want to be more calm and less awkward
- I want to grow out my hair past my boobs
All of the items had a check mark next to them except the first one, which had an X next to it.
I’ve never had a large internet following, I commented, sheepishly setting the paper aside. Good thing MySpace isn’t a thing anymore.
Keep looking, N.T. encouraged, his arm bones crossed.
I scanned the next few sheets, which accounted for every year thereafter, 2011, 2012… As I read each list, I saw a lot of items like “Grow out hair” or “Get new glasses” or “Go on a road trip.” 2013 was a big year—the year I turned 18–and had items like:
- Get a tattoo
- Go to prom and dance your butt off
- Watch R rated movies and go to the mall
- Make friends
which were all checked off. Even though there were many resolutions on the lists that were left unchecked, as I flipped through the pages, most items were crossed off. I had to hand it to myself, I was pretty good at giving myself achievable tasks. Going to the mall was basically a “give me” resolution because back then, I lived for the mall. (Side bar: had I even been to a mall in 2020?)
I laughed at 2015’s goal “Watch all the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies” which I failed at miserably, having not once worked up the necessary interest to devote entire days to accomplishing, nor had I even so much as watched a single movie from the franchise. Then I smiled at 2016’s “Drink at a bar” goal which, at the time, was such an exciting new milestone, having turned 21 that year, but now seemed mundane and unappealing to me. My 2018 resolutions reminded me that I had a story published that year, and in 2019 I had resolved to be a better manager at the restaurant.
However, among all the small and big achievements I noted over the years, from things like “Get my license,” “Move out on my own,” “Graduate college,” and “Travel to California,” there was one item I noticed that remained continually unchecked from year-to-year, which was “Travel out of the country.”
I really wish I could have traveled out of the country before COVID-19, I admitted. Now I don’t know when, or if, that’ll be possible again. Oh man, I don’t even want to look at the goals I set for 2020.
One second, N.T. responded, holding up a bony finger. A costume change is in order. He stepped back, and with a few twirls and a slight stumble over his bony feet, N.T.’s white dress faded into a fur hat and coat, and a carrot appeared in his hand.
Don’t worry, this is faux vegan fur. AND NOW, I am no longer the Ghost of New Years Past, and I appear to you now as the Ghost of New Years Present! Please, gaze upon your 2020 resolutions! With a flourish, he handed me the final sheet, which I begrudgingly read over.
- Perform my writing
- Reduce dairy intake as minimal as possible
- Travel out of the country
- Continue to practice yoga and meditation
- Experiment more with cooking
- Be patient and work on breathing
- Develop a craft skill
- Increase interactions with Slanted Spines
- Network Slanted Spines in my local community
I noted a few failed goals–I never “performed” my writing this year, nor did I do that much traveling.
N.T. noticed my crestfallen face and put a hand on my shoulder. Answer me this, friend. Did you not stop eating cheese entirely? Did you and Bryant not “virtually” visit Paris this year, did you not read many books set in other countries? Have you not been practicing yoga every day this past month? Are you not much more experienced with cooking meals every day? Have you not been extremely patient as you occupy your time at home this year? Are you not skilled at editing videos? Did you not create a Slanted Spines YouTube channel and continue to gain subscribers every week? N.T. inquired as I stared bashfully at each item on the list.
You’re right, I mumbled. I guess this year wasn’t too horrible for me…
I don’t quite have the budget to travel around the world tonight (and if I did, we’d need to take a quick COVID-19 test just to be safe) so I need you to understand this point without us having to peek into the windows of less-fortunate households, okay? N.T. pointed his carrot at me sternly and then took a bite from it with a crunch. This year isn’t what any of us expected it to be, and yet you still managed to grow in a lot of ways. They may seem small to you, but you’re still here, in this beautifully-decorated home—I love the stringed lights, by the way—and you have a lot going for you. Even if you do nothing else in life, you are still a beautiful soul existing in this world and that in and of itself is enough. Do what you can, but never feel bad for what you don’t do. Do you regret never achieving 200 friends on MySpace?
I scoffed, seeing his point. No, it’s probably for the better that I had a minimal amount of people reading my status updates at age fourteen…
Exactly. A goal is just an expression of what your heart wants. There is no harm in setting a goal, and no harm in failing a goal. You follow your heart. You do what you can with what you have. I’d say that after 2020, you are in a great position to dream and achieve your dreams in a creative way, to embrace future endeavors. Which brings me to this next bit…
N.T. spun once again, and his faux fur coat transformed into a black cloak, which draped upon his entire body except his bony hand. Silently, he raised a finger and pointed at the blank piece of paper on my desk.
Are you the grim reaper? Oh my god, am I going to die in 2021? Do you mean I need to write my will?!?! My heart began beating rapidly and I sank to my knees, hands clasped together.
N.T. pushed back the hood of the cloak, revealing his skull. Oh my goodness, no! I just meant it was time to write your 2021 Resolutions! This is my Ghost of New Years Yet to Come costume—ohhhh, now I see how that may have been misleading.
Relieved, I smacked a hand to my chest and sighed, pulling myself up to my desk chair.
I mean, you might die in 2021, that’s always a possibility. I actually have no way of knowing that. But that’s not the point… N.T. muttered. He knocked his bony knuckles upon my desk with a nervous laugh, and I tried to ignore him as I picked up a pen.
Hmmm, what do I want to do in 2021? What can a person hope for amidst a global pandemic? I wondered in my head, which consequently, N.T. could hear.
Remember, New Year’s Day is just another day, but it’s also a very symbolic day. It signals the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another. People for centuries have found joy in the New Year’s tradition because it is a time of learning from the past and hoping for the future. It is a powerful day because of the opportunity the new year holds. N.T. put his hands together in a prayer position.
Nodding as his words echoed in my mind, I jotted down, “Buy roller skates and learn how to do those fancy spin moves.”
Huh, “small” goals are really the best type of goals, the kinds of things that remind us of life’s pleasures, I thought.
I tapped the pen against the desk for a moment, then wrote, “Submit a story to a literary journal” and “Start using loose leaf tea.” Okay, this isn’t too bad, I thought. I began writing some more general points, like “Be more unapologetically me” and “Try new things.” By the time I was done with ten list items, I looked up to show the page to N.T., but he was gone.
N.T.? I asked.
I got up and looked into the hallway, which was empty except for our cat Karma sleeping at the top of the stairs. N.T.? Creeping into the bedroom, I asked, “N.T.?”
Shocked yet pleased to hear my own voice, I then looked at the clock: 11:59 PM!!
“Bryant!!” I shouted, leaping onto the bed next to him, and he awoke with such a fright I had to dodge his flailing arms as he bleary-face cried, “Wha? Wha!?!?!”
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” I sang, and I began jumping on the bed as he sighed and groaned, mumbling, “Happy New Year,” and settling back down. The clock changed to 12:00 and I kissed his cheek, glad to have all the physical agency and audible voice of a regular alive-and-not-dreaming human.
The next morning, I awoke to a rough tongue licking my nose, and as I blinked open my eyes and saw that it wasn’t N.T., I mumbled, “Hey Juliet.” Next to me, Bryant stirred and groggily giggled at our furry gray cat’s begging glare which intensely conveyed “FEED ME.”
“I had the weirdest dream last night—“ I began to say, until I saw a blurry black smudge on the wall. I stirred and Juliet jumped down from the bed, and I got closer to the Sharpie’d words which read exactly what they did in my dream. “What?” Bryant asked, but already I was sweeping into the other room to discover my 2021 resolutions, exactly where I had left them. “Huh,” I clucked.
So maybe it was a dream. Maybe I was sleep-walking and experienced a lucid epiphany. But as I write this, sipping on my loose leaf tea, all I can say is Oh well, and
Happy New Year, every one of us!!
For more tales of N.T. Ed, check out this page!